Exploring Institutional and Organizational Complexity: A Study of Sustainability in English Public Universities’ Campus Operations

Zhang, Hongyi (2022) Exploring Institutional and Organizational Complexity: A Study of Sustainability in English Public Universities’ Campus Operations. Doctoral thesis, Northumbria University.

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The aim of this study is to explore the rationales for English public universities to engage in campus operational sustainability (OS) activities and the barriers to progressing OS, mainly based on the perceptions and experiences of university personnel directly involved in these activities at a managerial level. Some scholars criticize that the previous application of organizational legitimacy theory in the field of sustainability research is more concerned with society as a whole and does not
examine particular stakeholder groups. There is also a lack of research empirically investigating the reasons for OS engagement in higher education institutions through neo-institutional perspectives. More in-depth engagement based empirical research on various barriers to progressing OS is needed.
This study adopts neo-institutional theory and organizational legitimacy theory to help explain the rationales for English public universities’ OS engagement. The researcher draws on insights from sustainability literature, so as to better understand a range of barriers to OS progress in universities.
The philosophical stances of this study are based on constructionism and interpretivism. The research adopted a qualitative research approach and used semi-structured interview and document analysis to gather data. The semi-structured interview was the main data collection method and document analysis was the additional, supporting method to supplement the interviews. A purposive sampling strategy was employed to select participants. The researcher conducted in-depth interviews with one experienced manager directly involved in OS from each of 20 English public universities with different organizational characteristics. Additionally, a large number of relevant external and internal documents were gathered and analyzed. Template analysis was used as the main method to analyse data. Prior to the main study, a pilot study of three universities was undertaken. Moreover, a number of approaches were applied to ensure research ethics and research quality.
This research identifies a range of coercive, normative and mimetic institutional mechanisms, influencing the universities’ rationales for OS engagement. In this context, the government, students and media are perceived as influential sources of legitimacy. The analysis also reveals conflicts between managers’ attempts to pursue moral legitimacy for substantive OS changes and universities’ pragmatic self-serving benefits. When facing such conflicts, universities may sometimes engage in symbolic OS activities for maintaining legitimacy in a superficial way, with limited substantive actions. In addition, the researcher divides the barriers to OS progress into organizational-related and social institutional-related barriers and proposes a number of approaches which could address the barriers.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Uncontrolled Keywords: sustainability management in higher education institutions, sustainable development, corporate social responsibility, qualitative methods, rationales for and barriers to sustainability management
Subjects: N100 Business studies
N200 Management studies
Department: Faculties > Business and Law > Newcastle Business School
University Services > Graduate School > Professional Doctorate
Depositing User: Rachel Branson
Date Deposited: 10 May 2022 12:33
Last Modified: 10 May 2022 12:45
URI: http://nrl.northumbria.ac.uk/id/eprint/49079

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