The strategic management of international entrepreneurial activities at Australian universities

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Universities around the world are increasingly focusing on entrepreneurial activities. In Australia, the growth of international entrepreneurial activities has resulted in the creation of a billion-dollar export-oriented sector. These activities include the recruitment of international students to Australian campuses, the development of Australian university campuses in offshore locations, and the delivery of Australian degree programs at both onshore and offshore locations in partnership with universities, professional associations and private corporations. Australian universities currently receive on average around seven percent of revenues from these sources, with some depending on international entrepreneurialism for as much as one-third of revenues. Managing these activities in an efficient, effective and sustainable manner has thus become critically important to virtually every institution in the Australian higher education sector. Long dependent on government funding, Australian universities have found the rise of international entrepreneurialism a significant shift. As is the case when businesses become international, universities are faced with the need to manage the complexities, risks and challenges associated with international operations. To date, little empirical work has been undertaken which explores and examines how Australian universities are managing their international entrepreneurial business operations. The aim of this study is thus to respond to this research gap by exploring how Australian universities, particularly in terms of their Faculties of Business, organise and manage international entrepreneurial activities. The research examines management approaches, practices and processes at five Australian universities. Two are highly international, metropolitan universities recognised around the world as leaders in international entrepreneurialism. Two are smaller, regional institutions, while the fifth university is a medium-sized metropolitan institution which had in recent times moved aggressively to develop its international activities. Document analysis, observation and interviews with senior institutional managers, academic managers and academics at each university revealed several common themes arising in institutional approaches. These included an emphasis on diversified, offshore growth; a degree of movement towards structural centralisation, particularly in the highly international universities which had been historically highly decentralised; the presence of generally supportive organisational cultures; a perception among academic managers and academics that most international activities remain driven by financial imperatives; the perceived potential for detrimental impacts on academic research arising from increased involvement in international activities; the existence of a common concern among senior institutional managers for the effects of Faculty of Business dominance of international programs in their institutions; a tendency for most organisational learning to be informal, except in the highly international institutions; and a preference for decentralised strategic leadership which included a degree of oversight by internationally experienced senior institutional managers. A Strategic Advantage Model of Internationalisation is presented representing a theoretical and conceptual synthesis of the findings. Building on previous work undertaken in the field, the model focuses on the need for institutions to achieve best practice and competitive advantage through the leveraging of organisational and strategic competencies, the pursuit of executional advantages, the implementation of strategically decentralised leadership and the development of international business competencies.
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