The Program for Research on Private Higher Education
Dedicated to Building Knowledge about Private Higher Education around the World
PHE Dissertation 3

Evolutionary Sagas of Three Private Universities in Italy: Critical Factors in Developing Institutional Responsiveness to Exogenous Change


By Fiona Hunter

Doctor of Business Administration (Higher Education Management)

A dissertation submitted to School of Management, University of Bath

Supervisors:  Prof. Roger Dale, University of Bristol & Prof. John Davies, University of Anglia Ruskin University

Internal Examiner: Prof.  Hugh Lauder, University of Bath

External Examiner: Prof. António M. Magalhães, Universidade do Porto



Although the Italian Higher Education System is composed mainly of publicly funded institutions, it also comprises a small but growing number of non-state universities with full degree awarding powers. They are governed to a large extent by the national regulatory framework but the majority are principally self funding institutions. 

The thesis investigates the evolution of three universities in the Italian non-state sector, chosen on the basis of their mission, academic model, governance arrangements and close ties to the stakeholder community as most representative of the new more adaptive and entrepreneurial university model that is emerging in recent higher education discourse.  It seeks to identify the factors that are influencing their ability to respond to the demands of a changing higher education environment and  to understand to what extent ‘privateness’  plays a role  in their choices of strategic direction.

The investigation is theoretically informed by new institutionalism and considers in what ways private universities operating extensively within a public sector framework balance institutional autonomy, state regulation and market forces. It explores to what extent the influence of these forces is shifting in the new conditions and whether it is leading to greater convergence or divergence of response.   

The research is based on interviews with the senior management teams and supported by documentary analysis of institutional history with the aim of enabling each organisational saga to unfold in terms of institutional ability for response in a rapidly changing higher education environment.

The conclusions suggest that responsiveness lies above all in the saga itself and the institutional belief in its ability to respond to the new conditions and that privateness  plays a  decisive role not only because of greater exposure to market pressures and a greater autonomy to respond but because of a powerful desire to remain relevant institutions.

Date Published:
Apr 2009
Fiona Hunter