“There is no one jacket which can fit all” – Managing institutional challenges in higher education development cooperation projects in East Africa

Thumbnail Image
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
School of Business | Master's thesis
Degree programme
Management and International Business (MIB)
Recognizing that societies are increasingly knowledge-intensive, development cooperation funds are increasingly being directed towards higher education development cooperation (HEDC) projects. Because these projects involve countries with diverse institutional environments, challenges often arise. Yet, and despite the increased importance of HEDC projects, there currently is little knowledge of how institutional differences lead to challenges, and how these challenges can be managed. I therefore aim to contribute to bridging this gap. To do this, I study the institutional challenges inherent to HEDC projects between Finnish and East African HEIs, and the management practices for overcoming these challenges. Additionally, this thesis seeks to uncover whether management practices evolve over the life of a project, and if so, how. To broadly frame this pressing practical problem, an institutional theory lens is used. Importantly though, extant institutional perspectives are of little applicability to HEDC projects. I conducted the empirical part of this study as a qualitative multiple case study, which uses the semi-structured interview as its primary method of inquiry. This thesis examines four different HEDC projects administrated by the Finnish Higher Education Institutions Institutional Cooperation Instrument (HEI ICI) programme. By comparing and contrasting across these cases, consistent findings and actionable insights were induced. As the main findings, I identified six main institutional challenge areas affecting HEDC cooperation between Finnish and East African partner HEIs. The identified institutional challenges and associated management practice themes are the following: i) communicative disconnects, ii) bureaucratic and hierarchical hurdles, iii) unexpected shifts in institutional environments, iv) differences in practices, v) lack of accounting for context, and vi) resource constraints. Based on these empirical findings, this study gives actionable strategies to Finnish HEIs and to HEI ICI. The findings have practical relevance for future HEDC projects looking to operate in East African contexts. This thesis sheds light on what kind of institutional challenges HEDC projects may meet when working in the region as well as suggest effective management practices to overcome them. Based on the findings, future HEDC projects can have increased preparedness to cope with the emerging challenges in practice. The findings also expand the extant theory to novel research settings.
Thesis advisor
Shulist, Patrick
higher education, development cooperation, institutional theory, management
Other note