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A MERge Analysis of an Organizational Change: The Case of Internalization at Home

By Ronit Lis-Hacohen and Orit Hazzan

June 9, 2021

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Ronit Lis-Hacohen (co-author of this blog) is the director of Technion International, the Technion unit whose purpose is to integrate all Technion international activities. Ronit currently manages five employees, while only one year ago she managed 18 employees. The organizational change that she led, which, on the fact of it, reduced her managerial responsibilities, was intentional. Her decision to lead this change resulted from the realization that the Technion's international strategy would be implemented more efficiently if most activities carried out by Technion International were assimilated into other Technion units – both academic and administrative – rather than executed in isolation by Technion International.

Applying the MERge model (Hazzan & Lis-Hacohen, 2016), which we developed and published five years ago, Ronit managed to affect the organizational change described in this blog, within several months. This blog describes the rationale and the activities conducted as part of this change and analyzes it through the MERge prism. Specifically, this blog describes how the Technion assimilated its international activities into its other units' activities and, at the same time, reduced operational costs related to its international activities.

Globalization and Internationalization in Higher Education

In recent years, higher education has been undergoing significant changes driven by forces such as globalization, knowledge-driven economy, labor market demands, competition between traditional institutions, and advanced information technologies (Antony, Cauce, & Shalala, 2017; Barber, Donnelly, Rizvi, & Summers, 2013). One such change is internationalization.

The literature distinguishes between globalization and internationalization. For instance, the report prepared for the UNESCO 2009 World Conference on Higher Education describes the distinction between globalization and internationalization as follows: "We define globalization as the reality shaped by an increasingly integrated world economy, new information and communications technology (ICT), the emergence of an international knowledge network, the role of the English language, and other forces beyond the control of academic institutions. Internationalization is defined as the variety of policies and programs that universities and governments implement to respond to globalization" (Altbach, Reisberg, & Rumbley, 2009, p. iv). In other words, globalization deals with economic, political, and social forces that push higher education towards greater international involvement (Altbach & Knight, 2007).

The scope and volume of the international activities of universities range from research collaboration and student and staff mobility to study-abroad programs, foreign language programs, and recruitment of international students. Indeed, higher education institutions are taking various measures in order to increase internationalization: they offer different programs based on international content, they open branch campuses and hubs abroad, establish strategic partnerships with universities overseas, and encourage the creation of massive open online courses (MOOCs) as a source of profit (Mihut, Altbach, & De Wit, 2017).   

Internationalization at Home (IaH) is a complementary aspect of internationalization. The European Association for International Education (EAIE) expert community defines IaH as follows: "Internationalization at home touches upon everything – from the academic curriculum, to the interactions between local students and international students and faculty, to the cultivation of internationally-focused research topics, to innovative uses for digital technology. Most importantly, it focuses on all students reaping the benefits of international higher education, not just those who are mobile". Beelen and Jones (2015) present another definition of IaH that emphasizes its benefits for all students: "Internationalization at Home is the purposeful integration of international and intercultural dimensions into the formal and informal curriculum for all students within domestic learning environments" (p. 69). In the midst of the COVID 19 pandemic, novel approaches to IaH, such as virtual exchange and online activities, have received increased attention.

Technion International

The Technion – Israel Institute of Technology was established in 1912, about 36 years before the establishment of the State of Israel. It is a public science and engineering research university located in Haifa, Israel. In 2019, the Technion was ranked among the top 100 universities in the world in the Academic Ranking of World Universities. It has 19 academic departments, 60 research centers, and 12 affiliated teaching hospitals. Since its founding, it has awarded more than 100,000 degrees, and in the Israeli ecosystem, the Technion and its graduates play a major role in the narrative of Israel as the "startup nation" (Senor & Singer, 2011). In 2013, The New York Times called the Technion Israel's Hard Drive. The Technion has two oversea campuses: one in New York (Jacobs Technion-Cornell Institute) and one in Shantou, Guangdong Province, China (GTIIT - Guangdong Technion - Israel Institute of Technology).

In 2009, in light of the growing attention given to globalization in higher education, the Technion established an International School to manage its international undergraduate program in Civil and Environmental Engineering. Since then, more and more activities were gradually added to its responsibilities, so that by March 2020, it was managing all of the Technion's international activities related to international programs, international students, and international academic relations that are not related to research collaborations. Main activities include two international undergraduate programs (in Civil and Environmental Engineering and in Mechanical Engineering), two summer programs (in Science and Engineering and in Entrepreneurship with a professional internship), study abroad and student exchange programs, Ersmus+ programs, and a variety of customized programs. In addition, the International Center's activities included the Technion's collaboration with the Israeli Council for Higher Education (CHI) on matters related to international activities and alliances and different activities related to the Technion's international population (such as, Visa, social activities, etc.).

In the spirit of the concept of Internationalization at Home, and based on Ronit Lis-Hacohen's research-based examination described below, the Technion management realized last year that an organizational change was required, whose purpose was to assimilate the concept of internationalization into all Technion units, both academic and administrative.

Starting in October 2020, the Technion management approved a change process whose three main principles were:

  1. The International Center will be called the International Office:
    1. It will deal with strategic activities related to internationalization at the Technion (e.g., connection with CHI and international alliances) and international administrative aspects. Specifically, it will serve the Technion's international population in matters related to welfare, administration, and logistics; it will be the administrative and logistics unit charged with maintaining relations with the Technion campus in China; and it will be a guiding factor on matters related to internationalization at the Technion.
    2. It will not deal with academic activities and study programs that are similar to those offered in Hebrew by the various Technion faculties.
  2. Activities underway at the International Center, which have a counterpart in one of the Technion units, will be moved to the corresponding unit. For example:
    1. The operational responsibility for the undergraduate programs in Civil and Environmental Engineering and in Mechanical Engineering will be transferred to the respective faculties (which also operate the same programs in Hebrew).
    2. The International Center's activity of registration and acceptance of international students will be moved to the Undergraduate Admission unit of the Technion Undergraduate Studies unit.
    3. Marketing and social activities will be moved to the associated Technion units: Marketing and Dean of Students, respectively.
  3. Administrative activities currently taking place at the International Center that have no equivalent in other Technion units will remain in the International Office (for example, visa related issues, short and ad-hoc activities and visits that cannot be associated with any other Technion unit, health insurance for the international population on campus, etc.). 

Following this change, the number of full-time positions at the International Center dropped from 18.6 to 12: the Technion International Office retained 6 positions, 6 positions were distributed among other Technion units, and 6.6 positions were eliminated (due to the fact that they duplicated activities conducted elsewhere at the Technion).

Analysis of the Organizational Change from the MERge Perspective

The MERge model encompasses three meta-professions – management, education, and research – that, according to the MERge model, every practitioner should gain. Based on disciplinary knowledge, these three meta-professions GEnerate a comprehensive understanding of the practitioner's professional environment as well as improve the accomplishment of his or her organizational role and foster his or her professional development. The MERge model emerged based on our many years of experience and application of the amalgamation of these three meta-professions in all sectors.

The MERge model for professional development (Hazzan & Lis-Hacohen, 2016) is relevant for employees in all sectors, including the first sector, industry, and the third sector, including academia. With respect to academic institutions, in Hazzan and Lis-Hacohen (2016), we illustrated the usefulness of the MERge model for both academic and administrative staff, who can use it to accomplish and develop research projects, educational activities, and administrative roles.

The MERge model is highly relevant today in academia due to the significant changes (mentioned in the Introduction) that have taken place in higher education lately, partially, but not only, as a result of new technological tools that foster globalization and democratization processes (Berman, 2012).

We now analyze the above-mentioned organizational change undergone by Technion International, from the MERge perspective.

Research: While managing the Technion International Center, Ronit decided to pursue a Ph.D. on internationalization in higher education. This decision, which was tightly connected to her everyday professional work, led her to further explore the concept of Internationalization at Home. Her research led her to two main realizations:

  1. The center she was managing actually contradicted the concept of Internationalization at Home since it impeded the assimilation of the Technion's international activities into the Technion's general regular activities, since they are carried out in isolation in Technion International; and
  2. An organizational change should be promoted whose purposes would be
  • to assimilate most of the international activities managed by Technion International into other Technion departments in a way that improves and even leverages their performance.
  • To leave only several core strategic and administrative international activities under the responsibility of Technion International.

The three above-mentioned principles that guided the organizational change were formulated based on this realization, which resulted from the research perspective Ronit employed in her Ph.D. research. 

Management: The above change process reflects a deep understanding of managerial principles: organizational culture, elimination of role duplications, cost cuts while maintaining and even improving quality (Hazzan, 2020), and a wide organizational perspective over a narrow departmental one. The navigation and leading of the change process itself required meeting with many role holders (e.g., deans of relevant units and managers of administrative units) as well as collaboration with the Human Resources department to carry out the transition of several employees to other units and termination of the employment of several other employees. This process required Ronit to keep delivering the Technion's strategic plan for Internationalization at Home and to connect it to other activities that take place in the various Technion units. Furthermore, as part of the organizational change, it was agreed to evaluate it two years later, to check if any further improvements are warranted. Though currently the evaluation process is perceived as a managerial decision, it is planned to accompany the evaluation process with a Research activity.

Education: The change process required the understanding of several educational principles. We mention two:

  • Knowledge sharing and professional development are important for Technion administrative employees. For example, the transition of the international students counselor to the Technion unit that provides such services to all Technion students (Student Counseling and Support Center) on the one hand, enables the counselor to foster her professional development together with the center's professional staff who fulfil a similar role, and on the other hand, enables the Student Counseling and Support Center staff to learn from the international students counselor about the Technion's international student population and its relevance for both the Technion culture and its Israeli students. 
  • Both Israeli and international students benefit if their studies are managed under one roof. Specifically, the Technion's Israeli students, who usually study in Hebrew, will be required to study several courses in English and have an opportunity to communicate and interact with international students. International students will improve their familiarity with the Israeli context. Such moves would not have been possible if the two parallel undergraduate study programs (in Hebrew and English) were managed separately – the Hebrew one by the relevant faculty and the international one by Technion International.

Finally, the GEneration element of the MERge model is associated with the change process described above.

Summary

This blog tells the story of an organizational change and the relevance and suitability of the MERge model for its accomplishment.

We highlight two of our main messages:

  • The importance of managerial, educational, and research skills, as encompassed in the MERge model, for professional development.
  • The applicability of some of the ideas presented in Hazzan's blog Is A (Nearly) Zero-Cost Model Plausible for Science and Engineering Programs? (Hazzan, 2020), for the case described in this blog. Specifically, the fostering of a new concept on an organizational level should be based on a new arrangement and coordination of exiting elements in the organization. If such elements do not exist in the organization, the relevance of the new concept for the said organization should be reconsidered.   

References

Altbach, P. G. and Knight, J. (2007). The internationalization of higher education: Motivations and realities, Journal of Studies in International Education, 11(3-4), 290-305.

Altbach, P. G., Reisberg, L. and Rumbley, L. E. (2009). Trends in Global Higher Education: Tracking an Academic Revolution. Sense Publishers.

Antony, J. S., Cauce, A. M. and Shalala, D. E. (Eds.). (2017). Challenges in Higher Education Leadership: Practical and Scholarly Solutions. Taylor & Francis.

Barber, M., Donnelly, K., Rizvi, S. and Summers, L. (2013). An avalanche is coming: Higher education and the revolution ahead. London: The Institute of Public Policy Research. Retrieved from: https://www.insidehighered.com/sites/default/server_files/files/FINAL%20Embargoed%20Avalanche%20Paper%20130306%20(1).pdf

Beelen, J. and Jones, E. (2015). Redefining internationalization at home, The European Higher Education Area - Between Critical Reflections and Future Policies (pp. 59-72). Springer.

Berman, E. P. (2012). Creating the Market University: How Academic Science Became an Economic Engine, Princeton University Press.

Hazzan, O. (published May 27, 2020). Is A (Nearly) Zero-Cost Model Plausible for Science and Engineering Programs?, [email protected]

Hazzan, O. and Lis-Hacohen, R. (2016). The MERge Model for Business Development: The Amalgamation of Management, Education and Research, SpringerBriefs in Business. http://www.springer.com/us/book/9783319302249.

Mihut, G., Altbach, P. G. and De Wit, H. (Eds.). (2017). Understanding Higher Education Internationalization: Insights from Key Global Publications. Springer.

Senor, D. and Singer, S. (2011). Start-up Nation: The Story of Israel's Economic Miracle Paperback – Illustrated, Twelve.

 

Ronit Lis-Hacohen is a Ph.D. student at the Technion's Faculty of Education in Science and Technology under the supervision of Orit Hazzan and Avital Binah-Pollak. Her research focuses on the role of social sciences and humanities (including internationalization) in science and engineering undergraduate education. She is also Manager of the Technion's International Office. Orit Hazzan is a professor at the Technion's Faculty of Education in Science and Technology. Her research focuses on computer science, software engineering and data science education. For additional details, see https://orithazzan.net.technion.ac.il/.

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