P34 Rethinking the Hybrid Role of Higher Education: Areas of Opportunity and Improvement

Corresponding chair 

Sara Rinfret, Associate Vice Provost, Faculty Affairs and Professor, Public Administration, Northern Arizona University sara.rinfret@nau.edu 

Review group chair 

Federico Rotondo, Associate Professor in Business Administration and Accounting, University of Sassari (Italy), Department of Humanities and Social Sciences.

Reviewers of abstracts

Federico Rotondo, Associate Professor in Business Administration and Accounting, University of Sassari (Italy), Department of Humanities and Social Sciences.

Lucia Giovanelli, Full Professor in Business Administration and Accounting, University of Sassari (Italy), Department of Economics and Business.

Sara Rinfret, Northern Arizona University.

Bruce McDonald, North Carolina State University.

Sean McCandless, University of Texas-Dallas.

Elias Pekkola, Tampere University.

Romulo Pinheiro, University of Agder


Starting in the 1990s, reforms in Higher Education (HE) introduced market-based elements and mechanisms alongside traditional, collegial forms of governance and academic values like autonomy. There have also been attempts at rationalizing or transforming HE institutions (HEIs) into more coherent organizational forms, centered on clear roles, responsibilities, and accountability profiles. As a result, our panel uses HE institutions as our unit of analysis to explore three interconnected prongs: hybridity; sustainability; and what motivates our workforce to come to work.

Hybridity: For example, old and new features co-exist in HE, thus intensifying the traditional hybridity characterizing HEIs as organizations and institutions (Pekkola et al. 2020, 2021). Little systematic attention has been paid to the extent to which the prevalence of hybrid arrangements affects, either positively or negatively, the a) primary tasks of teaching, research and engagement/innovation, b) the structural (administrative, regulative and leadership) arrangements that support the accomplishment of those tasks, as well as c) the norms, values, and identities of academic communities across different disciplines.

Sustainable Future: Furthermore, since the Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment in 1972, the idea that HE has a moral responsibility to increase the awareness and skills needed to create a sustainable future has made headway. In fact, through their traditional missions, HE institutions can improve the capacity of the people, first future policymakers, to address environmental and development issues (education), as well as generate and experiment with new knowledge and solutions to build a more equitable society and healthy environment (research). Public universities play an even more critical role since responding to external social demands and contributing to the growth of society are inherent to their ‘mission’ (Ramísio et al., 2019; Riveros et al., 2022). More recently, the role of HEIs has expanded to embrace new functions to produce and exploit knowledge for innovating their ecosystems (third mission) (Etzkowitz, 2008). Then the approval of the Agenda 2030 in 2015 has made them key players in the short-term implementation and long-term fulfillment of the sustainable development goals (SDGs) (Leal Filho et al., 2019). Although an increasing number of public universities worldwide are launching initiatives to integrate sustainability in the different areas of their activity, as well as re-orienting their structures, people and activities to help society become more sustainable (Giovanelli et al., 2021), a general delay has been observed in the adoption of a hybrid approach (Vienni Baptista and Rojas-Castro, 2020), i.e., the development of strategies, processes and methods to forge closer interactions with stakeholders, among which industry and government, which stands out as an essential condition for creating new knowledge and solutions to address sustainability challenges and become more sustainable organizations themselves (Velazquez, 2006; Mars et al., 2012).

Motivations for Work: Despite these efforts, many workers struggle across the globe with low pay, lack of advancement opportunities, and feelings of disrespect. Regarding HE faculty, they struggle with keeping it together because of exhaustion and the lingering impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, faculty leave their positions for employment in other sectors. Some posit that the academy is in crisis and a risk of falling off a cliff exists. However, before things can improve, there is a need to understand what affects the HE workplace. Current research has established what motivates our employees within public and private sector entities, but still underdeveloped post-pandemic. Most notably, in our examinations of employee motivation, we do not recognize the importance of performing emotional labor. As a result, organizations begin to experience a poor work climate, and inadequate compensation for those whose jobs require more emotional labor.  Further, both the expectations and exercise of emotional labor tend to disproportionately impact women, people of color, and historically marginalized populations.


Given public administration’s centrality in providing public services and partnerships with the private sector, this panel invites proposals related to the following list of sub-topics:

  • HE reforms inspired by hybridity: state-of-the-art and future challenges;
  • Hybrid arrangements’ impacts on HEIs’ traditional missions;
  • Administrative, regulative and leadership arrangements required to support HEIs’ missions in a hybrid time;
  • Performance measurement and accountability profiles of hybrid initiatives in HE;
  • Hybrid approach and sustainability performance in HE: business models, outcomes and challenges;
  • HEIs-stakeholder cooperation for the achievement of the SDGs;
  • Motivations to work and the role of emotional labour in the post-pandemic HE: evidence, best practices, and public-private solutions.


Understanding of i) how the emergence and salience of hybrid arrangements in HEIs are shaping and being shaped by core tasks, formalised arrangements and academic (cultural) postures and mindsets, ii) how HEIs evolve into more hybrid organisations by engaging and cooperating with governments, local communities and businesses to become more sustainable organisations and, in the meantime, platforms for socioeconomic development, iii) why faculty come to work, what HEIs can continue to do to retain faculty, addressing elements of emotional labor, and solutions for the future of HE also based on hybridity.

Thus, this panel calls for both empirical and conceptual papers within the field of HE policy, management, administration, and organisation. This panel is also keen to explore interdisciplinary perspectives alongside thematic aspects that have received little attention, such surrounding hybridity, sustainability; and what motivates our workforce to come to work. Research approaches based on quantitative, qualitative, and mixed methods are welcomed.