Strategic Entrepreneurship for Practitioners in the Higher Education Industry: Shaping the Context to Fill An Institutional Learning Void

Alison Pearce, James Cunningham

    Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


    External & Internal Context: the UK Higher Education Industry The UK is a market economy in the capitalist system and, as such, education is a function of the government’s contribution to the capital accumulation process in that graduates supply the labour market (Dale, 1989). Under pressure from diminishing public funding and increasing competition, universities worldwide have become international enterprises forced to re-evaluate their strategies (Grigg, 1994). They suffer constrained autonomy, disputed values and aims, political scrutiny, public accountability and increasing performance demands (Williams, 1995). ‘New managerialism’ in the public sector (Deem 2001), attempts to regulate academic work and change culture. External environmental factors make the opportunity cost of universities continuing with ‘business as usual’ very high and so ironically there is an increasing emphasis on entrepreneurship in HE (Binks & Lumsdaine, 2003). According to Smith (1990), the role of a university is to foster creativity and responsiveness to change. This suggests that universities need to be entrepreneurial organisations if they are to fulfil this role but will have to “learn” entrepreneurial behaviours if they are to succeed. Mintzberg (1979) characterises universities as professional bureaucracies and Grigg (1994) warns that one can expect a distinct management style in ‘professional’ organisations due to the “tension between professional values and bureaucratic expectations” (p.279). Demands for academic autonomy clash with bureaucratic, hierarchical control, making it difficult to serve and satisfy both requirements. Mintzberg et al. (1998) use a university as an example of Learning Strategy (“strategy formation as an emergent process”, p.175) in the professional organisation. Liu & Dubinsky (2000) come from the apparently opposite direction but arrive in a similar place. They suggest that it is the current ‘transitional state’ of UK universities that require them to consider emergent strategy (Mintzberg & Waters, 1985) in addition to the “rational planning to which they are accustomed” (Liu & Dubinsky, 2000, p.1323) and they use the dynamism of the environment as a justification for proposing that academic institutions need to go beyond conventional planning by facilitating ‘intrapreneurship’ (Pinchot, 1985) i.e. internal entrepreneurship. Environmental changes have led to changes in the relative power and responsibilities of academics and administrators within universities and this leads Liu & Dubinsky to recommend ‘corporate entrepreneurship’ (Burgelman, 1983c) as a strategic option. ‘Corporate entrepreneurship’ and ‘umbrella strategy’ (Mintzberg & Waters, 1985) are brought together in Mintzberg et al.’s (1998) ‘Learning School’, in which strategy formation and implementation are regarded as an emergent process. The use of a singular noun is deliberate. This school of thought is one which attempts to describe how strategy is actually managed, as opposed to how it should be managed (as in the prescriptive schools) and it was initiated by Lindblom’s (1959) article The Science of Muddling-Through. Burgelman’s (1983a) ‘autonomous strategic behaviour’ (ASB) is characterised as “the motor of corporate entrepreneurship” (p.241). Topic: Strategic Entrepreneurship in HE In academic literature, the attitude towards entrepreneurship in HE is negative and equated with ‘new managerialism’ (e.g. in Vaira, 2004 and Turner & Robson, 2007). There can be an ignorance of strategic management and a related prejudice against ‘a business ethos’ (Vaira, 2004). Consider the original definition of entrepreneurship as “the doing of new things or the doing of things that are already being done in a new way” (Schumpeter, 1947, p.151) and others which emphasise autonomy and flexibility (e.g. Timmons et al., 1985). In condemning ‘new managerialism’ and its effect on ‘academic freedom’ academic authors unconsciously recommend an entrepreneurship culture. Burgelman’s 1983 theory of strategic entrepreneurship distinguishes between two different modes of strategic behaviour, ‘induced’ and ‘autonomous’. Induced behaviour “generates little equivocality in the corporate context” (p.65). Individuals engaging in autonomous behaviour “attempt to escape” (p.65) the presiding structural context and so do not follow the strategic planning process of the organisation: strategic entrepreneurs. Aim of the Research A generation ago, Drucker (1985) asserted that the promotion of entrepreneurship in public organisations is the “foremost political task of this generation” (p.187). Thornberry (2001) claims that “it is the large, slow-moving, bureaucratic organization operating in an increasingly turbulent environment that needs to do the most amount of entrepreneurial soul-searching” (p.530) while Kuratko & Goldsby (2004) have found entrepreneurship even “in the most stifling of bureaucratic organisations” (p.17). This paper’s overall objective and intended contribution to practice is to produce Argyris’ (2003) ‘actionable knowledge’ through what Smith and DiGregorio (2002) refer to as ‘bisociation’, which occurs when two previously unrelated matrices of information or knowledge are integrated. This paper proposes that ‘strategic entrepreneurs’ can execute the more innovative elements of HE strategy. Strategic entrepreneurs are attracted and motivated by the foundation of a diverse environment and entrepreneurial culture. Their autonomous strategic behaviour must be facilitated by an execution-focussed organisational architecture, allowing both individuals and the organisation to learn entrepreneurial behaviours. Method Using a first-, second and third-person Insider Action Research (AR) approach, six chronological, Apollonian (Heron, 1996) cycles of AR were enacted over a 28 month period in order to implement an element of internationalisation strategy between universities in the UK and France. Each cycle consisted of four steps: Diagnosing, Planning Action, Taking Action and Evaluating Action. Data generated were subjected to a double process of analysis – four phase analysis and a meta-cycle of enquiry. A policy of ‘subjectivity with transparency’ and transcontextual credibility throughout enables the reader to judge transferability to other contexts. Denscombe (1998) and Kember (2000) consider it important that AR leads to practical outcomes as well as theoretical knowledge. The AR which generated this paper falls within Prichard & Trowler’s (2003) definition of ‘close-up research’, and is therefore more likely than ‘far-off research’ to yield real improvements in practice and make an impact in the long term. Contribution: A New Model The broader, original definition of entrepreneurship (Schumpeter, 1947), including aspects of autonomy and flexibility and building on a strong value culture rather than bureaucratic process, mirrors the precious concept of ‘academic freedom’ and resists the rise of the “worst of managerialism” (Turner & Robson, 2007, p.67). This author accepts the benefits of adopting a more strategic approach and the team-working more common in commercial organisations. These can be described as ‘the best of managerialism’. This paper’s new model’s contribution to practice is to propose a method of implementing strategy through strategic entrepreneurship and to learn from it. It suggests the structure of a bridge across the knowing-doing gap and, if crossed, might provide Binks & Lumsdaine’s (2003) powerful ‘demonstration effect’ for other universities. Communication is the foundation in building and sustaining a conducive climate for entrepreneurship and innovation in HE. Much entrepreneurial skills development relies heavily on experiential learning. (ibid, p.51). This work broadens AR from education into entrepreneurship. The model focusses on the creation and combination of environmental and context-specific factors that shape the evolution of the entrepreneurial process in this contradictory and turbulent industry, enabling individual and institutional learning for entrepreneurship.
    Original languageEnglish
    Publication statusPublished - Oct 2016
    EventInstitute of Small Business & Entrepreneurship Annual Conference - Paris
    Duration: 1 Oct 2016 → …


    ConferenceInstitute of Small Business & Entrepreneurship Annual Conference
    Period1/10/16 → …


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