Managing the tensions between the maintenance of academic standards and the commercial imperative: A case study in UK higher education

  • Graham Pitcher

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Business (DBA)


During the past two decades there have been significant changes in the landscape for higher education. Among these was a trend for universities and colleges to respond by adopting a more market-driven approach, leading to the introduction of new public management within universities and colleges, which led to the emergence of tensions between the academic and quasi business aims.In 2004 the UK government changed the criteria for the grant of degree-awarding powers and university title opening up the possibility for non-public organisations to apply. This thesis presents the case study of a private sector for-profit organisation as it introduced a more robust quality assurance infrastructure during the application process for taught degree-awarding powers. The analysis is undertaken within a conceptual framework developed from institutional and agency theory. The need to demonstrate legitimacy and the influence of key groups played a large part in the changes made. Using data collected via participant observation, key informant interviews and documentary evidence, the study examines the changes and management actions that took place during the period between June 2004 and July 2009 in order to identify the strategies that were adopted to manage the tensions between the academic standards and the commercial imperative of meeting shareholder expectations.The study contributes to the literature covering change in educational institutions and in particular that which reports on the introduction of a more business-oriented approach to the management of universities. The study is able to bring a new perspective to studying the management of tensions between academic and business aims by looking at the issues from an alternative angle. The key strategy developed was a gradual rationalisation of the academic aims within the business aims such that the duality of aims was diminished.
Date of Award1 Jun 2011
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorJeroen Huisman (Supervisor)


  • institutional
  • change management
  • higher education
  • market-led
  • private sector

Cite this