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American and British Universities of Al Ain Merger Case Study

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Updated: Jun 10th, 2020


Mergers are often criticised for their potential to create both losers and winners. Merging two universities is a process that many leaders and stakeholders disagree on due to the uncertainties regarding the outcome. One culture outweighs another; one employee unseats another, thus leading to power struggles. Since organisational decisions are restructured, the organisation may find itself in limbo and gradually be disengaged from its objective. Since change is inevitable, leaders who are ready to grow to try new options. When done in an organised manner, mergers have proven as key strategies for promoting innovation and market share (Chrusciel & Field 2006). However, this report seeks to show how the American University of Al Ain and the British University of Al Ain can consolidate to form a single entity referred to as the University of Al Ain. The merging of the two universities can occur through the determination of the leaders who realise the possible advantages of a merger. Such leaders should be ready to strive through challenges in the early stages of the merger process. This section will show that the benefits of a bigger, more diverse organisation with a common vision can outweigh the challenges of resistance and combining two diverse cultures.

Literature review

Most studies on change model concentrate on providing a better understanding of change regarding institutions. This review will look into various change and transition methods, which many institutions select from as they pursue their specific institutional change. Many institutions do not favour change since it is seen to bring forth unpredictable consequences leading to loss and sometimes closure of the institution (Holten & Brenner 2015). Since change is inevitable, institutions have to adapt to new ways of doing things or encounter the possibility of losing relevance due to competition. However, it is the responsibility of the leaders to bring awareness of the need for change. Such awareness ignites the whole change process (Burnes, 2003). A prior assessment of the current condition is crucial when applying any form of change in an institution. Some of the factors to consider while seeking the right model to implement change should factor in issues such as what events lighted the need for change. This event helps identify the transition model that fits the current needs of the institution.

A second consideration regarding the transition models is the people involved in the parties seeking to merge. In this case, it is upon the human resource personnel to come together and initiate the change models since they have a better understanding of the institutions’ culture and the employees (Thomas 2009). Such familiarity with the culture is important in a change process. Even though it is difficult to predict the consequences of the change process, working together as a team driven by a vision is a sure way towards success (Simoes & Esposito 2014).

Implementing change

Merging these two institutions is a complex activity that needs absolute care and professionalism (Daly, Teague, & Kitchen 2003). In today’s environment, as institutions seek to form a merger, there has to be a formula for a successful transformational process. Therefore, to optimise the possibility of success, it is necessary for the action plan to commence with a genuine understanding of transition and the essence for the universities to face it. The capability to adapt to a new environment is gradual in nature; thus, it is essential to conduct thorough planning and consultation before commencement. Besides, there has to be a concrete plan rooted in learning and change theory. This plan can be seen as the roadmap for change by which all the parties gain from the process.

The players involved should admit that transformation is not easy and cannot be achieved overnight but rather a complex learning and training demanding concentration. Learning and training should help create a common understanding so that those involved can see the entire picture of integration (Mayfield 2014). This systems thinking provides the basis for shared vision and reflection of future impediments. The university leadership should encourage decisions that are empirical but not merely based on individual opinions. Since the leaders serve as the role models, they should lead a culture that prioritises working as a team and often address areas that seem to drag integration.

According to Brisson-Banks (2010), there are two types of change, planned and imposed. In the case of the two universities, it is categorised as an imposed change since the government drives it. Consequently, the management of the two institutions is compelled to work under pressure to implement change effectively. Since change can be risky and is costly, a positive mindset is needed to facilitate the process. Managers should first understand that most individuals resist change, but because change is inevitable; people will adjust given time and with the right individuals in leadership.

Impacts of the change process

Merging these two universities means that two sets of management, staff, cultures and facilities will have to be consolidated to form a common unit. Workers will unseat others, and one culture may come out strong and outdo the other. Besides, one of the institution’s presidents will have to settle for another position or even risk losing the job. Although the merged unit is expected to be larger, some of the staff may not be required anymore to avoid surplus workforce. Most mergers concentrate on the financial aspects of integration, which is functionally very crucial and the predictor to forming the grounds for success. Consequently, the minimal concern is given to human factors. This ignorance makes the transition process a mess since many employees leave the organisation or lose track of the change process. Worker disengagement and resistance are major signs of post-merger complications (Whitaker, 2012). Therefore, to avoid this aspect, the senior leadership should ensure that workers values are tolerated, and justice encouraged in all aspects.

In many scenarios, institutional culture happens to be unique to a certain entity (Edmonds 2011). For instance, the American University and the British University of Al Ain have diverse traditions and beliefs. Therefore, an integration of the two leads to the condensation of two institutions’ cultures to one. This interweaving of cultures is a fragile endeavour that affects all players of the merger. Despite the variances, managers should let their staff realise that justice will prevail since all are encountered with similar experiences.

Managing the impacts of change

According to Aula and Tienari (2011), the workers’ attitudes and behaviour regarding an institutional transition manifest the most fundamental forecaster of its victory. Within any institution seeking to merge, different humanistic factors need to be addressed. At the top is fairness to all parties involved. Fairness hugely determines the outcome of the transformational process. Apart from helping develop the organisational goals, fairness also promotes individual development. This aspect motivates individuals to embrace the change process. As a result, it becomes easy for the workers to let go of their current positions and roles. This acceptance of the current situation makes it easy for the merged management to allocate new roles to employees concerning the newly developed structure. The favourable attitude towards change process is the commitment to change so the leadership should issue incentives such as rewards to ensure workers are dedicated to working. Good transformational leadership qualities are a key way to impact on workers and other stakeholders (Whitaker 2012).

To transform the entire learning environment of the universities to fit the objective of the merger, leaders need to factor in various strategies that include engagement, alignment, and governance. Engagement involves issuing all the main players with the sustainability plan and ensuring their interests are covered to attract support. This plan should ensure that the profits of engagement outweigh the costs (Weber & Tarba 2012). On the other hand, alignment is the means to ensure that the mergers’ structure, objectives, resources and main performance predictors are in line with the vision and purpose of the merger. Besides, the structure should align staff enrolment and role placement with the mergers’ sustainability goals. Governance forms the backbone upon which sustainability leadership of the merged university is anchored (Edmonds 2011).

Who should lead the change?

The two top managements of the universities should appoint one of the university presidents to act as a senior leader responsible for overall planning and decision-making. The senior leader should oversee a senior leadership team and coordination team to enhance collaboration and communication across departments. The leader should purposely steer a culture of collaboration in which team members assist each other rather than reporting. The leader should be able to come up with a manageable number of desirable priorities for action and ensure that the teams mandated to apply these changes are in consensus upfront (Appelbaum et al. 2007).

The leader should not expect every stakeholder to fit the integration plans. Resistance to change is common in any institution due to the unpredictable nature of transformation. Resistance is brought about by anxiety and tensions associated with that particular change. The anxiety often differs depending on the magnitude of change and its influence on the norm. To eliminate such resistance, the senior leader should ensure learning becomes mandatory to enable the employees to adapt to alterations in their work setting. Learning helps the workforce to cope with challenges as they arise and ensures that workers benefit from the experience of the solution-finding process.

The change model

These institutions can adopt various models for a successful change process. However, in this case, three phases of transition can be used to bring the two universities together. The steps include unfreezing, moving and refreezing. According to Abrell-Vogel and Rowold (2014), from these stages, the management can assess the possible benefits of a transition to the institution. Unfreezing involves recognising the potential benefits that are coupled with the expected change (Mader, Scott, & Razak 2013). In this stage, the managers have to create awareness of the whole change process. All the stakeholders should be sensitised to avoid resistance to change in later stages. In essence, the main goal at this level is to ensure that all involved parties have shared the vision and avoid negations by conservative members.

The moving phase comes in when the involved parties agree to pursue the intended change. This stage entails the actual development and exchange of ideas. Since change is costly, time-consuming and unpredictable, technical teams are needed to control the process. Organisational training is also necessary at this stage to eradicate potential tensions, resistance, and emotional disengagement (Appelbaum et al. 2015). At this stage, the top management with close consultation with all stakeholders should consider means to accommodate new factors that include flexible curriculum, institutional culture and worker enrolment, among other factors. The merged institution should put to consideration that the two universities have a different curriculum, and thus both parties should be fully involved when designing the way forward.

Refreezing is the last phase that entails supporting and anchoring the change as a perfect fit within the institution. At this level, those individuals with conservative ideas recognise the change since the process alters their basic assumptions and help them subscribe to the version of the change agents. However, sustaining the change is the real puzzle since the merged institution is faced with the need for an organisational culture that everyone can appreciate (Kitchen & Daly 2002). The organisational cultures should be combined in a way that addresses majority values and expectations to optimise the rate of success.

Change sustainability

Change management is crucial because institutions work in changing environments. Given the current state of competition and tensions in racial diversity, within learning institutions, there is the need to create relationships. When change is achieved, people get in the way and disrupt operations. The result is instability and losses. Therefore, the staff members in the merged institutions need to learn how to cope and thrive in the new environment. Moreover, it is critical for any integrating institution to learn stakeholder engagement. When there is a clear understanding of cutting across all players, it becomes easy to sustain the established change (Lind & Stevens 2004). The president of the merged institution should be one to lead, direct or encourage people, but not to manage them.

Teamwork, as well as interpersonal relationships across the departments, has to be embraced. Good communication is also needed to enhance the clarity of goals and direction (Goldberg 2011). Communication needs to be handled in a way that avoids confusion at all levels of integration. To ensure smooth integration between the two universities, roles and responsibilities should be defined clearly to increase personal accountability. However, team leaders in this integration process should allow some autonomy for the team members to make consultative changes to the plan when the need arises. Team leaders should also reward and motivate the staffs who get on board well (Abraham, Fisher, & Crawford 1997). These rewards inspire commitment making it easy to integrate and sustain the institution.


The framework mentioned earlier provides valuable guidelines for leaders of the merging universities to figure out the key issues to consider during the integration process. The framework emphasises transformational leadership in achieving integration by mentioning the essence of leaders’ interpersonal skills when influencing the stakeholders. Upfront consultations, working as a team, and organisational learning have been viewed as predictors of significant benefit towards merging. Ultimately, research has identified human capital as the precursor to effective mergers and their sustainability.

Reference List

Abraham, M, Fisher, T & Crawford, J 1997, ‘Quality culture and the management of organisation change’, International Journal of Quality and Reliability Management, vol.14, no.6, pp.616-636.

Abrell-Vogel, C & Rowold, J 2014, ‘Leaders’ commitment to change and their effectiveness in change – a multilevel investigation’, Journal of Organisational Change Management, vol.27, no.6, pp.900-921.

Appelbaum, S, Degbe, M, MacDonald, O & Nguyen-Quang, T 2015, ‘Organisational outcomes of leadership style and resistance to change’, Industrial and Commercial Training, vol.47, no.3, pp.135-144.

Appelbaum, S, Lefrancois, F, Tonna, R & Shapiro, B 2007, ‘Mergers 101: training managers for culture, stress, and change challenges’, Industrial and Commercial Training, vol.39, no.4, pp.191-200.

Aula, H & Tienari, J 2011, ‘Becoming “world‐class”? Reputation‐building in a university merger’, Critical Perspectives on International Business, vol.7, no.1, pp.7-29.

Brisson-Banks, C 2010, ‘Managing change and transitions: a comparison of different models and their commonalities’, Managing Change and Transitions, vol.35, no.4, pp.241-252.

Burnes, B 2003, ‘Managing change and changing managers from ABC to XYZ’, Journal of Management Development, vol.22, no.7, pp.627-642.

Chrusciel, D & Field, D 2006, ‘Success factors in dealing with significant change in an organisation’, Business Process Management Journal, vol.12, no.4, pp.503-516.

Daly, F, Teague, P & Kitchen, P 2003, ‘Exploring the role of internal communication during organisational change’, Corporate Communications, vol.8, no.3, pp.153-162.

Edmonds, J 2011, ‘Managing successful change’, Industrial and Commercial Training, vol.43, no.6, pp.349-353.

Goldberg, R 2011, Mergers & acquisitions 2011, Practising Law Institute, New York.

Holten, A & Brenner, S 2015, ‘Leadership style and the process of organisational change’, Leadership & Organisation Development Journal, vol.36, no.1, pp.2-16.

Kitchen, P & Daly, F 2002, ‘Internal communication during change management’, Corporate Communications, vol.7, no.1, pp.46-53.

Lind, B & Stevens, J 2004, ‘Match your merger integration strategy and leadership style to your merger type’, Strategy & Leadership, vol.32, no.4, pp.10-16.

Mader, C, Scott, G & Razak, D 2013, ‘Effective change management, governance and policy for sustainability transformation in higher education’, Sustainability Accounting, Management and Policy Journal, vol.4, no.3, pp.264-284.

Mayfield, P 2014, ‘Engaging with stakeholders is critical when leading change’, Industrial and Commercial Training, vol.46, no.2, pp.68-72.

Simoes, P & Esposito, M 2014, ‘Improving change management: how communication nature influences resistance to change’, Journal of Management Development, vol.33. no.4, pp.324-341.

Thomas, M 2009, Mergers and acquisitions, Thorogood Publishers, London.

Weber, Y & Tarba, S 2012, ‘Mergers and acquisitions process: the use of corporate culture analysis’, Cross Cultural Management, vol.19, no.3, pp.288-303.

Whitaker, S 2012, Mergers & acquisitions integration handbook, Wiley, Hoboken.

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