The theme for the CHER 2023 Conference is “Higher Education Institutions as Change Agents in Society: Perspectives on Adaptation and Impact”. The changing role of higher education institutions (HEIs) in society has become a point of reference among policy makers, university leaders and the academic community across the world. Being among the oldest institutions to date, universities have always been subject to changes in their institutional environments. In the 21st century, however, these changes have become more rapid and disruptive. Societies are not only confronted with multifaceted challenges related to sustainability, technology, social disparities and geopolitical tensions, but also a situation of crisis resulting from a global pandemic, war, energy shortages and inflation.
In this sense, HEIs are both objects and subjects of societal change. They are impacted by transformations in society, but they are also in a position to create impact on society. Expectations have been growing with the diffusion of New Public Management, changing state funding and steering models, proliferation of auditing activities, and with HEIs becoming organizational actors with defined goals, strategies and accountability structures.
Responding to changing societal conditions requires new forms of organizing and adaptive capacity in HEIs. Adaptation is thus of key importance in enabling HEIs to respond to changes in their institutional environments. However, adaptation itself is multifaceted, context-bound and subject to historical path-dependencies, and organizational responses can range from continuity to disruption, or even paradoxical adaptation.
Questions related to how higher education institutions adapt to multiple and often conflicting societal demands, the relation between adaptation and legitimacy or risk, and how through adaptation, HEIs can become more active change agents in society are of central interest to this year’s conference. Both theoretical and empirical contributions that provide a perspective on adaptation with respect to four key areas: education, research, third mission and impact, as well as governance, innovation and internationalization are welcome. Some guiding questions for each area are provided below but they are by no means exhaustive. Other research questions or topics suited to the conference theme are encouraged.
The conference will have five tracks. In addition to the tracks, the conference will offer opportunities for interaction and exchange through roundtable discussions, editorial workshops, networking spaces and mentoring possibilities for early-career researchers. More information about these opportunities will be available on our conference website.