In this thesis, contemporary universities and their response to external pressure are studied. The term “the active university” is put forward as an analytical tool. The active university “acts” in two ways: by taking concrete initiatives and by playing a role. The concept is inspired by theories on strategic actorhood and by new institutional theory.
The thesis presents empirical studies of a number of strategic initiatives undertaken by Swedish universities in recent years. Predominantly drawn from the technical university sector, the initiatives include evaluation projects, organisational change, policy changes and new work practices. The policy context is new public management and recent reforms aimed at improving accountability and management capacity in the higher education sector.
In the empirical studies, “acting as strategy” and “acting as role play” both come to the fore. External rationales to do with quality and competition are frequently put forward as motives for internal change. Many of the initiatives are image-driven. At the same time they can have profound, albeit sometimes unintended, internal consequences.