Call for a Resource Perspective in Higher Education Studies

In recent years, European universities have undergone many reorganizing efforts. Although differing from country to country, the dominant pattern is a centralization of activities and responsibilities (de Boer et al., 2005). Hitherto, higher education research mainly adresses this development from a governance perspective. This stream of research primarily analyses the scope of actions and formal responsibilities of different status and stakeholder groups in (de)central governing bodies (Mora, 2001). Although some organization-economic (Antonelli, 2007) and behavioristic (Cohen et al., 1972) studies exist, the governance perspective is primarily rooted in organization-sociology (Krücken, 2011). Centralization tendencies are discussed rather critical as they might endager the social function of universities (Birnbaum, 2004).

However, the governance point of view – with its focus on (formal) behavior control and allocation of decision rights – is only one among many theoretical frameworks to analyze organizations. Another prominent perspective is the resource or competence perspective (Noteboom, 2004; Williamson, 2000). It directs our attention to the generation of organization specific resources (Barney 1991) like organizational knowledge (Eisenhardt & Martin, 2000; Grant, 1996) or core competencies (Dierickx & Cool, 1989; Prahalad  & Hamel, 1990). From a resource perspective, the pooling of activities may support the core activities of teaching and research. In the long run, a centralized creation of common resources might even enhance the institution’s reputation, attracting international students, better scholars, and higher funding. Like governance-focused research, the resource perspective also acknowledges the possible shortcomings of a centralization. They mainly arise from observability and measurement problems of knowledge-based activities (Leitner & Warden, 2004). Thus, there is no such thing as ‘the’ optimal degree of centralization. The pros and cons must be carefully considered and balanced. However, by focussing the development and sharing of organizational knowledge and competencies, resource based studies of universities may provide novel and fruitful insights for the debate on which activities to centralize and which to delegate.

Our current study on University Commons develops a resource perspective for higher education institutions. It might supplement previous arguments made from a governance perspective. We’ll keep you posted..

5 thoughts on “Call for a Resource Perspective in Higher Education Studies

  1. Helen de Haan

    There are two main streams of competitive theory, namely the Industry/Organisation (I/O) and the Resource-based View (RBV). Current studies in the education literature on managing internationalisation only seem to consider the I/O approach in searching for a fit between the higher education institutions and their external environment, although the RBV has increasingly gained in popularity in the strategic management field of business literature. The RBV’s strength lays in its ability to achieve competitive advantage enhancement by utilising organisations’ available internal resources which are more controllable in comparison to their external environmental factors. Since the value of this theoretical development is not yet fully recognised by educational research and practices, we need good studies based on the educational practices that aim to fill this gap.

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  2. Helen de Haan

    There are several reasons why the Resource-based View (RBV) may be applicable for public higher education institutions (PHEIs) when talking about internationalisation and competitive advantage building. First, the RBV provides a basic platform to compare the education and business sector, since PHEIs and firms all possess the three resource types, although it is unclear whether the content of these resources is the same. Second, the RBV is claimed to be applicable explicitly for the private sector and implicitly for the public sector (Barney and Arikan, 2001; Powell, 2001; Cool et al. 2002; Rouse and Daellenbach, 2002; Hoopes et al. 2003, Bryson et al. 2007). Third, public HEIs have the characteristic of resource dependency: they are mainly funded by the state government with public money. Given the economic pressure resulting from budget cutting, the efficient and effective use of resources has become a major priority for PHEIs (Mok, 2005; Dollery and Mun, 2006). Particularly in an increasingly global marketplace where the unit of resource per student is being reduced, resources have become increasingly important for PHEIs (Jongbloed and Vossensteyn, 2001; Harley, 2002; Taylor, 2002; Mazzarol et al. 2003; Lynch and Baines, 2004). Fourth, the RBV has more affinity than the externally oriented competitive theory with the public higher education sector. For example: the Porter’s five forces theory focuses on market competition, but PHEIs in general still have less dependence on the resources generated from markets. There are fewer new entrants and substitutions in this sector. Even though students have been referred to as ‘customers’, the seller-buyer relationship of the marketplace is generally still strongly resisted by this sector.

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    1. Fabian Post author

      Indeed, you are totally right! There are many reasons for an application of resource-based theories in higher education studies. Of course, in contrast to Porter’s market based view or to economic governance perspectives like Williamson’s transaction cost theory.

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