Explaining Change in the College Sector

Part of the Higher Education Dynamics book series (HEDY, volume 27)

The aim of this chapter is to develop a theoretical and analytical framework in order to improve our understanding of change in the higher education system outside universities. Explaining change in higher education would have been a rather simple exercise if a grand theory of social system change was readily available as an analytical tool, and if such a theory could convincingly explain all the processes embedded in the transformation of the college sector. Grand theories of course exist, but their explanatory power would have been limited if only one of them were applied. Such theories are attractive because they offer simple explanations to complex problems, but they can hardly be generalised to account for all change processes. The causes for each of the many changes that have taken place in higher education outside universities are too many and too complex to be explained by a single theory. In this respect, this study follows the general advice of Merton (1968: 39) on the fruitfulness of applying a diversity of theories of ‘the middle range’ to investigate and explain human behaviour, social processes, and social structure instead of using or developing a unified theory that aims to explain all observed phenomena. In line with this recommendation, this study employs a plurality of theories and analytical approaches to illuminate each of the change processes.

First, we apply the notion of organisational field to the college sector, and show how this field can be regarded as a hierarchy of levels, each with their organisations and individual actors. Second, we distinguish between three types of approach to change: structural, cultural, and interest-group explanations, which are viewed as complementary perspectives that combined can improve our understanding of the many change processes. Third, we develop a dynamic change model combining our elaboration of the field concept and the structural, cultural, and interest-group approaches to change.


High Education Change Process High Education Institution State Authority Study Programme 
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© Springer Science + Business Media B.V 2009

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