Responding to Rapid Change in Higher Education: Enabling University Departments Responsible for Work Related Programs through Boundary Spanning


Peach, D., Cates, C., Ilg, B., Jones, J., & Lechleiter, H. (2011). Responding to Rapid Change in Higher Education: Enabling University Departments Responsible for Work Related Programs through Boundary Spanning. Journal of Cooperative Education and Internships, 45, 94-106.


Brigitte Ilg Baden-Wuerttemberg Cheryl L. Cates Deborah Peach Heinz Lechleiter at Dublin City University Jeela Jones at University of Ottawa


permeability organisational frames Boundary spanning co-operative education CEIA transition work-integrated learning

Related Institutions

Dublin City University / Dublin / Ireland University of Ottawa / Ottawa / Canada


Boundary spanning links organisations to one another in order to create mutually beneficial relationships; it is a concept developed and used in organisational theory but rarely used to understand organisational structures in higher education (Pruitt & Schwartz, 1999). Yet understanding boundary spanning activity has the capacity to help universities respond to demands for continuous quality improvement, and to increase capacity to react to environmental uncertainty. At a time of rapid change characterised by a fluctuating economic environment, globalisation, increased mobility, and ecological issues, boundary spanning could be viewed as a key element in assisting institutions in effectively understanding and responding to such change. The literature suggests that effective boundary spanning could help universities improve organisational performance, use of infrastructure and resources, intergroup relations, leadership styles, performance and levels of job satisfaction, technology transfer, knowledge creation, and feedback processes, amongst other things. Our research aims to put a face on boundary spanning (Miller, 2008) by contextualising it within organisational systems and structures in university departments responsible for work related programs i.e. Work Integrated Learning (WIL) and Co-operative Education (Co-op). In this paper these approaches are referred to collectively as work related programs. The authors formed a research team in Victoria, British Columbia in 2009 at a sponsored international research forum, Two Days in June. The purpose of the invitation-only forum was to investigate commonalities and differences across programs and to formulate an international research agenda for work related programs over the next five to ten years. Researchers from Queensland University of Technology, University of Cincinnati, Baden-Wuerttemberg Cooperative State University, University of Ottawa, and Dublin City University agreed that further research was needed into the impact stakeholders, organisational systems, structures, policies, and practices have on departments delivering work related programs. This paper illustrates how policy and practice across the five institutions can be better understood through the lens of boundary spanning. It is argued that boundary spanning is an area of theory and practice with great applicability to a better understanding of the activity of these departments. The paper concludes by proposing topics for future research to examine how boundary spanning can be used to better understand practice and change in work related programs.

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