The business of academia: challenges for university leadership as the knowledge industry becomes big business

Fincher, A 2007, The business of academia: challenges for university leadership as the knowledge industry becomes big business, Professional Doctorate, Graduate School of Business, RMIT University.

Document type: Thesis
Collection: Theses

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Title The business of academia: challenges for university leadership as the knowledge industry becomes big business
Author(s) Fincher, A
Year 2007
Abstract This thesis examines leadership in universities, in the context of changing times, as community expectations broaden to require not only academic excellence, but also high standards of management accountability. The impact of the volatile higher education environment on current university leaders, and the challenges they face, lies at the heart of the thesis. The demands of this complex environment call for additional personal and professional skills.

Primary importance is given to the methods that university leaders are using to deal with the potentially conflicting demands of their academic and professional management roles. The study is conducted in a context where conflicting demands are increasing in the higher education environment, where universities are now more dependent on private sources of income, and are increasingly managed as big businesses in response to developments in their size, complexity and annual budgets.

A selective review of the literature highlights the nature of generic business leadership theory. Literature which addresses the higher education environment, universities as organisations, university management structures and university leadership is also reviewed.

The primary research was designed to explore ways in which the experience of individuals in the field supports the view of the literature with respect to changes in university leadership. In addition, it was designed to provide new information from the interviewees, with respect to the challenges of their roles and the skills they employ to deal with the issues that confront them. Eighteen interviews were conducted with university executives and other higher education experts. A thematic review of the interview data and a further theoretical analysis, using the concept of dilemma reconciliation, revealed a broader and deeper picture of issues of higher education leadership, through first hand accounts.

Eleven dilemmas confronting contemporary university leaders emerged from the analysis of the interview transcripts. They generally relate to the transformation of universities from fully funded public institutions to largely privately funded institutions; a change which has forced them to act as commercial, competitive enterprises, while subjected to ever-increasing scrutiny of their professional management standards. Some approaches being taken by the interviewees to reconcile their management dilemmas are noted.

The conclusion of the dissertation provides additional comment with respect to the key dilemma, that of changing university fund sources concurrent with an increase in public scrutiny and demands for business rigour; the steps that will be required to bring this dilemma closer to reconciliation, and the role university leaders will play in that reconciliation. The results of this study indicate that, whilst the process of reconciliation of this dilemma is progressing, that progress appears to be in reaction to and as a result of the demanding higher education environment, with the necessary leadership skills being developed in response to the pressures being experienced. In future, a more planned, systematic approach to the inclusion of appropriate skills in university leaders could see a stronger development of the management professionalism which is increasingly necessary in contemporary universities.
Degree Professional Doctorate
Institution RMIT University
School, Department or Centre Graduate School of Business
Keyword(s) university
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Created: Wed, 16 Feb 2011, 10:51:35 EST
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