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The Influence of National Culture on the Implementation of Corporate Social Responsibility – Students’ Legitimacy in Universities

Lunenberg, Katharina (2014) The Influence of National Culture on the Implementation of Corporate Social Responsibility – Students’ Legitimacy in Universities.

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Abstract:This study investigates national, cultural influences on students’ legitimacy and the implementation of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) within English and German universities. CSR emerged as an organisational response to the responsibilities towards society (Aguilera et al., 2007; Bowen, 1953; Lee & Carroll, 2011). Due to universities’ shifting role in society, these institutions more and more seek their legitimation within society. CSR therefore has become an essential concept necessary for the survival of universities (Frederick, 2006; Jongbloed et al., 2008; Nejati et al., 2011). Moreover, their societal leadership role enables universities to influence the practice and acceptance of CSR through teaching, research and transfer into society (Idowu, 2008). This makes the investigation of universities’ involvement into CSR especially interesting to both science and the broader society. Furthermore, as the implementation of CSR is driven by relative motives and depends on the social context of an organisation (Lee & Carroll, 2011), one has to investigate this social context more closely when looking at the implementation of CSR. Considering that culture strongly influences the way people think and behave, also within a professional environment, (Adam & Westlund, 2013) one can state that with national culture varying per group or society and strongly determining social context, it can be expected that the implementation of CSR differs between national cultures (Bird et al., 2011; Chen & Bouvain, 2009; Freeman & Hasnaoui, 2010; Habisch et al., 2010). Therefore, examining the impact national culture can have on the implementation of CSR within universities is highly relevant. A concept closely related to culture is stakeholder legitimacy which is rooted within a “socially constructed system of norms, values, beliefs, definitions” (Mitchell et al., 1997, p. 866) which are determined by culture (Taras, Rowney & Steel, 2009). In addition, stakeholder legitimacy has a normative base of organisational moral obligations to fulfil stakeholders’ claims (Jones, Felps & Bigley, 2007). Since normative concepts are determined by their cultural surrounding (Taras et al., 2009), one can also expect that stakeholder legitimacy will vary by national culture. As students are a key stakeholder group of universities (Jongbloed et al., 2008) this research applies the highly relevant concept of stakeholder legitimacy to this specific stakeholder group. In order to conceptualise national culture the GLOBE studies (House, Hanges, Javidan, Dorfman & Gupta) are used. As this study is conducted within English and German universities only those cultural dimensions which reveal significantly different scores for Germany and England are included: uncertainty avoidance, human orientation, institutional collectivism and gender egalitarianism. Based on the specific scores per cultural dimension, 14 propositions on the expected institutional behaviours for English and German universities are formulated. Here, each cultural dimension is represented by a specific form of institutional behaviour: ethical rule following (uncertainty avoidance), sensitivity towards students’ well-being (human orientation), the consideration of students in the decision making process (institutional collectivism) and gender equality and the awareness of female students’ needs (gender egalitarianism). Based on this conceptualisation 20 semi-structured interviews with English and German universities’ representatives involved in the implementation and decision making processes of the higher education institutions’ CSR are conducted. All interviews are recorded and transcribed afterwards. A three-step qualitative analysis reveals how the national, cultural influences manifest in the concept of students’ legitimacy and how national, cultural differences lead to unique patterns of institutional behaviour when it comes to students’ legitimacy and the implementation of CSR. Comparing both countries – England and Germany – one can conclude that both kinds of institutions reveal a similar degree of students’ legitimacy, but that the impact of national culture leads to a different pattern of this institutional behaviours, what in turn results in unique ways of CSR implementation. While English universities’ students’ legitimacy is negatively influenced by a lack of ethical rule following (uncertainty avoidance) and a lack of sensitivity towards students’ well-being (human orientation), a great positive impact on English universities’ students’ legitimacy can be observed via their consideration of students’ in their decision making processes (institutional collectivism). Furthermore, German universities’ students’ legitimacy is negatively influenced by a lack of gender equality and awareness of female students’ needs (gender egalitarianism) and positively influenced by a great sensitivity towards students’ well-being (human orientation). Applying the concept of a social contract in higher education to the universities’ relationship with the stakeholder group of students one can state that students’ legitimacy forms a crucial part of “the framework within which it [the social contract] takes place” (NCHIE, 1997, 1.27). How universities perceive their students’ legitimate stake within the institution determines how the social contract between those parties is enacted. Based on the results of the qualitative interview analysis it is concluded that as the differences between English and German universities derive from national cultural influences, the cultural environment impacts the way in which the social contract between universities and their students is enacted. This implies that both students’ legitimacy and CSR in general are concepts which have to be recognised as mutually interdependent with their cultural context rather than independent, determining forces. Considering the different avenues which open up for future research an explorative investigation of the concept of CSR within universities is proposed. Here, the redefinition of this concept in the context of higher education is recommended, thereby creating a new concept called ‘University Social Responsibility’. In addition, the development of a framework with national culture as predictor of students’ legitimacy and CSR, and the application of the insights derived to the relationship between commercial organizations and their customers would contribute to the existing scientific discourse in a valuable way. Moreover, there are formulated specific recommendations for English and German universities on how to reduce barriers caused by national culture, so that students’ legitimacy and CSR implementation are not impeded. Universities in general are advised to take a closer look at the barriers to students’ legitimacy and CSR deriving from their national, cultural environment, because the awareness of those impacts may deliver valuable insights in the negotiation on the social contract between universities and their students. Finally, despite the increasing economic pressures deriving from the commercialisation in the higher education sector universities have to preserve their independence, foster students’ critical thinking and challenge their existing view of the world in order to help them to develop into open-minded scholars.
Item Type:Essay (Master)
Faculty:BMS: Behavioural, Management and Social Sciences
Subject:85 business administration, organizational science
Programme:Business Administration MSc (60644)
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