The international strategies of Czech universities
: substantive or symbolic?

  • Jana Dumkova

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Although the internationalisation of higher education has been researched since the 1980s, there are important gaps - theoretical and empirical – relating to the managerial processes behind international strategy formulation and implementation in universities. Therefore, the aim of this study is to investigate how, why, and to what extent are the international strategies, which lead to internationalisation, formulated and implemented in public universities in the Czech Republic. This study uses the lens of institutional theory, including the possible use of symbolic and substantive international strategies, to investigate these phenomena. However, there is a theoretical gap in institutional theory concerning the role of individuals in organisational decision making.

There is no published research on the international strategies of universities in Central Europe. This is an important empirical gap given the possible effect on these strategies of the post socialist transition since 1989. The public universities in the Czech Republic are the focus of this study. They are not allowed to charge tuition fees to domestic students. Nevertheless, they have tried to internationalise since the 1990s under pressure from the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports of the Czech Republic (MEYS), the academic village and international rankings. This research explores the way the international strategies at those universities have been formulated as an organisational response to those external pressures. It also explores what are the main purposes of the international strategies, and whether they are symbolic, as well as substantive, in nature. Finally, it investigates the role of individuals in the formulation and implementation of those strategies.

An abductive research strategy was deployed, and a qualitative research design was created. Data was collected from documents, including mission and vision statements and international strategies, and semi-structured interviews with 42 members of staff at 11 Czech universities, whose job role related to internationalisation. Content analysis was applied to the documentary data and thematic analysis was applied to the interview transcripts.

The research findings – theoretical and empirical - reveal that most Czech public universities use symbolic international strategies, as well as substantive ones. This is due to the rapid institutionalisation of the internationalisation process, as well as to external pressures. Although in some cases, the symbolic strategies might appear disingenuous, their application can be seen as a pragmatic response to ensure the development of their university. It was also identified that the universities tend to conform to institutional pressures. However, the focus of legitimation is the expectations of MEYS, from which they receive the bulk of their funding. Indeed, their international strategies can be seen, at least in part, as an outcome of recommendations from MEYS. This, in turn, increases homogenisation within Czech higher education. Therefore, if the occurrence of symbolic strategies is to be reduced, the contribution of MEYS to the governance of Czech universities may need to be reshaped.
Date of Award13 Oct 2023
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorJohn Anchor (Main Supervisor) & Mahmoud Alajaty (Co-Supervisor)

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