Date of Award


Document Type

Doctoral Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


School of Business

First Advisor

Dr. Margaret Linehan

Second Advisor

Rose Leahy


Globally, higher education is experiencing transformative changes, and higher education institutions now operate in highly competitive and dynamic environments. Funders of higher education, including governments, subsequently, require the strategic spending of funding, and expect higher education institutions to deliver a satisfactory return on investment. In this landscape, and in the context of Ireland’s challenging economic environment in recent years, this research seeks to understand precisely what factors influence the strategic priorities of Ireland’s higher education senior managers. Research on strategic planning in Irish HE is limited, particularly in the context of Ireland’s volatile economic environment, in recent years, and global developments in higher education. The current research uses a qualitative approach and aims to bridge the gap in HE literature, particularly Irish HE literature. It derives key insights from managers in relation to selecting, implementing, and attaining their organisations’ strategic priorities. The empirical research was conducted with 49 senior higher education managers in Ireland’s universities, institutes of technology, and private HEIs to elicit and capture their unique perspectives and experiences.

This research demonstrates that developments in the domestic environment predominantly influence the priorities of Ireland’s HE managers, particularly the role of the Irish government, and the economic and financial environment. This research builds upon existing higher education literature in relation to factors influencing higher education systems and institutions and, specifically, suggests that higher education trends and developments occurring outside of Ireland have less relevance for HE managers in this study. Based on the research conclusions a model was developed, which illustrates the primary findings to emerge from this study. Additionally, a framework for the pursuit and attainment of ambitious strategic priorities was created to, in particular, illustrate that HEIs and senior managers require five particular enablers in their immediate and wider environments, such as flexibility, autonomy, and trust from their key stakeholder. Through the creation and preservation of these enablers, managers are optimally positioned to pursue and attain ambitious strategic priorities, and to engage in impactful strategic planning. This research, therefore, synthesises strategic planning best practice and, additionally, highlights the critical role of relevant HE stakeholders in adhering to its implementation.

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