Does national culture matter for organizational culture in institutions of higher education? An Italian university and a Norwegian university compared
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The university of today has become an object of study, debate and reflection. Changes in the social sphere, globalization, economic and political trends, all these factors push universities towards new forms and role. Indeed, universities are still deeply bounded to the national history and culture. In the present study, national culture is taken as an explanatory factor for organizational differences. Culture is operationalized through specific indicators: the study relies on the work of Geert Hofstede (Cultures and organizations: Software of the mind, 1991) who defined national cultural dimensions. The basic assumption is that cultural differences produce in turn organizational differences. These are studied comparing two universities. An university is a public organization infused with values, it is expression of identities, roles and cultural traits which strictly identify a national context from another. The present research is a comparative case study of an Italian and a Norwegian university. A comparative strategy enabled the researcher to move form a descriptive case study to a more advanced investigation of the invariances between the cases. Moreover, it created a basis for hypothesis-testing (the findings were analyzed testing the predictions made upon Hofstede's theoretical model). Quantitative and qualitative approaches are combined together, using a mixed method. Both primary and secondary data have been used in the study. Information were collected through survey, interviews, documents review, web databases. During the research process, Italy and Norway were proven different in cultural terms: Hofstede's cultural dimensions have been substantiated by data from the World Value Survey database. Then, structure, behaviours and relations in the two universities have been investigated, to see to what extent they reflected national values. In the end, it was proven that culture influences the institutions in key aspects: the degree of decentralization, the distribution of power between institutional units or between actors, the way teaching and learning are carried out, the degree of reliance on current forms and rules, autonomy and flexibility, the propensity of the university towards reforms and the changing process. Although culture could not be substantiated as the unique explanatory factor, the study is still insightful. It highlighted the relevance of the cultural variable, too often underestimated by higher education researchers. Discourses on governance models and leadership tools in higher education institutions may be positively improved by findings about the context in which these steering models must be implemented. The research highlights whether organizational culture is an obstacle or a facilitator for reform processes. Moreover, despite a limited number of respondents and only two single cases examined, it was possible to generalize findings to the national level, enhancing our capability to improve the higher education system in the two countries under study.