Third mission as institutional strategies: Between isomorphic forces and heterogeneous pathways

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The recent spread of the ‘entrepreneurial university’ model has been accompanied by active government policies to support commercialisation of academic research and various forms of engagement with non-academic communities. This raises questions about whether this policy drive may constitute isomorphic forces for universities to follow certain organisational pathways, leading to a uniform ‘one-size-fits-all’ model of the university third mission activities. By looking at the case of English higher education, this paper addresses the tension between external isomorphic forces and the heterogeneous nature of knowledge exchange activities at individual universities. The paper adopts an ‘institutional logic’ perspective to explain the heterogeneous pathways that organisations take in response to external environments and their own strategic choices. It draws from qualitative documentary analysis of the third mission institutional strategies of universities, as well as data from the Higher Education Business Community Interaction Survey (HEBCI), to better understand the complex and intertwined contexts of universities’ missions, strategies and perceived external environments. Against the ‘one-size-fit-all’ isomorphic pressures, each university creates their own approaches and models of third mission by targeting different areas of activities, partners and geographical areas, and by combining different set of missions, capabilities and resources. However, there is a significant variety in the extent to which individual HEIs can actually implement these strategies by generating unique internal capabilities.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)scw015
JournalScience and Public Policy
Publication statusPublished - 4 Jun 2016


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