Constructing Reputation in a University Merger

Hanna-Mari Aula

Research output: ThesisDoctoral ThesisCollection of Articles


This doctoral thesis addresses the question of reputation construction in a specific situation, that is, a university merger. The purpose is to describe and understand the process of reputa-tion construction, and to shed new light particularly on the complexity of the construction process. Reputation is considered to be based on those organizational characteristics that the organization and its stakeholders deem important and essential. This study considers universities as organizations which remain accountable to a myriad of stakeholders who all may have particular, even conflicting, interests and expectations. The empirical focus of this thesis is the merger of three existing institutions into a new entity, Aalto University. The Aalto merger is positioned in the setting of changing higher education in Finland and abroad. In addition to an introductory essay, this thesis contains a series of four studies that approaches the complexity of reputation construction differently. The first study explores the dynamics of compliance and resistance of reputation construction. Focusing on the notions of becoming 'world-class', the study examines Aalto top management and communication experts' attempts to influence Aalto's reputation, and the way the reputation becomes reconstructed in media. The second study aims to make sense of the stakeholder polyphony and controversy in reputation construction. It examines the complexities in the attempts to adopt a new branding logic, in which multiple stakeholders are invited to actively contribute to the focal brand and obtain value from it. The third study explores the process of defining the organizational characteristics, involving multiple stakeholders in and around the university, who represent different ideas of what the university is. Developing the notion of university branding as a political game, this study explores conflicts and struggles in building and presenting a new Aalto brand. The fourth study examines the discourses produced in a university merger and the different accounts of university reputation that these discourses produce. The study explores the possibility of having multiple and competing accounts of university reputation, each suggesting different meaning for the university. This thesis emphasizes the dynamic nature of reputation and its construction, and considers that discourse analytical approach suits particularly well to study reputation as a dynamic process. This thesis contributes to extant research that considers reputation as continuously reconstructed in discursive practices by showing that reputation - and its multiple accounts - develop and evolve in time. This thesis also contributes to higher education branding research by stressing the crucial role of the multitude of stakeholders who are involved and actively participate in defining and building the university brand. While the extant research acknowledges the complexity of reputation construction, this thesis addresses the issue explicitly and in greater detail.
Translated title of the contributionMaineen rakentuminen yliopistofuusiossa
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor's degree
Awarding Institution
  • Aalto University
  • Tienari, Janne, Supervising Professor
Print ISBNs978-952-60-6511-3
Electronic ISBNs978-952-60-6512-0
Publication statusPublished - 2015
MoE publication typeG5 Doctoral dissertation (article)


  • reputation
  • branding
  • university
  • merger
  • higher education
  • discourse

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