Developing a holistic strategic thinking perspective for universities

  • Nandarani Maistry

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Business (DBA)


There is a plethora of literature that suggests that strategic thinking is critical to organisational viability, yet little attention is placed on higher education (HE) institutions, despite the fact that they are operating in a super VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) environment. Despite the growing literature, there is still a lack of strategic thinking within organisations. Addressing the theory-praxis gap requires alternative perspectives. In this study, I develop a new perspective of strategic thinking that goes beyond conventional modelling, and therefore contributes to the theory of strategic thinking in general, and the development and implementation of enrolment strategy.

The research context is public universities in post-apartheid South Africa (SA) where public universities have undergone numerous enrolment transformations. Universities have been under severe fiscal constraints since 2017 when violent student protests emerged. In this landscape and under these circumstances, strategic action is generally theorised as being vital to institutional survival.

In this empirical qualitative study, I have investigated strategic thinking from the perspective of an individual strategic thinker. A total of 33 semi-structured interviews were captured, coded and analysed using thematic analysis with NVivo software.

The findings show that there is a distinct flow from development into implementation of enrolment strategy and that the strategy context is shaped in three levels - the individual, organisation and national. There are three corresponding binary realities including an overarching complexity and ubiquitous emergent behaviour that has largely not understood. Individuals who are performing strategic thinking need to re-orientate themselves via a number of ontological shifts, accomplished through process, methodological, dialectical and complexity shifts. Ultimately, strategic thinking in development and implementation of enrolment strategy requires an overall shift in a person’s mindset towards being more conscious of their own and other’s limitations. In other words, strategic thinking requires cognisance of people as essential parts of the development and implementation of enrolment strategy system.
Date of Award16 Sept 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorHong Bui (Supervisor) & Jurgen Enders (Supervisor)


  • Higher education
  • Strategic thinking
  • Universities

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