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This paper reports on an ethnographic exploration of the culture of institutional governance at one of the five public universities in Laos. Drawing on documentary materials, on-site observations made over an extended period, and semi-structured interviews conducted with 31 academic managers from across all management levels at the site institution, the paper seeks to throw light on the institution’s embedded practices of internal governance, as well as on the beliefs, values and aspirations associated with those practices. A constructivist and interpretive methodology was employed to generate data. The picture to emerge is one of a university hemmed in by State controls and ideology, in which there is an overwhelmingly bureaucratic and managerial culture, and in which a governance structure that could potentially support institutional and academic autonomy does not do so. Resource constraints also contribute to the institution’s limited capacity to exercise autonomy.