COUPLING – Organisational coupling of higher education institutions

Universities are core knowledge organisations in our societies and there is considerable public interest in how to facilitate high quality education and research. External policy initiatives in this often seem to lead to unintended consequences or limited changes. This is often explained by the unique and specific characteristics of universities, as complex, bottom-heavy and loosely coupled organisations. 

Yet, some of these claims of universities have hardly been explored empirically. For example, “loose coupling” of higher education organisations is more often assumed rather than analysed. This leaves significant gaps in our current understanding of intraorganizational dynamics of the university, and the relationship between formal organisation and work processes within. Rather than assume that universities as institutions were and/or are loosely coupled in a static sense, we ask what loose coupling entails; whether, and if so, how, coupling patterns in universities change over time; and how this all matters for work processes.

In the COUPLING project, we employ theoretical perspectives from organisational studies, including organisational institutionalism and sensemaking processes. Methodologically, we employ data from nationwide (Norwegian) surveys and extensive qualitative case analysis (Norway and Denmark) that systematically combines interview, observation and document data.

Participant observation will occur in both the Fellowship’s Aarhus and Copenhagen localities, and will be scheduled around participation principally in key milestone events (incl. candidate assessment day, group composition decisions, bootcamp, and ideation stage), but also observing the ordinary, everyday activities for fellows and programme facilitators.

To ensure in-depth knowledge of the set-up of the programme, approaches to training and support, as well as the lived experiences of the fellows, semi-structured interviews will also be carried out.

The programme has already designed and implemented surveys to measure the profiles, skills and perceptions of fellows. We will elaborate on these surveys to ensure that they complement the interviews and observation work.

The study will run until 2025.