Putting Internationalisation Strategies into Practice: The Role of University Non-leaders’ Sensemaking

  • Berlin Tran

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


Internationalisation is the buzzword in higher education, and indeed it would be a challenge to find a university that has no internationalisation strategies. However, very few studies have explored higher education internationalisation from a strategic management perspective. Thus, little is known about how universities formulate and implement internationalisation strategies and perhaps more importantly how such strategies are being executed or realised into concrete outcomes. The present study aims to address this gap by exploring how internationalisation strategies are made sense of and realised by three university stakeholders who are not conventionally strategy-makers but are instrumental in creating outcomes for internationalisation strategies: deans, lecturers and students.
The theoretical grounding of this study is based on the Strategy-as-Practice approach in strategic management and sensemaking theory. Empirical evidence is gathered from two case studies in Vietnam using a combination of semi-structured interviews, focus groups, document analysis, quasi-ethnographic campus visits and social media analysis.
This study has found that the outcomes of internationalisation strategies and even the strategies themselves are shaped by how deans, lecturers and students make sense of them. This sensemaking is special in that most of the time (a) it happens without intent, due to the three stakeholders’ lack of interest in university-level strategic matters, and (b) it is indirect and implicit, because the stakeholders seldom have access to formal strategic information but rather become aware of internationalisation strategies by noticing internationalisation matters in the mundane, routine tasks of their respective roles. Briefly put, sensemaking of internationalisation strategies occur through sensemaking of role-related tasks. Which and how the tasks, and thus internationalisation strategies, are made sense of then depend on the distinct role features and individual schemas of deans, lecturers and students, and can be constrained by institutional forces at the meso (organisational) and macro (extra-organisational, field, societal) levels. In the end, the three stakeholders’ sensemaking lead them towards actions that create a spectrum of outcomes for internationalisation strategies, ranging from better-than-intended to complete failure. More importantly, some of the actions result in emergent ways of doing that replace formal strategies as the university’s de facto internationalisation strategies. In rare cases, non-leaders’ sensemaking may even stimulate strategy innovation or adjustment.
The findings also respectively highlight the role of frontline engagement, micro-politics and social media in the sensemaking process of deans, lecturers and students. In addition, it has been found that deans, lecturers and students’ meaning-making can be leveraged to great effects by top management via empowerment.
The insights generated in this study have provided contributions to three literatures, namely higher education internationalisation, Strategy-as-Practice and sensemaking. My study also carries practical implications for the strategic management of higher education internationalisation.
Date of Award24 Jun 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorRichard Watermeyer (Supervisor) & Jurgen Enders (Supervisor)


  • higher education
  • internationalisation
  • strategic management
  • organisation studies
  • sensemaking
  • Vietnam

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