Academic journal article Journal of Higher Education

Developing Academic Strategic Alliances: Reconciling Multiple Institutional Cultures, Policies, and Practices

Academic journal article Journal of Higher Education

Developing Academic Strategic Alliances: Reconciling Multiple Institutional Cultures, Policies, and Practices

Article excerpt

The Promise of Interinstitutional Collaboration

Colleges and universities have often been required to evolve in response to shifting societal priorities. Over the past century, this occurred in the context of an ever-expanding system of higher education built with a substantial investment of public money. If society needed more professional programs, institutions added them. In the current context, however, the expectation of institutional accountability remains undiminished despite an increasingly resource-constrained environment. This places colleges and universities in a double bind. They are expected to address society's needs, yet they often do not have the resources to respond to them. Our institutions of higher learning are limited in the ways they can generate additional capital, and efforts to free resources by reducing administrative overhead and reallocating responsibilities have often produced pyrrhic victories (Eckel, 2003).

However, one promising means for developing new capacities is the creation of strategic partnerships between colleges and universities. Such arrangements are well documented in the management literature. Termed interorganizational relationships (IORs), such collaborative enterprises assume a variety of forms (Bailey & McNally Koney, 2000; Barringer & Harrison, 2000). They may be differentiated from one another on a number of dimensions, including: (a) the financial support contributed by each partner, (b) the extent to which the organizational and/or governance structure is formalized and centralized, and (c) the relative contribution of each partner in the development and production of a given good or service. In this study, we focus on academic IORs that are strategic in nature (i.e., they extend beyond the mere sharing of library books or bulk purchasing or similar consortia activities) and have been "established for a variety of reasons relating to the inability of one of the partners to solve an important problem" (Borys & Jemison, 1989, p. 241). To put it simply, they are working together because no single partner can accomplish what it seeks on its own.

The management literature on strategic alliances points out that they are formed for a variety of reasons (Gulati & Singh, 1998) and notes that the rationales for holding them together may shift over time (Spekman, Forbes, Isabella, & MacAvoy, 1998). Alliances open doors to markets by pooling financial and human resources, thereby producing new combinations of products, services, and expertise (Bailey & McNally Koney, 2000; Gulati & Singh, 1998; Hagadoorn, 1993; Oliver, 1990). They extend capabilities, improve the delivery of services, generate greater economies of scale, and reduce expenses by linking complementary technologies or sharing facilities and capacities and jointly investing in new innovations, such as technology (Bailey & McNally Koney, 2000; Borys & Jemison, 1989; Gulati & Singh, 1998; Hagadoorn, 1993; Whetten, 1981). Alliances have been shown to facilitate the development of new ideas and products and allow participating organizations to ''leapfrog" into new areas (Gulati & Singh, 1998; Hagadoorn, 1993). Partners that join together learn from one another (Doz, 1996; Hagadoorn, 1993), which is an advantage since buying knowledge and expertise in the marketplace can be prohibitively expensive (Barringer & Harrison, 2000). Together, organizations may find it easier to monitor the changing environment and better understand emerging opportunities or risks (Gulati & Singh, 1998; Hagadoorn, 1993). Alliances may also be formed to defend a current strategic position (Barringer & Harrison, 2000). Finally, an organization may join an alliance to gain legitimacy through association with others, particularly larger, visible, reputable, and prestigious firms (Bailey & McNally Koney, 2000; Barringer & Harrison, 2000).

However, managing IORs in the private sector has proven remarkably challenging. …

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