Systems & complexity

Facilitating knowledge sharing in higher education institutions

Universities and other higher education institutions are a fundamental component of evidence-based knowledge management. They generate the academic literature that is one of the four sources of evidence that knowledge managers need to consider in evidence-based practice.

But just how good are higher education institutions at managing their own knowledge? Having taught in higher education institutions myself for the past few years, the conclusion that I would draw is that there’s considerable room for improvement. This is confirmed in a systematic review1 published last year by a team of authors comprising Osama Al-Kurdi and Tillal Eldabi from Brunel University in London and Ramzi El-Haddadeh from Qatar University.

Al-Kurdi, El-Haddadeh, and Eldabi advise that while knowledge management (KM) is been primarily discussed in the context of the corporate and public sectors, higher education institutions could also benefit from KM because they are in the business of generating and disseminating knowledge. They alert, however, that there are a number of key factors that differentiate higher education institutions from other organisations. These include that:

  • academics have strong traditions of academic freedom and autonomy
  • higher education institutions have a different overall structure, being made up of largely independent faculties or schools
  • higher education institutions have a unique leadership structure comprising both academic and managerial leaders
  • the organisational culture of higher education institutions is embedded in the wider culture of the area where the institutions are located.

The systematic review considered 82 papers. From the review, Al-Kurdi, El-Haddadeh, and Eldabi conclude that:

  • lack of trust is a key barrier to knowledge sharing among academics because they believe that their knowledge gives them a competitive advantage, and losing it would threaten their promotion opportunities
  • organizational factors are a key barrier to knowledge sharing in higher education institutions, and include organisational culture, operational climate, subcultures, reward systems, and management support
  • academics prefer incentive schemes and reward systems as ways of enhancing knowledge sharing behaviour
  • technology-related factors have not been adequately addressed in the literature, but technology literacy issues have been identified as a barrier to knowledge sharing among academics
  • higher education institutions need to pay close attention to regional and national cultural characteristics in developing effective knowledge sharing programs for academics.

A dedicated office

A recent paper2 from Dr. Dorothy Njiraine, Chairperson of the Department of Library and Information Science at the University of Nairobi, offers tangible solutions to the issues raised by Al-Kurdi, El-Haddadeh, and Eldabi.

Significantly, Njiraine proposes that higher education institutions establish a dedicated office for research coordination, collaboration, networking, and fostering a knowledge sharing culture. The activities of the office would include coordinating research addressing the knowledge sharing practices of researchers, lecturers, students, and other stakeholders. With universities comprising largely independent faculties and schools, such an office has the potential to be an effective way of addressing the organisational factors and regional and national cultural characteristics identified by Al-Kurdi, El-Haddadeh, and Eldabi.

Further, Njiraine suggests that higher education institutions aggressively promote the role of knowledge sharing to academic staff, and reward those who embrace it. This addresses the lack of trust and incentive schemes and reward systems findings of the Al-Kurdi, El-Haddadeh, and Eldabi study.

Njiraine also recommends that higher education institutions increase the use of information technology for knowledge sharing in research, and to widely share information. This aligns with Al-Kurdi, El-Haddadeh, and Eldabi’s recommendations, but they also highlight the need for further research in this regard.

Header image: Skills training for “Be Bold”: Knowledge Sharing on Wikipedia, which is part of the “Sharing Culture” module in the Master of Media Culture at Maastricht University. Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain.


  1. Al-Kurdi, O., El-Haddadeh, R., & Eldabi, T. (2018). Knowledge sharing in higher education institutions: a systematic review. Journal of Enterprise Information Management, 31(2), 226-246.
  2. Njiraine, D. (2019, March). Enabling Knowledge Sharing Practices for Academic and Research in Higher Education Institutions. In Information and Knowledge Management (Vol. 9, No. 3, pp. 82-89).
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Also published on Medium.

Bruce Boyes

Bruce Boyes ( is a knowledge management (KM), environmental management, and education professional with over 30 years of experience in Australia and China. His work has received high-level acclaim and been recognised through a number of significant awards. He is currently a PhD candidate in the Knowledge, Technology and Innovation Group at Wageningen University and Research, and holds a Master of Environmental Management with Distinction. He is also the editor, lead writer, and a director of the award-winning RealKM Magazine (, and teaches in the Beijing Foreign Studies University (BFSU) Certified High-school Program (CHP).

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