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Title: The lifelong-learning university : how do Swiss universities experience and respond to the institutional pressure of engaging in lifelong learning : an exploratory multiple case study
Author: Volles, Nina
ISNI:       0000 0004 7967 8016
Awarding Body: University of Bath
Current Institution: University of Bath
Date of Award: 2019
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This thesis is an organisational study using the example of university lifelong learning to analyse how universities deal with new and sometimes conflicting demands that might contribute to the overall institutional complexity. Over the past decades, lifelong learning has developed from a policy discourse limited to a small circle of educational actors to a central element of the European Union (EU)'s social and economic reform agenda with higher education institutions (HEI) expected to play a major role. The EU's strongest lever to persuade universities to engage in lifelong learning has been the use of their normative power. Yet, Swiss Universities have been hesitant to fully embrace lifelong learning as part of their 'third mission'. Consequently, the gap between words and actions has narrowed little over the past decade. That is the point of departure for the research question underpinning the thesis: How do Swiss Universities experience and respond to the institutional pressure to engage in lifelong learning against a backdrop of institutional complexity? The thesis combines neo-institutional and resource dependence theory, which provide different perspectives on organisational stability, conformity and change. The analysis is complemented by the use of organisational attributes ('filters'), allowing for a better grasp of the internal dynamics behind the organisational responses. The original research was carried out within the framework of an exploratory multiple case study of four Swiss universities. The analysis of the data reveals that the European lifelong learning policy discourse rarely penetrates the walls of Swiss HEIs. Moreover, when it does, it is only partly diffused inside the institution due to decoupling mechanisms, structural differentiation of continuing education activities (hybrid structure) and the lack of diffusion inside the organisation. This strategy - consciously chosen or not - allows universities to avoid internal conflict and external scrutiny but also paralyses the further development of university lifelong learning. The data also shows that the high level of uncertainty and ambiguity pushes universities to engage in mimetic isomorphic processes. However, in one case, the study demonstrates that institutional contradictions can trigger reflexivity, leading the institution to proactively manage the contradictory prescriptions and dependencies transforming incompatibility into a competitive advantage.
Supervisor: Jamieson, Ian ; Enders, Jurgen Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (D.B.A.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available