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Higher Education Quarterly, 0951-5224


DOI: 10.1111/hequ.12014
Volume 67, No. 2, April 2013, pp 108110

Editorial
Cultural Considerations

This issue demonstrates the ebb and flow of imperatives for change in
higher education and the importance of cultural and social factors in
facilitating institutional adaptation. Sometimes, as illustrated by David
Raffe and Linda Croxford in relation to the knock-on effects of United
Kingdom (UK) devolution, these are beyond the control of individual
institutions. Using Universities and Colleges Admissions Service
(UCAS) data, the paper reveals a declining tendency for UK applicants
to apply to, and enter, higher education in another UK country,
although detailed patterns vary. Well-qualified applicants wishing to
study medicine, dentistry or veterinary medicine at a Russell Group
university may leave their home country, whereas a significant propor-
tion of Welsh and Northern Irish applications and entrants to English
institutions choose post-1992 universities. Post-devolution, therefore,
the four countries represent discrete social systems but are, at the same
time, in complex relations of dependence.
In turn, Jan Selmer, Jakob Lauring and Charlotte Jonasson consider
the social systems within institutions and how a shared language can
improve openness to diversity and the constructive use of heterogene-
ity. They see this as being fostered by rewards and incentives for
teamwork, collaboration and collective performance, as well as by social
activities. A knock-on effect for institutions is the creation of wider
networks and the academic, social and professional capital that these can
bring. Nevertheless, this raises an implicit question about the nature
of academic work and tensions that may arise with those aspects that
involve individual endeavour, often fostered by singular reward and
prestige systems.
The emergence of new legitimacies is pursued by Peter Hurley and
Creso Sa, who review the challenges involved in introducing an applied
bachelors (BAp) degree in Ontario, thus rearranging the fault lines
of the binary higher education and community college systems. This
involved achieving credentials via professional-body accreditation and a
programme advisory committee that included external stakeholders.
Nevertheless, acceptance of the new qualification was in large measure
based on pre-existing diploma programmes, already valued for their

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Editorial 109

vocational orientation. Thus, in embedding new practice, the turnkey is


likely to be a pragmatic legitimacy that reinforces a normative, pro-
cedural legitimacy, reflecting the critical nexus between formal structure
and the cognitive, symbolic and cultural aspects of academia.
Nigel Healey considers the reasons for another significant trend in
higher education, the expansion of franchising to overseas providers,
with the result that there are now more international students offshore
than on campus. He suggests that although such arrangements may have
begun for commercial reasons, they have expanded of their own volition
outwith strategic institutional agendas, often because of the enthusiasm
of representatives of the franchisee and academic and administrative
contacts in the home university. While such operations may develop a
life of their own, negative publicity about poor quality provision has also
led to institutions keeping their franchise provision low profile, internally
as well as externally.
Finally, Melinda Drowley, Duncan Lewis and Simon Brooks offer
a first-hand account of a merger process between the Royal Welsh
College of Music and Drama and the University of Glamorgan, and of
dissonance that occurred between policy decisions and implementation.
Post hoc issues included information flows between senior management,
project teams and rank-and-file staff; the fact that an effective working
relationship between the college principal and university vice-chancellor
could not provide a stable basis for systematic structural change as
time went on; tensions between the business case for merger and edu-
cational, cultural, professional and operational integration; and lack of
congruence between formal understandings and discourse at ground
level around, for instance, the student experience and academic
freedom. Therefore, a merger aspiring to be . . . best of both, in
which each partner is the richer for what the other brings, needs to take
into account networks and traditions that transcend institutional
boundaries.
These contributions suggest that successful institutional adaptation is
likely to depend on a consultative approach and a measured pace of
evolution, although considered judgements may be needed in relation to
urgent policy or market imperatives and tipping points may bring step
change. On the one hand, the fate of the academic profession may lie
. . . in how it responds to changes that impact on universities and higher
education systems worldwide in the coming years (Enders, 2006, p. 19).
On the other, the academic profession . . . is exposed to substantial
expectations and pressures, but these . . . are not enforcing ways [in
which] . . . scholars view their situation and how they act; they have to

2013 The Authors. Higher Education Quarterly 2013 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.
110 Higher Education Quarterly

respond, but they have the leeway for interpretation and action (Hohle
and Teichler, 2013, p. 35). Furthermore, although a clear steer may not
lead to sustainable outcomes in relation to staff morale, as in the case of
the merger story, a lack of strategic direction may in turn lead to drift
and a mismatch between intentions and outcomes, as in the account of
franchising arrangements. This illustrates the tricky path to be navigated
by institutions as they address the ongoing stream of contingencies
characterising contemporary environments, in which attention to cul-
tural and social factors is nevertheless likely to be critical.

Dr Celia Whitchurch
Professor Lee Harvey

References
Enders, J. (2006) The Academic Profession. In J. Forest and P. Altbach (Eds), Interna-
tional Handbook of Higher Education. Dordrecht: Springer, pp. 121.
Hohle, E. and U. Teichler (2013) The Academic Profession in the Light of Comparative
Surveys. In B. Kehm and U. Teichler (Eds), The Academic Profession in Europe: New
Tasks and New Challenges. Dordrecht: Springer, pp. 2238.

2013 The Authors. Higher Education Quarterly 2013 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.
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