A Critical Realist Analysis of the Legitimising Affects of the Entrepreneurial University

  • Lee Wells

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Education (EdD)


Despite the expansive literature on the Entrepreneurial University, very little has been written regarding the impact of university entrepreneurialism on the legitimacy of the university. This study hopes to address this shortcoming by conducting a detailed analysis of newspaper articles, taken to represent a proxy of public opinion (Baum, 1995). Grounded in the findings of this analysis the study will present a conceptual framework describing the antecedents of university legitimacy within an entrepreneurially driven university sector.

The study is grounded in a critical realist philosophy and therefore accepts that outcomes, seen and unseen, experienced or not in the real world are determined by structures and mechanisms laden in hegemony and on culturally contingent interpretations of the social world (Bourdieu et al., 1991). Nevertheless, these structures, seen or unseen, remain very real in an ontological sense as they cause people to act, to invoke experience and to search for understanding.

The current literature on the entrepreneurial university lacks a clear consensus on definition, preferring to identify shared characteristics (Yusof and Jain, 2010) and provides limited systematic examination of the barriers and enablers to entrepreneurialism (Kirby et al., 2011). The literature is often case study based and descriptive (Sotiris, 2012) with limited causal depth (Stam, 2015). This study hopes to overcome these limitations by utilising an innovative research methodology that integrates a grounded theory approach within a critical realist three-domain model of reality (Fleetwood, 2004) to explore the complex relationships and causal affects between entrepreneurial endeavour and university legitimacy.

The study ultimately finds that the current preference for analysing the entrepreneurial university as an egocentric entity within a complex, open system may only partly reveal the multifaceted interrelationships between the university and its environment, thereby limiting causal inference. By addressing this concern, the study hopes to provide recommendations that extend both current theoretic and applied professional knowledge in relation to the entrepreneurial university and its legitimacy.
Date of Award24 Mar 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Bristol
SupervisorHelen Manchester (Supervisor) & Janet L Orchard (Supervisor)


  • Critical Realism
  • Entrepreneurial University

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