Managing multiple institutional logics and the use of accounting: insights from a German higher education institution

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This paper examines the use of accounting in managing the co-existence of different institutional logics in a German higher education institution (HEI), and its impact on the HEI. The study is of particular interest as the HEI analyzed pursued its own corporatization through a re-organization from a state into a foundation university. We show that this corporatization through the adoption of new public management related ideas leads to institutional complexity arising from the co-existence of extant state and emergent business logics. Our study suggests that HEIs may deploy particular accounting practices shaped by business logic only superficially, so as to satisfy stakeholders such as governmental authorities in order to enhance their legitimacy following a self-imposed reform, while the operation of the HEI remains rooted in state logic. Specifically, the findings suggest that in the case of actual changes to the budgetary process arising through the corporatization and an emergent logic, failure to replace abandoned accounting practices shaped by a previously dominant logic with equivalent practices adhering to either extant or emerging logic(s), may put the organization at risk. Overall, our study contributes to a better understanding of the dangers of an organizational response to institutional complexity, referred to as reactive decoupling, in the management of institutional complexity and points to its negative impact on organizations' hybridization capability.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)483-510
Number of pages28
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2019


  • Budgetary process
  • Crisis
  • Higher education
  • Hybrid organizations
  • Institutional logics
  • Public sector

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