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Tracing world-class universities in the global public(ity) sphere

Kwan Heung Lam (UGent)
(2022)
Author
Promoter
(UGent) , Ulrich Teichler and Guido Bünstorf
Organization
Abstract
The salience of reputation management has grown, both in terms of scale and prominence, in higher education management and governance, and, subsequently, higher education research in the past two decades. Reputation management is no longer a peripheral topic of interest for a few higher education researchers judging from the exponential growth in the volume of academic literature and the changing external environment in which universities communicate with their internal and external stakeholders. Neither practitioners nor higher education researchers would disagree that reputation plays an increasingly important role in university management and governance today, sometimes to the extent of “wagging the dog”. Entitled “Tracing World-Class Universities in the Global Public(ity) Sphere”, the overarching aim of this thesis is to unpack the concept of “reputation management” in the higher education sector. Specific research focus has been placed on the cross-section of media and higher education sectors, the public(ity) sphere manifested in the form of media-driven world university rankings and the management of related positive or negative visibility through branding and rebranding activities. The thesis ends with a universal framing research framework to guide future research on university communication processes from a multidisciplinary and multi-paradigmatic approach. Started since 2014, as a side project of the author’s professional activities in the promotion of international higher education on a supranational level, this thesis carries also an underlying, secondary aim of bridging practice, policy, and academic research. The author believes that it is not only important to address research gaps in university communication, but also the disconnect between academic research in different disciplines, and the delayed research on reputational management policies and practices in the higher education sector, which may explain why marketing practitioners in the sector sometimes uncritically borrowed failed or dated practices in the corporate world that turn reputation management activities into counterproductive aspirational branding activities that alienate internal stakeholders, particularly current students and alumni. Finally, the thesis emphasizes that context matters in reputation management. Empirical data of institutional level research were collected primarily from Hong Kong, a system with a very high density of both media and “word-class universities” riding on world university rankings. While the site was chosen purposively because of the author’s contextual knowledge, this piece of research happens to address a very important university governance issue that plagues the Hong Kong system since after the 2019 social unrests; namely, the citing of “reputation risks” as a justification for stifling voices of dissent on campus and for removing legitimate, established student representation from the university governance structure. The direct impact of representation and reputation on university governance is a new phenomenon that calls for more critical research on reputation management in the higher education sector world-wide. It is believed that the same “marketing-driven universities” exist in other national systems that place the protection of institutional or national image above institutional autonomy and academic freedom. Increasing digitalization and mediatization of higher education has exerted unprecedented level of pressure on organizations, private and public alike, to engage in constant and often also instant communication with multiple stakeholders both locally and globally via mass media and social media. The intricacy of the changing external environment implies the need to broaden and deepen university communication research to refocus on change processes beyond representation analysis indicative of the underlying change processes.
Keywords
Higher education, communication, reputation management, branding, rebranding, governance, transdisciplinary, theory

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Citation

Please use this url to cite or link to this publication:

MLA
Lam, Kwan Heung. Tracing World-Class Universities in the Global Public(Ity) Sphere. Ghent University. Faculty of Political and Social Sciences ; University of Kassel. Faculty of Social Sciences, 2022.
APA
Lam, K. H. (2022). Tracing world-class universities in the global public(ity) sphere. Ghent University. Faculty of Political and Social Sciences ; University of Kassel. Faculty of Social Sciences, Ghent, Belgium ; Kassel, Germany.
Chicago author-date
Lam, Kwan Heung. 2022. “Tracing World-Class Universities in the Global Public(Ity) Sphere.” Ghent, Belgium ; Kassel, Germany: Ghent University. Faculty of Political and Social Sciences ; University of Kassel. Faculty of Social Sciences.
Chicago author-date (all authors)
Lam, Kwan Heung. 2022. “Tracing World-Class Universities in the Global Public(Ity) Sphere.” Ghent, Belgium ; Kassel, Germany: Ghent University. Faculty of Political and Social Sciences ; University of Kassel. Faculty of Social Sciences.
Vancouver
1.
Lam KH. Tracing world-class universities in the global public(ity) sphere. [Ghent, Belgium ; Kassel, Germany]: Ghent University. Faculty of Political and Social Sciences ; University of Kassel. Faculty of Social Sciences; 2022.
IEEE
[1]
K. H. Lam, “Tracing world-class universities in the global public(ity) sphere,” Ghent University. Faculty of Political and Social Sciences ; University of Kassel. Faculty of Social Sciences, Ghent, Belgium ; Kassel, Germany, 2022.
@phdthesis{8767113,
  abstract     = {{The salience of reputation management has grown, both in terms of scale and prominence, in higher education management and governance, and, subsequently, higher education research in the past two decades. Reputation management is no longer a peripheral topic of interest for a few higher education researchers judging from the exponential growth in the volume of academic literature and the changing external environment in which universities communicate with their internal and external stakeholders. Neither practitioners nor higher education researchers would disagree that reputation plays an increasingly important role in university management and governance today, sometimes to the extent of “wagging the dog”. 
Entitled “Tracing World-Class Universities in the Global Public(ity) Sphere”, the overarching aim of this thesis is to unpack the concept of “reputation management” in the higher education sector. Specific research focus has been placed on the cross-section of media and higher education sectors, the public(ity) sphere manifested in the form of media-driven world university rankings and the management of related positive or negative visibility through branding and rebranding activities. The thesis ends with a universal framing research framework to guide future research on university communication processes from a multidisciplinary and multi-paradigmatic approach. 
Started since 2014, as a side project of the author’s professional activities in the promotion of international higher education on a supranational level, this thesis carries also an underlying, secondary aim of bridging practice, policy, and academic research. The author believes that it is not only important to address research gaps in university communication, but also the disconnect between academic research in different disciplines, and the delayed research on reputational management policies and practices in the higher education sector, which may explain why marketing practitioners in the sector sometimes uncritically borrowed failed or dated practices in the corporate world that turn reputation management activities into counterproductive aspirational branding activities that alienate internal stakeholders, particularly current students and alumni.   
Finally, the thesis emphasizes that context matters in reputation management. Empirical data of institutional level research were collected primarily from Hong Kong, a system with a very high density of both media and “word-class universities” riding on world university rankings. While the site was chosen purposively because of the author’s contextual knowledge, this piece of research happens to address a very important university governance issue that plagues the Hong Kong system since after the 2019 social unrests; namely, the citing of “reputation risks” as a justification for stifling voices of dissent on campus and for removing legitimate, established student representation from the university governance structure. The direct impact of representation and reputation on university governance is a new phenomenon that calls for more critical research on reputation management in the higher education sector world-wide. 
It is believed that the same “marketing-driven universities” exist in other national systems that place the protection of institutional or national image above institutional autonomy and academic freedom. Increasing digitalization and mediatization of higher education has exerted unprecedented level of pressure on organizations, private and public alike, to engage in constant and often also instant communication with multiple stakeholders both locally and globally via mass media and social media. The intricacy of the changing external environment implies the need to broaden and deepen university communication research to refocus on change processes beyond representation analysis indicative of the underlying change processes.}},
  author       = {{Lam, Kwan Heung}},
  keywords     = {{Higher education,communication,reputation management,branding,rebranding,governance,transdisciplinary,theory}},
  language     = {{eng}},
  pages        = {{XXIV, 209}},
  publisher    = {{Ghent University. Faculty of Political and Social Sciences ; University of Kassel. Faculty of Social Sciences}},
  school       = {{Ghent University}},
  title        = {{Tracing world-class universities in the global public(ity) sphere}},
  year         = {{2022}},
}