A university in a period of disruption
: identity as an explanatory interpretation of strategic decision-making

  • Edilio Mazzoleni

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Business (DBA)


This study is aimed at verifying whether organizational identity may be a factor in steering institutions of higher education in a process of change called for by internal and external circumstances.The thesis is built on a case-study of an Italian non-state University that experiences a situation of disruption due to a reduction of governmental funding, a decrease in student enrolment, and an unfavorable national higher education context.The study makes several contributions to existing theories elaborated on organizational studies, higher education policy, and higher education management. In particular, it tries to set a relation between Organizational Identity Theory (Albert and Whetten, 1985) used as theoretical framework, strategic management and leadership in HE. Empirical evidence gathered from the case-study suggest that the context impacts the formation and subsistence of organizational identity and the efficiency of managerial practices and leadership. The higher education system and the funding model in place may favor or prevent the exercise of autonomy and creation of a governance model conducive to a strategic change process. The parameters of the research are set on a specific and limited timeframe, the period of crisis during which tension within the university arose. The research is based on interviews of senior management staff, academic and administrative. The interviews are semi-structured and generated by open-ended questions. The approach to the data collection through interviews is ethnographic and interpretive-constructivist. The data is then validated through documentary analysis.The analysis has made evident that the difficulties experienced by the University are tied to the leaders’ diverse understandings of organizational identity and how these affect the leaders’ strategic decisions. This work demonstrates that the effectiveness of any strategy depends largely on the existing conditions, that is the autonomy and its use as reflected in the governance model, rather than its strategy’s content or form.
Date of Award30 Jun 2016
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorRobin Shields (Supervisor)

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