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      Institutional Culture Change : A Social Inclusion Approach

      International Journal of Critical Diversity Studies
      Pluto Journals
      institutional culture, social inclusion, systems thinking, transformation, dimensions


            The purpose of the paper is to explore the architecture of the institutional culture with the aim of proposing a programmatic template to use to implement culture change initiatives in the higher education (HE) sector in South Africa. The need for institutional culture change has been flagged in numerous studies as a barrier in the implementation of substantive and qualitative transformation. Through document analysis, this paper argues that the problem in implementing institutional culture change interventions aligned with the humanising mission of the sector is related to the failure to adopt a social inclusion approach that is based on a systems thinking paradigm. The paradigm is a holistic analysis of a system with the purpose of identifying elements of that system, which this research manifests and explicates. The findings of the research show that changing institutional culture is inextricably linked to the objectives of transformation. Second, the article highlights the significance of adopting the social inclusion framework, including understanding the politics and practices of social inclusion.

            Main article text


            The purpose of the paper is to explore the architecture of the concept “institutional culture” and subsequently propose a programmatic template to implement institutional culture initiatives in the higher education (HE) sector in South Africa. The need to change the institutional culture has been flagged in various policy and research studies as a barrier in the implementation of substantive and qualitative transformation agenda in the HE sector ( Adonis & Silinda, 2021). Among weaknesses identified in these reports and studies were the failure to adopt systems thinking in understanding and implementing institutional culture change initiatives. Literature defines the systems thinking paradigm as a holistic and integrated analysis of a system to identify its conneed for a stakeholder compact as a collective and co-construction development and implementation of an effective institutional culture change programme.stituent parts and ther interconnectedness ( Acaroglu, 2017). The paradigm also highlights the importance of understanding how these elements interact and influence each other in the system context to achieve a specified purpose. In this regard, the social inclusion approach functions as a methodology that enhances this understanding of the HE transformation system and can ameliorate the achievement of equity, inclusion and social as well as epistemic justice.

            Through document analysis, this paper makes the argument that the failure to implement effective institutional culture interventions is related to the contestations regarding the role of HE in a transforming and democratising society. It is for this reason that it is critical to have a “sufficient” sectoral and institutional consensus regarding the aim of HE transformation ( Badat, 2020; DoE, 2008; USAF, 2015). For this paper, transformation must, as USAF (2015) states, be understood as a “comprehensive, deep-rooted and ongoing social process”, which seeks to achieve “fundamental reconstitution and development”. It is a “simultaneous process of eradicating all forms of unfair discrimination” through the “active removal of any institutional, social, material, and intellectual barriers in the way of creating a more equal, inclusive, and socially just higher education system”. It entails “designating a range of social, economic, cultural and political conditions and their institutionalised settings” (p. 2). If there is sufficient consensus regarding the purpose of transformation, the possibility of designing and implementing effective institutional culture change initiatives and programmes is boosted. This will augment the potential of moving from ideological engagement with the concept of transformation into the realm of pragmatism.

            The article is divided into four sections. First, it provides a background, including the rationale for institutional culture change. Second, the paper deals with the conceptual, definitional and programmatic challenges encountered in trying to understand the concept “institutional culture”, its manifestation, as well as the link to transformation; third, the paper applies the social inclusion framework as a driver of substantive and qualitative change in the sector. The paper concludes with a call for all stakeholders to subscribe to a “shared” vision, values and goals to ensure that the HE sector can respond to its liberating and humanising mission rather than the economic and labour market logic of the neoliberal agenda ( Badat, 2017). This mission is measured by the achievement of various “forms” of justice, including social and epistemic justice ( Georgalis et al., 2015).

            Institutional Culture: Conceptual, Definitional and Programmatic Challenges

            The concept “institutional culture” is used quite frequently in organisational research, but no consensus has been reached regarding its meaning, applicability and implications for organisational theory, management and behaviour ( Allaire & Firsirotu, 1984; CHE, 2007; Cross & Carpentier, 2009; Higgins, 2007a, 2007b; Jacobs, 2012; Meek, 1988; Schein, 1990; Smircich, 1983; USAF, 2015; Vice, 2015). According to Smircich (1983), there are different meanings associated with the concept, together with their implications for organisational theory and management. For example, Gaus, Tang and Akil (2019) state that culture has been used in two main ways in organisations, including higher education institutions (HEIs). First, as a means “to foster the change processes” and second, as a “tool for helping organisations to improve the morale, motivation, commitment, loyalty, productivity, and profitability of their employees” ( Gaus et al., 2019, p. 2). These different interpretations and conceptualisations reflect two important understandings of the concept of institutional culture. First, institutional culture is understood as “what the organisation is”, and secondly, institutional culture as “what the institutional has” ( Gaus et al., 2019). In the first institutional culture reflects the institution’s make-up or DNA—norms, traditions and practices; in the second understanding, institutional culture is what the institution has, like structure, people, and policies—the “formal culture.”

            A distinction is made in the literature between the “traditional” and the “critical” approaches in the conceptualisation of institutional culture. The traditional approaches regard institutional culture as an instrument—created and manipulated by management to bring about change. The critical approaches adopt the view that institutional culture reflects multiple and often competing realities, experiences, understandings and interests in institutions ( Gaus et al., 2019). From the explanation above, the traditional approach conceptualises institutional culture as an instrument or tool to drive change and transformation in organisation. Unfortunately, the approach does not consider the “structure of class cultures or the inherent conflict in organisations” ( Meek, 1988, p. 456). On the other hand, the critical approach regards culture as an expression of diversity of experiences, views and interests in organisations. In this notion of institutional culture change is about bringing in a feeling of inclusion and managing competing and vested interests, experiences and views in an organisation for the public good.

            The difficulty in attempting to define a term like institutional culture has been highlighted by scholars ( CHE, 2007; Higgins, 2007a, 2007b). For example, Higgins (2007b) contends that the notion of institutional culture is based on a “constitutive contradiction between instrumental and constitutive understandings of social process”, such as identity formation and sense-making (p. 107). He further argues that institutional culture is a term that

            self-destructs in a particularly interesting way. Its central assertation is that any usefulness that the term may have is, at the very least, severely limited by the tensions that exist between the lure of its instrumental promise as a concept, and the reality of the phenomena it attempts to describe (and, through describing, to control).

            The quotation illustrates that, defining the concept, one is likely to focus on ideology and ignore an opportunity to implement initiatives to change institutional culture as a social process. While Higgins (2007b) has a point in highlighting the difficulty in defining institutional culture, it is possible to develop a working definition of the concept for research purposes as well as implementing institutional culture change programmes, as will be illustrated in this paper.

            For this paper, institutional culture is the “grid that determines and distributes power” and “regulates social and intellectual behaviour” ( USAF, 2015, p. 13). In addition, institutional culture is “inscribed through more or less cohesive formal, semi-formal and informal codes” and incorporated into “different parts of the regulatory and decision-making systems of institutions, including symbolic orders” ( USAF, 2015, p. 13). The quotation above illustrates how institutional culture is normalised within the organisation and becomes “the way things are done around here”. Furthermore, it is important to mention that institutional culture becomes part of the mechanism to exclude, discriminate and marginalise those that do not fit into the space. This is described by USAF (2015) which states that

            Institutional culture normally seeks acceptable levels of conformity of those “inside,” but also often acts to screen out and marginalise dissident voices as “outsiders.” In this way, the dominant sub-culture succeeds in asserting its values and ways of thinking about the world as the “institutional” codes of conduct and ensuring a form of social hegemony. (p. 13)

            From this, it is apparent that institutional culture is at the centre of inclusion/exclusion, marginalisation, silencing and making others invisible. This process has the potential of creating social hegemony in the organisation at the expense of recognising and honouring individual liberties. This is because institutional culture entails “attitudes and behaviours which, though inherited from history, appear nevertheless resilient to change or almost immutable” ( Cross & Carpentier, 2009, p. 10). These attitudes and behaviours become what constitute or characterise the institution’s DNA and its different stakeholders. This makes institutional culture change a process of changing attitudes and behaviours inherited from history and which have never been interrogated.

            Scholars have argued that institutional culture plays a role in identity formation and sense-making ( Keet & Swartz, 2015; Toma et al., 2005). In this regard, the role of governance and leadership in identity formation and sense-making is critical. This is achieved by developing and implementing the organisation’s vison, mission and values that are inspiring and inclusive of diverse stakeholders. It is for this reason, that Toma, Dubrow and Hartley state that institutional culture “consists of the shared beliefs, values, assumptions, and ideologies that bind a group together” ( 2005, p. 6). In addition, they say, it conveys a “sense of identity (who we are), facilitates commitment (what we stand for), enhances stability (how we do things around here), guides sense-making (how we understand events), and defines authority (who is influential?)”. While the need for consensus regarding what the organisation is about is important, one must not lose sight of the contradiction between having a unitary versus plural organisation. It is this contradiction that is at the centre of the critical institutional culture approaches that recognise the diverse interests, experiences and inherent conflict prevalent in a plural organisation.

            In the university context, Toma, Dubrow and Hartley (2005) aver that institutional culture has sub-cultures that are intricately linked to the structure of a university. They contend that in the university “faculty work occurs within at least four cultures concurrently: the academic profession, the academy as an organisation, the discipline, and the institution type” ( Toma et al., 2005, p. 52). This means that academics working in a university are subjected to four sub-cultures simultaneously. First, they adhere to the norms, standards, practices, traditions of being academics within the academic profession, with rights and obligations. Second, they operate within the academy organised along various norms, values and privileges attached to each hierarchy or level, such as professorial and lectureship positions. Third, academics operate within a space defined by various disciplines with their own history, methodologies and values. Lastly, they operate within a specific type of a university, be it a research-intensive or a teaching university, or even a university of technology. These types of universities have different “cultures” embedded in their DNA. What this means is that academics, who themselves are diverse on several grounds, such as race, gender and class, operate at multiple levels, sub-cultures or spaces. In addition, Keet and Swart (2015) contend that “networks within higher education tend to morph into exclusionary ‘clubs’ that are organised around six ‘economies’ that constitute, in part, a university’s institutional culture—the material, administrative, socio-cultural, affective, intellectual, and political economies”. The authors argue that the social structure of the academy distributes power and privileges through these six economies. From what has been discussed, it is apparent that to understand different manifestations of institutional culture one should be able to appreciates different sub-cultures or networks or clubs in universities.

            After discussing what institutional culture is, it is important to describe its manifestation in South Africa. The concept of institutional culture is associated with two notions, first, the notion of “whiteness” or white supremacy and the second reflects the contested terrain of power and authority in the HE sector ( Higgins, 2007a, 2007b; CHE, 2007). These two notions and their manifestations are discussed briefly below. The notion of institutional culture as whiteness has come to be used as a “critique of the ostensible whiteness of academic culture and refers to that which is experienced by black staff and students as alienating and disempowering in their encounters within historically white universities” ( CHE, 2007, p. 6). Regarding the further manifestation of whiteness as forms of marginalisation and alienation, Vice (2015) states that, while the “influence of whiteness is central in South Africa, norms in relation to gender, race, class, religion and able-bodiedness (and their interactions) also influence the culture of the institution”. This shows the intersection of race with other areas of difference. She further contends that it would be a mistake to assume that “understanding institutional culture is the only key to the successful transformation of higher education” ( Vice, 2015, pp. 46–47). Further manifestation of whiteness appears when “taken for granted” concepts such as merit; quality, standards and excellence are used in the HE environments without these being interrogated, as they have the potential to alienate, marginalise, discriminate and exclude, either unconsciously or deliberately. It must be mentioned that while race is a major area of exclusion in South Africa, because of our history of legislated racial exclusions, other areas of exclusions such as gender and class are also important and will be illustrated as and when they appear. This is where intersectionality as an approach becomes critical.

            Regarding the second notion of institutional culture in South Africa, power and authority, the Council on Higher Education (2007) contends that this is reflected in the contestation between various HE stakeholders regarding the role and function of universities. These contestations arise as result of the adoption and influence of the neoliberal agenda that supports the capitalist labour market. For example, from the administrators’ perspective, institutional culture must be “brought in line with ‘the logic of accountability’ and the need for the University to pursue excellence”. On the other hand, from the perspective of academics, institutional culture represents a “complex mosaic of disciplinary values and cultures” which forms the core of what the academic activity is. The resultant contestation between the “administrators’ instrumentalist view and the academics’ constitutive view of institutional culture is a replica of a much larger on-going debate about the purposes of higher education in a developing and democratising society” ( CHE, 2007, pp. 6–7). The contestations with students is observed, first, in the #RhodesMustFall and #OpenUniversity movements, in which students challenged the institutional culture and Eurocentric foundation of universities. Secondly, the contestations are apparent in the #FeesMustFall movement in which students challenged the corporatisation of universities and the ever-increasing costs of university education. Finally, the #OutsourcingMustFall movement challenged the exploitation of so-called non-core staff by universities. In this regard, Zeleza (2021) is correct when he ascribes the contestation in universities to growing “pluralisation of internal and external constituencies and erosion of academic freedom” (p. 4). Thus, the notion of institutional culture as contestation of power and authority manifests because of what the CHE calls “stakeholderisation of governance” of HE. The concept refers to the conflicts or polarisation that arise because of failure to manage competing interests of various stakeholders regarding the university’s direction and that appear in various structures and committees.

            The view adopted in this paper conceptualises institutional culture as the “quality of human engagement” with the “other” ( Ndebele, 2001). It entails changing “interpersonal relationships” among HE stakeholders ( Nzimande, 2012). From what has been said above, the research question is: “What would a transformed institutional culture look like?” According to Vice (2015), a transformed culture means

            a “transformed” way of doing things and the set of values and norms that informs it—is one that is unprejudiced, welcoming of diversity in all morally legitimate forms, intent on acknowledging and transforming a damaging legacy, responsive to its history and context. It is welcoming to all the people who constitute it or have dealings with it and is conducive to their flourishing. A transformed institutional culture is … a reflection of a socially and politically transformed society. (p. 47)

            From the quotation above, one can argue that changing institutional culture is about rehumanising the university by not only embedding humanity ( botho) in the operations of the university, but also exhibiting and living those values, that is, living like a human being ( setho).

            Limited research has been done on the breakdown and analysis of the concept’s constituent parts and a thorough philosophical exploration of the concept ( Jacobs, 2012; Niemann, 2010; Tabensky & Matthews, 2015). Johnson and Scholes state that the following are elements of institutional culture: rituals and routines—special events which emphasise what is important and reflect behavioural patterns of its members; stories—told by organisational members to each other that ultimately shape the thinking within the organisation; symbols—logos, language, style that determine hierarchy and privileges and signal patterns of behaviour; power—individuals or groups that exist to defend the status quo or improve it; controls—reward systems that signal what is important to monitor and influence behaviour; organisational structure—reflects power structure, delineates important relationships (cited by Kothari & Handscome, 2007, p. 47). Thus, institutional culture manifests itself as a cultural framework—norms, values, codes, rituals, symbols, and practices in the HE context ( DHET, 2015, p. 8; Keet & Swart, 2015).

            Systems Thinking

            To develop an effective programme for institutional culture change, it is important to adopt systems thinking. For the leadership of universities to show “deeper awareness of systemic injustice, inequality, and privilege” as Zeleza (2021) propounds, a systems thinking paradigm becomes critical for researchers and leaders to understand and appreciate the interconnectedness of various elements within the university system that reproduce inequality and exclusion. Scholars have discussed systems thinking as skills needed to understand systems and their elements, including their interconnectedness ( Acaroglu, 2017; Arnold & Wade, 2015; Schuster, 2018). For example, Arnold and Wade (2015, p. 675) define systems thinking as a “set of synergistic analytic skills” that can be used to enhance the ability of “identifying and understanding systems, predicting their behaviours, and devising modifications to them to produce desired effects. These skills work together as a system.” In this regard, Acaroglu (2017) identifies six elements of systems thinking: interconnectedness, synthesis, emergence, feedback loops, causality and systems mapping. When applied to the higher education, HE as a system has elements such as staffing, students’ admission, teaching, research, governance, finance and infrastructure, for example. In addition, these elements are interconnected in such a way that failure to address one element will have an impact on others and has the potential to create a new type of a system. In addition, the HE system with the elements mentioned above works together to bring about a specified objective. In the context of HE, the objective is to bring about access, success, equality, democratisation and social justice, for example. To prevent the potential of the system to reproduce inequality the importance of interrogating feedback loops is critical.

            The above is supported by Schuster (2018) who states that “systems thinking allows us to reclaim our instinct about whole systems while we strengthen our abilities to understand their parts and how they are interconnected” and “gives us a complete picture by allowing us to examine the interconnected relationships between the system’s components instead of only looking at them as independent individual parts” (p. 13).

            On the other hand, Cao, Clarke and Lehaney (2004) contend that critical systems thinking has the “potential to assist in managing diversity and interaction in organizational change” on three levels of commitments. The first commitment is critical awareness, which is helpful in reflecting on the shortcomings of any proposed change project. The second commitment is methodological pluralism, which provides guidance on how to employ multiple methods to address the whole. Finally, the third commitment is emancipation, which is used to guide intervention toward “local improvement”. Lately, it has been shown that it is “necessary and desirable to add a fourth systemic criterion—commitment to participation, which is seen as one of the fourth important principles of critical systems thinking” ( Cao et al., 2004, p. 207). The four commitments empower one to interrogate the HE system by raising awareness of its potential to reproduce inequality. Secondly, the commitment implores one to adopt diverse methods to understand the complexity of the entire system, third, liberate thinking to enhance the ability to implement programmes that are emancipatory in nature and address local problems, and finally, adopt processes that enable participation by others with different knowledges or ways of doing things.

            The benefit of adopting critical systems thinking is that this will enhance the capacity to design and implement an institutional culture change programme that is aligned with the recommendation of the second HE Transformation Summit, which states that universities must insert social justice as a fourth pillar in their overall mission. The argument is that this insertion will ensure that universities “give concrete expression to the rights and values in the South African Constitution and Bill of Rights” and “demand that institutional cultures be built based on dignity”. In addition, social justice as a “fourth pillar requires commitment at all levels of the system”. This means that the sector must plan for it, provide oversight, allocate resources and monitor and evaluate all levels of the system, nationally, institutionally and individually ( DHET, 2015, pp. 10–11).

            Institutional Culture Change Programme Template

            The institutional culture change programme that should be designed in line with systems thinking approach should focus on elements or dimensions of the HE system that must be transformed. These elements or dimensions were identified in various policy documents and scholarly articles ( DoE, 1997, 2008; USAF, 2015; SAHRC, 2016). For example, the Ministerial Commission Report ( DoE, 2008) identifies the following dimensions of the HE system: staff and work experience, students and learning experience, students and the living experience, staff and students’ knowledge experience, and governance experience ( DoE, 2008). On the other hand, USAF (2015) states that HE’s transformation “balance sheet” should include: “the teaching and learning environment; research and intellectual cultures; universities and their roles in society; the student environment; the staff environment; institutional cultures; governance, management and leadership; and funding and infrastructure” (p. 4). Interestingly, the SAHRC’s report has the following as elements of the “university culture”: language and sport; student demographics; student performance; demographics of academic staff; initiation practices; orientation programmes; university curriculum; transformation policies and structures to deal with transformation at universities; the autonomy of university ( SAHRC, 2016). It is the view adopted in this paper that the dimensions identified above are applicable for the implementation of an institutional culture strategy.

            This paper has adopted the following as the dimensions or elements of institutional culture change:

            • Staff equity, development and work experience,

            • Student equity, development and achievements,

            • Students’ living and learning experience, including their socialisation,

            • Knowledge, epistemology, scholarship, curriculum and language,

            • Governance, leadership and management,

            • Institutional culture, diversity and social inclusion,

            • Funding, including sources of private funds and resource allocation as well as BBBEE,

            • Infrastructure, including buildings, facilities and Information and Communications Technology (ICT).

            It is important to mention that these dimensions are interconnected and interrelated and work together for the purpose of achieving a specific objective, namely, to achieve equality, democracy, social inclusion and social cohesion. In this paper these elements must be understood as forming an institutional culture change architecture. In addition, these dimensions operate as continuum, that is, they are aimed at providing equity of access, opportunity and outcomes. This means that, to achieve student equity, one must not only focus on the numbers of students given access but must also ensure that they are given equity of opportunity by allowing them to participate in their own access: that is the only way that equity of outcome can be guaranteed.

            Furthermore, these dimensions are interlinked in such a way that failure to change one will have an impact on others. If one looks at the first three dimensions, they reflect the experiential aspect of the institutional culture as it relates to staff and students. The fourth (knowledge, epistemology, scholarship, curriculum and language) highlights the significance of knowledge in the conceptualisation of culture and role that knowledge plays in changing institutional change—dealing with inherited knowledge critical for culture change. The fifth dimension, governance, leadership and management, illustrates the importance of leadership in creating a conducive and welcoming institutional culture. The sixth dimension, institutional culture, diversity and social inclusion, reflects the programmatic template necessary to implement an institutional culture change. The last two (seventh and eighth) reflect the infrastructure and financial resources needed for culture change. Thus, an appropriate institutional culture programme should incorporate the experience of actors, second, underpinned by knowledge, third, there is appropriate leadership, four, it follows a programmatic template, and finally, sufficient resources are provided.

            Scholars are divided on race as a key determinant of inequality in South Africa ( CHE, 2007; Mpofu-Walsh, 2016; Modiri, 2021). Some, like Mpofu-Walsh (2016, p. 4), maintain that race should be at the centre of interventions to address inequality because it is a proxy for disadvantage, exclusion, and marginalisation. He further avers that

            students have demonstrated this by combining the struggle over fees with the question of racial justice: financial exclusion is racialised, and merely the new form of an old problem. On this view, to fix South Africa is to fix racial oppression, and vice versa.

            This view is supported by Modiri (2021), who reasons that the “historical formation of race continues to shape people’s material realities and outlooks across political, cultural, socioeconomic, legal, and psychological domains of human activity”. Furthermore, Modiri (2021) observes that any attempt to change the institutional culture of universities will fail because “only a fundamental transformation of the social order can undo the centuries-long effects and after-effects of race, racism, and racialization”. He contends that this type of transformation should incorporate “economic redistribution, restitution, and reparations; the reordering of political, cultural, and legal institutions; dismantling hierarchies and redressing exclusion, and most importantly, working towards building a just and humane society and world.” While the argument is correct to a certain point, other markers of difference cannot be ignored or undermined in the struggle to bring about substantive and qualitative transformation. This is where intersectionality as a paradigm is appropriate to avoid the potential of ignoring other forms of exclusion and marginalisation.

            Social Inclusion Framework

            The rationale for adopting a social inclusion philosophy as a driver of institutional culture change is informed by the recognition that, traditionally, universities are exclusive organisations. Here one can think of the image of a university as an “ivory tower”. Scholars argue that universities have struggled over the years to change from being seen as mass organisations—huge and complex—to organisations for the masses—inclusive of diverse stakeholders ( Rosado & David, 2006). Soudien (2010), for example, argues that the HE system

            is unable to meet the needs of 95% of young African men and women. It is structured not to include them—it cannot give them access—and, critically, when it does take them in, it is unable to realise their aspirations. It effectively conspires to exclude them.

            It is for the reasons advanced above that social inclusion is viewed as a rehumanising project. The conceptualisation of social inclusion as a “positive praxis” entails the “process of opportunity enhancement for building or re-establishing social bonds by facilitating the access of all citizens to social activity” (Avramov cited by Oxoby, 2009, p. 1136). Social inclusion is not ideological debate, but rather a practice of providing access and opportunities to those that are discriminated against. In addition, social inclusion as a practice facilitates the creation of new relationships based on humanity and not hierarchies with the aim of achieving ontological equality.

            Social inclusion is located within different ideologies and philosophies ( Forsyth & Cairnduff, 2015; Gale & Hodge, 2014; Gidley et al., 2010). For example, Gidley et al. (2010) claim that “social inclusion interventions are identified and situated according to their apparent underpinning ideology”. Among these ideologies are the neoliberal ideology, which focuses on the economic benefits of social inclusion; the social justice ideologies which are grounded in sociology and/or critical social theory, involving social interventions in addition to economic investment. Finally, the human potential ideologies are interventions that focus on “human development, empowerment and transformation in which the emphasis is less on economic investment and more on psychological and spiritual values of generosity, community and gifting” (p. 138). This implies that adopting a social inclusion as a driver of institutional culture change calls for a holistic and multidisciplinary approach to eliminate the possibility of unintended consequences.

            The ideologies discussed above, and the theory underpinning them, are reflected, or associated with the generally accepted three typologies of social inclusion discourses. First, the redistributive and egalitarian discourse that is based on social rights and citizenship and firmly associated with the social policies; second, the moral discourse that views the poor as different from the mainstream and thus needing state intervention in the form of welfare; and lastly the social integrationist perspective informed by the concept of social solidarity ( Wilson, 2006). An uncritical adoption and implementation of one of these policy positions can lead to unintended consequences, both positive and negative. For example, the uncritical implementation of redistributive and egalitarian policies can lead to a culture where individuals and groups feel entitlement to social services. On the other hand, the moralistic view of social inclusion can perpetuate and reproduce inequality, while the integrationist perspective has the potential to create hegemony rather than a polyvocal space of democracy. It is important to understand the different perspectives before choosing the appropriate approach, intervention and policy options.

            The social inclusion ideology has been theorised from two mutually exclusive streams, or stories, of transformation and regulation or control. Simon-Kumar and Kingfisher (2011) take the matter further and maintain that “the first, the social justice story, theorises inclusion as a means for realizing social integration by virtue of giving legitimacy to the voiceless”. The second story relates to regulation and control, and discourses and practices of inclusion in this stream are theorised as “representative of an expansion of neo-liberal forms of governance” (p. 272). The impact of these mutually exclusive streams on social inclusion policy and practice has been huge as the outcome of each stream is not always clear and predictable. For example, a focus on the transformation story can potentially lead to a focus on integration and ignore individual rights and freedoms. It is the same with a focus on regulation and control, as this might lead to advantaging a capitalist labour market that has the potential to undermine social justice imperatives. Simon-Kumar and Kingfisher (2011) articulate this dilemma by stating that the “politics of inclusion creates both transformation and assimilation, and is based on consensus and compromise”, and thus important to maintain a fair “balance between the progressive/transformative and conservative/regulative elements of inclusionary practices” (p. 275).

            To implement policies and programmes that promote social inclusion, it is important that one adopts a combination of strategies that are based on the context. For example, Silver (2010) promulgates that it is critical to adopt “multipronged interventions cross-cutting traditional bureaucratic domains and tailored to the multidimensional problems of excluded individuals and groups”. Secondly, it is critical to have “long-term sequences, trajectories, or processes of insertion and integration moving through transitional stages” and, finally, ensure that there is “participation of the excluded in their own inclusion into economic and social life, reconnecting and bonding with others” (p. 197). The above discussion provides a programmatic template necessary to implement a social inclusion strategy, programme and policy. Furthermore, Chang (2002, p. 130) provides a suggestion on the nature of a social inclusion programme by stating that consideration should be given to: “ historical (i.e., the institutional legacy of inclusion or exclusion), structural (i.e., the representation of students, faculty, administration, staff, etc.), psychological (i.e., perceptions, attitudes, views, etc.), and behavioural (i.e., students’ involvement, curricular change, cross-racial contact, multicultural programming, etc.)”; implementing a programme to change institutional culture, one should consider the uniqueness of the context or organisation, such as history, representativity of actors, attitudes and behaviours.

            There are always tensions in implementing social inclusion programmes between focusing on the group versus individual interests ( Silver, 2010; Simon-Kumar & Kingfisher, 2011). For example, Silver (2010, p. 195) states that “preserving group values and expressing identity may require social boundaries, but if those boundaries are open, porous, and welcoming, in brief, not exclusionary, difference might be reconciled with inclusion”. Silver further reasons that, the “social inclusion” framework accommodates social, cultural, or national “differences” in plural or multi-cultural societies … more readily than one-dimensional redistributive frameworks insofar as it acknowledges and accommodates specific needs and rights of groups. ( Silver, 2010, p.195)

            The challenges are elaborated by Vincent (2015) when she states that in “seeking more inclusive institutional cultures” one should be cautious and make the distinction between “shared” and “common”. She maintains that the “objective of collective memory work should never be the erasure of difference” but rather to be “one of living with difference, the instigation of multiple possibilities” ( 2015, p. 42). The above is the best way of balancing between individual with and group rights and freedom with group rights, though difficult and complex to implement.

            The social inclusion framework discussed so far highlights areas that must be addressed under each of the institutional culture change dimension to transform HE in South Africa in a systematic manner. The implementation process should start with an interrogation and assessment whether the following are inclusive or not:

            • human resource management philosophy, particularly the attraction, appointment, development and retention of staff

            • university admission policy; its teaching, learning and assessment strategies, plans and programmes

            • student support and socialisation strategies, plans and programmes

            • knowledge production and dissemination, methodology, curriculum reform and language of teaching, learning and scientific research

            • governance, leadership and management models, frameworks and styles

            • programmatic template for implementing institutional culture change consisting of variety of issues such as awareness, advocacy, capacity building, systems, policies and practices

            • sources of funding including private funding, transformative budget and resource allocation as well as compliance with BBBEE.

            • naming of buildings, facilities and their aesthetic outlook and architecture

            • conceptualisation, development and deployment of ICTs

            An interrogation of the areas mentioned above as site of exclusion and marginalisation should determine whether a feeling of inclusion is experienced by those excluded and those in authority. According to literature, the outcome of social inclusion is associated with the feeling of justice, not assimilation, and a feeling of being patronised by those marginalised. Georgalis et al. (2015, p. 92) state that this feeling of justice can be categorised in five forms: first, distributive justice, which is the outcome received from the organisation; second, procedural justice, which is the formal policies or procedures by which outcomes are allocated; third, interactional justice, which is the interpersonal treatment received from those in authority; fourth, interpersonal justice defined as “showing concern for individuals regarding the distributive outcome they receive”; and finally, informational justice defined as “knowledge about procedures that demonstrate regard for people’s concerns”.

            The different forms of justice highlighted above refer to the feeling of staff, students and other stakeholders towards the organisation. The organisation’s stakeholders must feel that institutional policies and procedures are used in a fair and transparent manner. In addition, the relationship that they have with those authority is in line with the humanising mission of the university and that their dignity is promoted and respected. Finally, employees are provided with all the information they require to do their jobs.


            The article has highlighted the significance of having an institutional consensus with regard to the purpose of transformation as this is related to the rationale for institutional culture change. Failure to deal with the relationship between these will make it impossible to change the institutional culture. In addition, institutional culture is about personal change and experiences of the institution’s diverse stakeholders.

            The paper illustrates the conceptual, definitional as well as programmatic challenges related to the concept institutional culture. The concept institutional culture is a cognitive and/or intellectual concept over and above it being a relational and behavioural concept. This understanding is critical because failure to acknowledge the diverse meanings of the concept might make it almost impossible to design and implement an effective institutional culture strategy or programme. This means that in designing an institutional culture change programme, interrogating the inherited knowledge, changing behaviour,and interpersonal relationships should be at the centre of such a strategy and plan.

            Third, the article has articulated the significance of adopting a social inclusion framework as a mechanism of changing institutional culture. It is the focus of this paper that adopting such a framework has the potential of enhancing the ability to rehumanise HE institutions in South Africa. This framework eliminates the potential of assimilation, at the expense of empowerment. In addition, the social inclusion framework confronts exclusion from three angles. Empower those being included to participate in their access, Second, those with the power to exclude others must change to become better human beings by acknowledging that excluding others in their spaces dehumanises them. Finally, both those that have been marginalised and those responsible for marginalising others play a role in transforming the environment or space of their interaction. These three angles must be confronted holistically to be conducive for the rehumanisation process.

            Finally, it is difficult to overlook the role of leadership and governance structures in driving institutional culture change. Leadership must develop a “share” vision, mission, strategy or roadmap that will inspire other stakeholders to follow in co-creating trust, commitment and loyalty to the course of change. In addition, leadership and management must live by the values of the organisation and lead by example. In this regard, a compact is critical for the university stakeholders such as university councils, vice chancellors and executive management, students and their organisations, academic staff and their organisations, including faculty boards and senate, support staff and their organisations ( DoE, 2008).


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            Author and article information

            International Journal of Critical Diversity Studies
            Pluto Journals
            23 September 2022
            23 September 2022
            : 4
            : 2
            : 31-46
            [1-intecritdivestud.4.2.0031]Leadership and Transformation, University of South Africa
            © 2022 Malekutu Levy Bopape

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            Page count
            Pages: 16

            Social & Behavioral Sciences
            institutional culture,social inclusion,systems thinking,transformation,dimensions


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