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Profit for knowledge’s sake: The challenges for universities in constructing a brand in the twenty-first century

This thesis investigated how the challenges of constructing a brand in the twenty-first century are impacting on the idea of a university. There is a growing evidence-base in the literature that demonstrates the influence of marketisation on universities. However, there is little research that explores the intersection between the application of disruptive innovation to universities, how they might respond to disruption and the subsequent effect on the construction of their brands. This raises questions about how marketisation has impacted the internal culture of universities, how institutions manage their brands and, how leadership should confront challenges to the idea of a university. The theoretical framework for this thesis was informed by social constructionism. The data was collected by undertaking semi-structured interviews with 24 senior leaders and marketing professionals employed by universities in the United States of America (USA), the United Kingdom (UK), Australia and, the People’s Republic of China (China). The data was analysed by applying the step-by-step guide to thematic analysis provided by Braun and Clark (2006). This study found that there was tension as universities constructed and communicated their brand identities; tension as most of the participants perceived that some external stakeholders had constructed different ideas from them about what a university is and represents; and, tension as many of the participants observed senior leadership determining the most effective strategies to balance an inherent desire to protect the traditional idea of a university against the complex challenges that were confronting them. How the participants accounted for this tension was of critical concern to this study. Universities are complex organisations and the findings suggest that there is the potential for tensions to increase as the participants attempt to make sense of the changing demands from their diverse stakeholders. The credential is referred to in the literature as the heart of the business of universities (Milligan & Kennedy, 2017) and therefore establishing trust in the credential is core to its brand identity (Galbraith, 2016). A conclusion from this research is that it seems likely that the value of the credential will continue to decline as employers seek a differently skilled workforce. This may have a substantial impact on the ‘product’ that a university has to ‘sell’ and as a consequence their brand identities may need to reposition. The findings presented in this thesis build upon an understanding of the literature that relates to the construction of the university brand, the idea of the university and how disruptive innovation applies to universities.
Type of thesis
Craig, D. (2020). Profit for knowledge’s sake: The challenges for universities in constructing a brand in the twenty-first century (Thesis, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)). The University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/13548
The University of Waikato
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