Tertiary colleges: a study of perspectives on organizational innovation

Preedy, Margaret (1998). Tertiary colleges: a study of perspectives on organizational innovation. PhD thesis The Open University.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.21954/ou.ro.000049a8


The purpose of this research study was to explore organisational innovation in education with reference to one particular type of organisation - the tertiary college. The research sought to examine the extent to which the intended objectives for new educational organisations are realised in practice, and how far the goals and ethos which organisational leaders seek to promote are shared by organisational members. The study focused on eleven tertiary colleges, comparing the 'official' view of the colleges, as put forward by senior managers, with the perspectives of staff and students.

Tertiary colleges are responsible for all or most full and part time non-advanced education for the post-16 age group in the areas which they serve (some also have some advanced work). The colleges thus combine all provision which elsewhere is separately administered in school sixth forms, sixth form colleges and further education colleges.

The literature review draws on concepts from organisation theory, and discusses various models for analysing organisations and their goals: rational system and formal models, and three alternative approaches - political, ambiguity and subjective models. Rational system and formal models are dominant in the organisational literature. They focus on the official aspects of organisations rather than the perspectives of members. The review then explores the role of structure and culture in the pursuit of organisational goals, the extent to which organisations have a shared culture or ethos, and the factors contributing to successful change in educational institutions.

The study examined four main issues :
(1) To what extent are the goals set out by institutional leaders shared by other members of the organisation?
(2) How far do new structures influence perspectives and attitudes?
(3) To what extent are new types of organisation able to develop a distinctive culture and ethos?
(4) Are there major differences between individual organisations of the same type?

Evidence to explore these issues was gathered by means of interviews with principals and vice-principals; analysis of college documents: and questionnaire surveys of staff and full and part-time students.

It was found that organisational members - staff and students - shared the official view of the colleges' goals and ethos to some extent. However, there were a number of mismatches and disparities between the official perspective and the views of members, and an 'implementation gap' (Becher, 1989), between goals as ideals and goals as enacted. There was also evidence of cultural differentiation, rather than the integrationist culture portrayed by the principals. There were considerable subgroup differences in members' perspectives and in the extent to which they shared the goals and ethos of their colleges. There were also wide inter-college disparities in staff and student views.

The study indicates that organisational goals impact differentially on various member subgroups, and that organisations sharing similar purposes may achieve these purposes to widely differing degrees. The analysis suggests that formal and rational system models of organisations are inadequate for understanding organisational change. It is necessary to draw on alternative perspectives to interpret the 'competing realities' (Greenfield, 1973) and 'less-than-rational' (Hoyle, 1986) aspects of organisational life.

The study focused on internal aspects of the tertiary colleges, but there was evidence that external factors may have influenced their goals and development. The conclusion therefore considers the broader policy context for the development of the tertiary colleges, as compared with other new types of organisation - City Technology Colleges and grant-maintained schools. It is suggested that 'new institutionalist' ideas, which portray the environment as having a central influence on organisational development, may provide a useful framework for reinterpreting the findings of the study. New institutionalist concepts provide an important corrective to the assumptions of rational system and formal models that organisations have a relatively high degree of autonomy in establishing and pursuing internally-generated goals

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