Document Type

Conference Paper


This item is available under a Creative Commons License for non-commercial use only

Publication Details

Consortium of Higher Education Researchers, 20th. annual conference, Dublin, Ireland, September, 2007.


A key principle in systems theory is that a system, such as a Higher Education Institute (HEI), will self-correct and stabilise to align itself with its overarching ‘system goals’, irrespective of interventions. System goals may be explicit and obvious, such as published performance indicators, however change initiatives can often fail because the initiative is acting against some underlying, implicit and/or hidden system goal. In addition, if one accepts the premise that people will work toward what is recognised and rewarded then the measures of performance used within a HEI are likely to be important forces for change in their own right. Set against a national policy context, this paper investigates the research mission of one Irish Institute of Technology (IOT), covering an 8 year timeframe from 1997-2006. Adopting systems theory principles, the ‘espoused theory’ of the Institute with respect to its research mission, as articulated in its mission statement and strategic plan, is compared with the reality of the ‘theory-in-use’ (Argyris and Scion 1996). Theory-in-use reflects what happens on the ground in terms of organisational structures and culture, ongoing decision making, resource allocation etc.. The main data sources used in the study are documents (e.g. Institute publications, proceedings of Governing Body, Academic Council, senior management team, etc.) and interviews with n=17 members of the management team. The paper concludes that although the research mission of the IOTs is increasing in importance, many internal organisational issues are preventing progress. These need to be addressed before the latent research potential of the IOTs can be fully realised.