Sub-theme 63: The Organizing of Academia

Lars Engwall
Uppsala University, Sweden
Georg Krücken
University of Kassel, Germany
Christine Musselin
SciencesPo, Paris, France

Call for Papers

Higher education and research are two activities that have experienced a spectacular expansion during the last hundred years. Although universities date back to medieval time, and research in the modern meaning emerged already in the eighteenth century, it is particularly after Second World War that higher education and research have taken off (Engwall, 2020). The outcome of this development is many types of organizational forms: universities, colleges, research institutes, think tanks, and etcetera. Within these, there are considerable variations in terms of age, scale and scope.
Among educational institutions, there is thus a significant difference between those offering just graduate education and those also offering undergraduate education. Likewise, there are variations regarding the scale and scope of research. As a result, populations of institutions for higher education and research exhibit a considerable heterogeneity. The development of such populations and the interaction over time between its members − that is its organizing − is a significant topic for organizational scholars (Ferlie et al., 2009). It is particularly important to identify the forces behind the foundations of academic institutions, the processes of their successive embeddedness in society, and the relationships between them (Hüther & Krücken, 2018; Musselin & Teixeira, 2014). The latter has become an increasingly significant issue in the growing populations of organizations, since individual institutions feel a pressure to show their excellence in relation to others. Manifestations of this are accreditations, rankings and all sorts of promotion activities in order to impress prospective faculty members, students, research granting institutions and donors (Altbach & Salmi, 2011; Douglas, 2016; Hazelkorn, 2015).
However, the organizing is not only a question of the development of populations of academic institutions. An equally important issue is the organizing within these institutions (Bleiklie et al., 2017). This question has become particularly current as large corporations − not least through their visibility in media − have become role models for organizing. Traditional collegial forms of organizing have been challenged at the same time as bureaucracies exhibit considerable growth at all levels of academic organizations. One manifestation of this tendency is the increasing emphasis of managerial skills rather than academic skills in the recruitment of academic leaders. (Engwall, 2014; Goodall, 2009).
The organizing of academic institutions is also a question of division of labour. Traditionally universities were organized in faculties of theology, medicine and law. The faculty of philosophy, out of which faculties of natural science, humanities and social sciences have emerged, eventually supplemented these higher faculties. Over time, the scale and scope of these faculties have changed, thereby creating new power relations. In addition, the North American model of schools – of medicine, law, engineering and business – has diffused to other continents (Clark, 1983; Cole, 2010; Geiger, 2019). In several countries, such units constitute stand-alone institutions.
Finally, yet importantly, it is important to keep in mind that academic work is not only undertaken in universities and colleges. In addition, there are research institutes, think tanks and other institutions of similar kind (Garsten & Sörbom, 2018). For them, organizing sometimes takes other forms, not least because of the absence of education. At the same time, they are in both a symbiosis and a competition with universities through their recruitment of staff.
These questions, obviously, have to be seen in light of possible long-lasting consequences of the Corona crisis. When reflecting on the organizing of academia, we do not know, for instance, about the impact on the hitherto increasing international organizing of research and the traditionally space-bound organizing of teaching, to mention the two core missions of universities. Furthermore, one might reflect on whether and how the organizational culture of academic institutions, which is build upon routine face-to-face interactions at work, can be maintained in an era of home office work.
Against the above backdrop, the sub-theme aims to shed light on the organizing of academia by inviting both conceptual and empirical papers. We, particularly but not only, welcome submissions that examine:

  • The organizing of higher education and research in different context in a historical perspective

  • The relationship between different types of institutions for higher education and research

  • The organizing of academic institutions

  • The leadership of academic institutions

  • The changing structures of academic institutions


  • Altbach, P., & Salmi, J. (2011): The Road to Academic Excellence: The Making of World-Class Research Universities. Washington: World Bank Publications.
  • Bleiklie, I., Enders, J., & Lepori, B. (eds.) (2017): Managing Universities: Policy and Organizational Change in a Western European Comparative Perspective. London: Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Clark, B.R. (1983): The Higher Education System: Academic Organization in Cross-national Perspective. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • Cole, J.R. (2010): The Great American University: Its Rise to Preeminence, Its Indispensable National Role, Why it Must Be Protected. New York: Perseus Books Group.
  • Douglas, J.A. (2016): The New Flagship University: Changing the Paradigm from Global Ranking to National Relevancy. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Engwall, L. (2014): “The recruitment of university leaders: politics, communities and markets in interaction.” Scandinavian Journal of Management, 30 (3), 332–343.
  • Engwall, L. (ed.) (2020): Missions of Universities: Past, Present, Future. Cham: Springer.
  • Ferlie, E., Musselin, C., & Andresani, G. (2009): The Governance of Higher Education Systems: A Public Management Perspective. Dordrecht: Springer.
  • Geiger, R.L. (2019): American Higher Education since World War II: A History. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
  • Garsten, C., & Sörbom, A. (2018): Discreet Power: How the World Economic Forum Shapes Market Agendas. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
  • Goodall, A.H. (2009): Socrates in the Boardroom: Why Research Universities Should be Led by Top Scholars. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
  • Hazelkorn, E. (2015): Rankings and the Reshaping of Higher Education. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Hüther, O., & Krücken, G. (2018): Higher Education in Germany − Recent Developments in an International Perspective. Cham: Springer.
  • Musselin, C., & Teixeira, P.N. (eds.) (2014): Reforming Higher Education: Public Policy Design and Implementation. Dordrecht: Springer.
Lars Engwall is Professor Emeritus of Business Studies at Uppsala University, Sweden. He has published widely on institutional change and the diffusion of management ideas, in particular the role of management education and of the media.
Georg Krücken is Director of the International Centre for Higher Education Research Kassel and Professor of Sociology and Higher Education Research at the University of Kassel, Germany His research interests include science studies, organizational studies, the management of higher education, and neo-institutional theory.
Christine Musselin is former Dean for Research at SciencesPo and a member of the Centre de Sociologie des Organisations, Paris, France. She leads comparative studies on university governance, public policies in higher education and research, state-universities relationships and academic labour markets, and has published several monographs on these topics.