Sub-Plenary 1-3

The Impact of Large-Scale Funding on the Organizational Form of the University


Thursday, July 4, 2024, 16:00–17:30 CEST

U6 Building – “AGORÀ” | Room: U6-P-1-02 | Piazza dell’Ateneo Nuovo, 1 | 20126 Milano

Jane Bjørn Vedel [Chair], Copenhagen Business School, Denmark
Amanda Williams, IMD Business School, Switzerland
Thomas Alslev Christensen, Novo Nordisk Foundation, Denmark
Stine Grodal, Northeastern University, USA
Paula Jarzabkowski, University of Queensland Business School, Australia, & Bayes Business School, UK
Francisco O. Ramirez, Stanford University, USA

This interactive sub-plenary delves into the impact of large-scale funding on university organization. Drawing from a collaborative research project on this topic, we will explore the opportunities and challenges it presents. First, we will examine the historical evolution of universities to contextualize the recent rise in large-scale funding. Second, we will interpret this trend as representative of a broader organizational phenomenon that necessitates deeper understanding.

Impact understood as our scholarship’s ability to be impactful within and beyond academia has gained much interest in recent years. EGOS sub-plenaries and sub-themes on impact witness to our community’s interest in the topic. But impact in the opposite direction – the impact of the world around us on our profession’s structures and practices – is equally important yet much less explored and discussed. This sub-plenary opens a debate on what we term “outside-in” impact, that is, the impact of stakeholders on academia. We focus on one important form of outside-in impact, namely the impact of large-scale funding on the organizational form of the university.
Large-scale grants that establish large research centers in universities have become prevalent forms of funding, especially within STEM. In December 2021, the Danish Novo Nordisk Foundation awarded 2.2 billion DKK (300 million EUR) to the University of Copenhagen to establish the Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Stem Cell Medicine. In May 2022, philanthropists John and Ann Doerr donated 1.1 billion USD (1.04 billion EUR) to Stanford University to establish the Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability, the largest gift ever awarded to a university. These large-scale grants are crucial for universities’ income and international competitiveness and shape the research and career trajectories of individual researchers. Yet, they also create tension inside universities and affect the institutionalized organizational form of the university. For instance, in some contexts, large-scale grants create organizational units that have their own infrastructures and governance.
We understand that these large-scale grants will have an enormous societal impact in terms of their outcomes. But how will they impact the university? Which novel ways of conducting research do they afford? And which kinds of tensions and dilemmas do they give rise to within universities? How can we as organizational scholars ensure appropriate attention to their mechanisms of impact just like we have created a debate about the impact of our scholarship on society? This topic calls for a dialogue with stakeholders. We have invited one of the main funders in recent time and scholars with an interest in organization, higher education, and impact.
The topic of this sub-plenary is expected to be both relevant and appealing to the EGOS community. The “outside-in” angle on impact offers a new and important yet understudied view on impact, a topic that already interests the community. Moreover, this angle promises to unravel key impact dynamics in our own backyard and will therefore resonate with EGOS members worldwide. Finally, the combination of funders and leading scholars is expected to attract a considerable audience.
Key takeaways from the sub-plenary include that large-scale funding is here to stay yet we do not sufficiently understand its organizational consequences; large-scale funding creates opportunities to ask bigger, bolder questions but also creates tension inside the university; organizational research on impact should not only explore the impact of our scholarship on society (“inside-out”) but also investigate how stakeholders affect the organizational form of the university (“outside-in”).

Thomas Alslev Christensen is Senior Vice President of Impact at the Novo Nordisk Foundation, a Danish enterprise foundation that supports scientific, humanitarian, and social causes. From 2005 to 2014, he was Head of Department of the Danish Ministry of Higher Education and Science.
Stine Grodal is Distinguished Professor at Northeastern University D’Amore-McKim School of Business. Her research examines the emergence and evolution of fields, markets and industries with a specific focus on the role of corporate and non-profit stakeholders in these processes.
Paula Jarzabkowski is Professor of Strategic Management at University of Queensland, Australia, and City, University of London, United Kingdom. Her research focuses on strategy-as-practice in complex contexts. Paula’s scholarship has had immense impact on business, and she has a strong interest in the topic of impact.
Francisco O. Ramirez is the Vida Jacks Professor of Education at Stanford University, USA. He studies university organization from a comparative perspective, focusing on the relationship between models of excellence that promote common outcomes and varying historical legacies that foster differences.
Jane Bjørn Vedel is Associate Professor of Organization Theory and Innovation at Copenhagen Business School (CBS), Denmark. She is Co-Director of the Center for Organizational Research on Impact (CORI) at CBS’s Department of Organization, and she leads two research projects on the organizational impact of large-scale funding.