Higher Education

, Volume 73, Issue 1, pp 1–18 | Cite as

Universities between traditional forces and modern demands: the role of imprinting on the missions of German universities

  • Simon Oertel
  • Matthias Söll


Universities find themselves faced with the conflicting institutional demands of being cathedrals of learning and research as well as introducing managerial and corporate-like structures. Despite many studies in higher education research that focus on how this situation affects the mission of universities, the role of imprinting has not received considerable attention yet. Our study aims at closing this research gap by analyzing the influence of institutional founding conditions on mission statements of universities. Results show that imprinting does not affect the introduction of mission statements, but rather their contents. The role of imprinting is, however, moderated by the power and the reputation of universities. In discussing these findings within the context of higher education research, our study contributes to a better understanding of developments in the field of universities.


Mission statements University Higher education Imprinting Institutional logics Resistance to change 



We thank Francisco Ramirez, John W. Meyer and the members of the Comparative Sociology Workshop at Stanford University for their very helpful comments on an earlier version of this manuscript. Moreover, we thank Lisa Fenchel and Katrin Kämpfner for their help in collecting the data for this study as well as Louisa McClatchy for her support regarding the final preparation of our manuscript. Finally, we are in debt to our Editor Rosemary Deem and two anonymous reviewers for their very helpful comments.


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Chair of Organization, Leadership, and Human Resource Management, School of Economics and Business AdministrationFriedrich Schiller University JenaJenaGermany
  2. 2.Chair of Business and Economics Didactics, Institute of Vocational Education, Faculty of Economics and ManagementUniversity of KasselKasselGermany

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