The institutional dynamics of the (European) University

This paper aims to enhance our understanding of the dynamics of change in universities. A conceptual framework is developed to conceive of the contrasting role expectations filled by universities. Furthermore, institutional interaction and adaptation is exemplified by the ongoing process of Europeanization of higher education and research.

ARENA Working Paper 15/2005 (pdf)

Johan P. Olsen

The aim of this essay is to contribute to an improved comprehension of the university’s dynamics of change, as part of a larger transformation of the relationships between society’s key institutions. A distinction is made between seeing the University as an institution and as an instrument, and four visions of university organization are outlined. These are: the University as a community of scholars, an instrument for national purposes, a representative democracy, and a service enterprise embedded in competitive markets – four stylized models based on respectively (i) constitutive rules, (ii) command and hierarchy, (iii) bargaining and majority votes, and (iv) market prices and competitive selection.

The essay then attends to one important type of environmental change: the emergence of European-level debates and policy making processes that take University dynamics beyond the frame of single universities and nation states. Do these environmental actors and forces generate imperatives for universities or do they point universities in different directions? Next, the significance of University actors, structures, legacies and dynamics are considered. How much discretion is there, what are the dilemmas facing the University, and does the ideal of the University as a fiduciary arrangement dedicated to academic excellence and freedom have a future? The last part suggests that an improved comprehension of University dynamics may depend on a better understanding of how institutional success, confusion and crisis can be related.

Tags: neo-institutionalism, Europeanization, educational policy, role conceptions, organization theory
Published Nov. 9, 2010 10:52 AM