Skip to main content

University mergers in Russia from the students’ perspective: uncertainty and loss of identity


University mergers are a common practice in higher education systems around the world. Merger-related aspects such as the transformation of organizational and administrative structures, the impact on the internal funding allocation mechanisms, or changes in academic strategies and profiles, are well researched. However, the role of students in university mergers and their understanding of these processes are hardly investigated. The aim of this study was to identify how students are affected by merger processes. Through the conceptual framework, integrating university organizational identity theory and studies of the human side of mergers and acquisitions, this article encompasses six institutional cases in Russian higher education. These cases were selected to illustrate different scenarios of university mergers and accordingly to analyze the variety of student experience in changing universities. The project’s data included the results of document analysis, analysis of the merged universities’ representation in the public space, interviews and focus-groups with university administrators and with students who studied during the process of university merger. It highlights such perceived effects of mergers as anxiety and perceived unfairness due to post-merger changes, activization of we-they opposition between the students of merged universities, loss or transformation of organizational identity, and clash of university cultures.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.


  • Aula, H. M., & Tienari, J. (2011). Becoming ‘world-class’? Reputation-building in a university merger. Critical Perspectives on International Business, 7(1), 7–29.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bliuc, A. M., Ellis, R. A., Goodyear, P., & Hendres, D. M. (2011). Understanding student learning in context: relationships between university students’ social identity, approaches to learning, and academic performance. European Journal of Psychology of Education, 26(3), 417–433.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Clark, S. M., Gioia, D. A., Ketchen, D. J., Jr., & Thomas, J. B. (2010). Transitional identity as a facilitator of organizational identity change during a merger. Administrative Science Quarterly, 55(3), 397–438.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Collins, R. (1979). The credential society: An historical sociology of education and stratification. New York: Academic Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Daniels, J., & Brooker, J. (2014). Student identity development in higher education: implications for graduate attributes and work-readiness. Educational Research, 56(1), 65–76.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Delgado, L., & León, G. (2015). Strategic aggregation of universities in Spain: The Spanish program international campus of excellence and the experience of the Technical University of Madrid. In A. Curaj, L. Georghiou, J. C. Harper, & E. Egron-Polak (Eds.), Mergers and alliances in higher education (pp. 243–272). Springer International Publishing.

  • Empson, L. (2004). Organizational identity change: managerial regulation and member identification in an accounting firm acquisition. Accounting, Organizations and Society, 29(8), 759–781.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Greenwood, R., & Hinings, C. R. (1996). Understanding radical organizational change: bringing together the old and the new institutionalism. Academy of Management Review, 21(4), 1022–1054.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Harman, K. (2002). Merging divergent campus cultures into coherent educational communities: challenges for higher education leaders. Higher Education, 44(1), 91–114.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Harman, G., & Harman, K. (2003). Institutional mergers in higher education: lessons from international experience. Tertiary Education and Management, 9(1), 29–44.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Haunschild, P., Moreland, R., & Murrell, A. (1994). Sources of resistance to mergers between groups. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 24, 1150–1178.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hogg, M. A., & Terry, D. I. (2000). Social identity and self-categorization processes in organizational contexts. Academy of Management Review, 25(1), 121–140.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Kyvik, S., & Stensaker, B. (2013). Factors affecting the decision to merge: the case of strategic mergers in Norwegian higher education. Tertiary Education and Management, 19(4), 323–337.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Mirc, N. (2007). Mergers and acquisitions: Revisiting the human factor in the light of a knowledge-based view of the firm and complexity theory. Paper presented at the EIASM-22nd workshop on Strategic Human Resource Management, France.

  • Norgеrd, J. D., & Skodvin, O. (2002). The importance of geography and culture in mergers: a Norwegian institutional case study. Higher Education, 44(1), 73–90.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Pavlyutkin, I. (2014) University merger and Sensemaking at the threshold: Understanding radical organizational change in higher education. Basic Research Program. Working Papers Series: Education: WP BRP 16/EDU/2014. Accessed 03.09.2018.

  • Platonova, D., & Semyonov, D. (2018). Russia: The institutional landscape of Russian higher education. In J. Huisman, A. Smolentseva, & I. Froumin (Eds.), 25 years of transformations of higher education systems in post-Soviet countries: Reform and continuity (pp. 337–362). Palgrave Macmillan.

  • Romanenko, K. (2018). University mergers: the implications for students. Educational Studies Moscow, 1, 154–173.

    Google Scholar 

  • Romanenko, K., & Lisyutkin, M. (2018). University mergers in Russia: four waves of educational policy. Russian Education and Society, 60(1), 58–73.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Salmi, J., & Froumin, I. (2013). Excellence initiatives to establish world-class universities: Evaluation of recent experiences [Kak gosudarstva dobivayutsya mezhdunarodnoy konkurentosposobnosti universitetov: Uroki dlya Rossii]. Educational Studies Moscow, 1, 25–68.

    Google Scholar 

  • Scanlon, L., Rowling, L., & Weber, Z. (2007). ‘You don’t have like an identity… you are just lost in a crowd’: forming a student identity in the first-year transition to university. Journal of Youth Studies, 10(2), 223–241.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Seo, M. G., & Hill, N. S. (2005). Understanding the human side of merger and acquisition: an integrative framework. The Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, 41(4), 422–443.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Skodvin, O. J. (2014). Merger as an instrument to achieve quality in higher education-rhetoric or reality? Paper presented at the EAIR 36th Annual Forum in Essen, Germany.

  • Stensaker, B. (2007). The relationship between branding and organisational change. Higher Education Management and Policy, 19(1), 1–17.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Strauss, A., & Corbin, J. (1990). Basics of qualitative research: Grounded theory procedure and techniques. Newbury Park: Sage.

    Google Scholar 

  • Ullrich, J., Wieseke, J., & Dick, R. V. (2005). Continuity and change in mergers and acquisitions: a social identity case study of a German industrial merger. Journal of Management Studies, 42(8), 1549–1569.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Ursin, J., Aittola, H., Henderson, C., & Välimaa, J. (2010). Is education getting lost in university mergers? Tertiary Education and Management, 16(4), 327–340.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Vaara, E., Tienari, J., & Säntti, R. (2003). The international match: metaphors as vehicles of social identity-building in cross-border mergers. Human Relations, 56(4), 419–451.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Weber, Y., & Drori, I. (2011). Integrating organizational and human behavior perspectives on mergers and acquisitions: looking inside the black box. International Studies of Management and Organization, 41(3), 76–95.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Weerts, D. J., Freed, G. H., & Morphew, C. C. (2014). Organizational identity in higher education: Conceptual and empirical perspectives in higher education. In M. B. Paulsen (Ed.), Higher education: Handbook of theory and research (pp. 229–278). Dordrecht: Springer Netherlands.

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  • Zinkovsky, K., & Derkachev, P. (2018). Restructuring the system of higher education: assessing the outcomes of university mergers. Russian Education and Society, 60(5), 402–421.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Ksenia Romanenko.

Additional information

Publisher’s note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Romanenko, K., Froumin, I. University mergers in Russia from the students’ perspective: uncertainty and loss of identity. Tert Educ Manag 26, 233–245 (2020).

Download citation

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:


  • University mergers
  • Organizational change
  • Organizational identity
  • Higher education policy
  • Student experience
  • Student feedback