University processes – management and planning

This is the first draft of a section from my thesis. I’m currently working on the Process component of the Ps Framework. The section included below is the first of three sections that seeks to summarise/describe the types of processes used within universities.

University Processes

The previous section (2.1.1 – Teleological and ateleological processes) provided an overview of a continuum of processes ranging from teleological and ateleological and the relative weaknesses of both extreme ends. This section aims use this background to examine the types of processes used by universities. It does this in three sections:

  • Management and planning – examining processes used in the strategic planning and operation management of universities.
  • Institutional learning and teaching – focusing on the processes used by universities to implement learning and teaching, including institutional e-learning.
  • Learning and teaching – describing the processes used in the development and practice of learning and teaching within universities, including the use of e-learning.

The following section (Section 2.1.3) seeks to draw some lessons from process for the practice of e-learning within universities.

Management and Planning

As discussed in Place globalisation and its associated features of a minimalist state, entrepreneurialization and managerialization, and the knowledge society (Vaira 2004) have resulted in an increasing move by universities to adopt audit and accountability measures to reduce risk. Largely because universities are expected to act responsibly and deliver value for money (Jongbloed, Enders et al. 2008). While universities are increasingly more independent of the state, they are also becoming increasingly regulated (Clegg and Smith 2008). Governments have encouraged, and in some cases required, universities to adopt strategic planning approaches in order to be more effective in managing the types of change necessary due to the broader societal changes (Jones and O’Shea 2004). In this context many, if not most, universities follow, or at least profess to follow, a purpose driven approach to setting strategic directions (McConachie, Danaher et al. 2005).

It has been suggested that the rapid changes within the environment of higher education have made strategic thinking an imperative (Gibbs, Habeshaw et al. 2000). While there is agreement amongst the reasons for change – such as technology, competition, recognition, and economics – there has been less discussion about the processes for responding to these changes (Wedge 2006). It has been suggested that there is a need to facilitate a greater degree of sophistication in institutional thinking gin strategic planning and policy implementation (Newton 2003). As universities are embracing managerialism with “uncritical fervour and enthusiasm”, management theorists are starting to critque strategic management practices and argue for more experimental forms of organizational planning (Preston 2001).

There have been numerous suggestions that strategic or teleological approaches to institutional planning are valid for higher education especially if advice about implementation is followed. A brief summary of some of this advice follows, starting with participation. Such approaches are seen as workable if those effected are considered and included in decision making (Chaffee 1983). As part of those, staff need to clearly understand why the issue of strategy has to be addressed now and this is achieved by the leadership communicating widely and continually using straightforward language (Gibbs, Habeshaw et al. 2000). During implementation the inevitable tensions and negative perceptions that arise much be responded to and managed through a process that moves beyond an exclusively top-down approach (Newton 2003). That flexibility remains embedded within the planning outcomes and processes to enable adaptation in response to local (e.g. disciplinary) differences and an avoidance of the “one club” approach where strategy is based on a single premise or solution (Gibbs, Habeshaw et al. 2000).

Alternatively, there are views that suggest strategic planning and other teleological processes are inappropriate for universities and the context within which they operate. Except for a very few areas, universities fulfill none of the three presumptions underpinning long-range comprehensive plans: clarity about goals; understanding of the basic technology of an organisation; and continuity in leadership (Cohen and March 1974). The complexity of universities and what they do militate against clarity. The complexity inherent in higher education is compounded by its characteristic continuing change and the diverse nature of its students, courses and academic staff (Jones and O’Shea 2004). The non-ambiguity required by teleological approaches focusing mainly on efficiency conflicts with the multi-faceted and paradoxical nature of universities (Meister-Scheytt and Scheytt 2005). There is limited support from the research the supports teleological process models as representative of how change occurs in higher education or of such models having any efficacy for facilitating change (Kezar 2001). Transforming an institution as complex as the university is neither linear nor predictable (Duderstadt, Atkins et al. 2002).

It has been suggested that innovation and change development in universities can never be a mere rational process (Jones and O’Shea 2004). Strategic planning and institutional policy making can result in a non-productive linguistic game where documents are written on pretence or assumption and publication highlighting a gap between the implied claim and a reality that is full of dissent (Findlow 2008). Local adaptation of and to planning can include game-playing (Newton 2003) or task corruption (Findlow 2008) that is used to slow down change or to give the appearance of change while maintaining the status quo. Academics, trained not to accept propositions uncritically, cannot be expected to adopt strategies without question or adaptation (Gibbs, Habeshaw et al. 2000). Large components of university operation are undertaken through informal networks that are overlooked by business models based on formal structure and efficiency (Wise and Quealy 2006). Consequently, institutional policy initiatives do not necessarily lead to predictable outcomes (Holt and Challis 2007). A blueprint approach does not full account for the forces at play within the institutional cultures of universities and the subsequent context of risk and uncertainty suggest a future that cannot be colonized by prescriptive models (Cousin, Deepwell et al. 2004).

Watson (2006) identifies two distinct approaches to innovation and change. A teleological approach that first identifies a problem and then formulates the structural changes need to solve the problem. Alternatively, an ateleological approach that focuses on the people involved as sentient, dynamic systems. It is suggested that within education the human dimension is critical (Watson 2006). Kezar (2001) develops a complex list of seventeen research-based principles for change based on a synthesis of the research within higher education. This list includes a number of principles that correspond to the idea of ateleological processes outlined above (Section 2.1.1 – Teleological and ateleological processes) including:

  • Promote organisational self-discovery;
  • Focus on adaptability;
  • Construct opportunities for interaction;
  • Strive to create homeostasis; and
  • Connect the change process to individual and institutional identity.

However, Kezar’s list of principles also recognizes that the diversity inherent within universities is not conducive to the adoption of a single approach. Other principles specifically recognize the need for multiple approaches:

  • Combine teleological with social-cognition, cultural and political strategies;
  • Be open to a disorderly process;
  • Be aware that various levels or aspects of the organisation will need different change models;
  • Realize that strategies for change vary by change initiative; and
  • Consider combining models or approaches.

What contemporary universities need is the most productive elements of both teleological and ateleological approaches; it is the combination of the two approaches that is necessary to ensure an appropriate articulation of multiple perspectives within an efficient and sufficiently resourced framework (Jones, Luck et al. 2005).


Chaffee, E. E. (1983). Rational Decisionmaking in Higher Education. Boulder, CO, National Center for Higher Education Management Systems.

Clegg, S. and K. Smith (2008). "Learning, teaching and assessment strategies in higher education: contradictions of genre and desiring." Research Papers in Education.

Cohen, M. and J. March (1974). Leadership and Ambiguity: The American College President. New York, McGraw-Hill.

Cousin, G., F. Deepwell, et al. (2004). Theorising implementation: variation and commonality in European approaches to e-learning. Networked Learning Conference 2004.

Duderstadt, J., D. Atkins, et al. (2002). Higher education in the digital age: Technology issues and strategies for American colleges and universities. Westport, Conn, Praeger Publishers.

Findlow, S. (2008). "Accountability and innovation in higher education: a disabling tension?" Studies in Higher Education 33(3): 313-329.

Gibbs, G., T. Habeshaw, et al. (2000). "Institutional learning and teaching strategies in English higher education." Higher Education 40(3): 351-372.

Holt, D. and D. Challis (2007). "From policy to practice: One university’s experience of implementing strategic change through wholly online teaching and learning." Australasian Journal of Educational Technology 23(1): 110-131.

Jones, D., J. Luck, et al. (2005). The teleological brake on ICTs in open and distance learning. Conference of the Open and Distance Learning Association of Australia’2005, Adelaide.

Jones, N. and J. O’Shea (2004). "Challenging hierarchies: The impact of e-learning." Higher Education 48(3): 379-395.

Jones, N. and J. O’Shea (2004). "Challenging hierarchies: The impact of e-learning." Higher Education 48: 379-395.

Jongbloed, B., J. Enders, et al. (2008). "HIgher education and its communities: Interconnections, interdependencies and a research agenda." Higher Education 56(3): 303-324.

Kezar, A. (2001). "Understanding and Facilitating Organizational Change in the 21st Century: Recent Research and Conceptulizations." ASHE-ERIC Higher Education Report 28(4).

McConachie, J., P. Danaher, et al. (2005) "Central Queensland University’s Course Management Systems: Accelerator or brake in engaging change?" International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning Volume,  DOI:

Meister-Scheytt, C. and T. Scheytt (2005). "The complexity of change in universities." Higher Education Quarterly 59(1): 76-99.

Newton, J. (2003). "Implementing an institution-wide learning and teaching strategy: lessons in managing change." Studies in Higher Education 28(4): 427-441.

Preston, D. (2001). "Managerialism and the Post-Enlightenment crisis of the British University." Educational Philosophy and Theory 33(3-4): 343-363.

Vaira, M. (2004). "Globalization and higher education organizational change: A framework for anlysis." Higher Education 48(4): 483-510.

Watson, D. (2006). "Understanding the relationship between ICT and education means exploring innovation and change." Education and Information Technologies 11(3-4): 199-216.

Wedge, C. (2006). "Leading Change: An Exploratory Process." EDUCAUSE Quarterly 41(6): 10-11.

Wise, L. and J. Quealy. (2006, May, 2006). "LMS Governance Project Report." from

2 thoughts on “University processes – management and planning

  1. Pingback: How to Create a Profitable PPC Campaign Management | Internet Marketing

  2. Pingback: PhD Update #14 – Moving to a new day « The Weblog of (a) David Jones

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