Overview of the Contribution of the Papers to the Theme

Higher education policy has two special dimensions that set it apart from other public policy domains. First, everyone is an expert on the topic by the mere fact of being a university graduate. This is one of the fields with the highest proportion of self-appointed professional authorities. But, as Andreas Schleicher observed, “without data, you are just another person with an opinion.”

Second, higher education policy is the realm of controversy by excellence. As Machiavelli wrote in his famous political manifesto, the Prince, “there is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success than to take the lead in introducing a new order of things”. While this observation is true of any political reform, it is particularly resonant in the case of higher education reforms. Universities are among the most conservative cultural and organizational institutions, with extremely vocal, yet highly transitory constituencies, including faculty and the students. These groups can effectively mobilize themselves against policy changes likely to challenge established practices and vested interests. This is often the case when it comes to financing or governance reforms such as the introduction of tuition fees, reductions in social benefits for the students, the elaboration of a transparent funding formula for public resource allocation, changes in the mode of selection of university leaders, or mergers among existing institutions to achieve economies of scale.

Therefore, instead of organizing higher education policy on the basis of a combination of ideology and personal experience, it is essential to build a body of relevant knowledge that can help define the range of reform options and make decisions suitably based on available evidence about causes and effects. The four articles included in this sub-theme on evidence-based higher education policy are good examples of the types of relevant studies that can serve to enrich the perspective and knowledge of policy-makers at the national level and university leaders at the institutional level. As the following list shows, the first three look at policy issues at the system-wide level, whereas the last one examines the consequences of the Bologna process on a specific university:

• Higher Education Research in Europe (Ulrich Teichler);

• Do changes in cost-sharing have an impact on the behaviour of students and

higher education institutions? Evidence from nine case studies (Dominic Orr);

• Does research influence educational policy? The perspective of researchers and

policy-makers in Romania (Georgeta Ion and Romita Iucu);

• The Impact of the Bologna Process and German Higher Education Reforms on

Faculty Work at the University of Potsdam: A Case Study (Christen Cullum Hairston).

After retracing the history of the field of higher education as an academic research field and its stages of development in the European context, showing that it has remained up to the present a small academic area, Professor Teichler emphasizes the growing interest in higher education policy in recent years, as a consequence of financing and governance reforms and the multiplication of assessment activities by national governments and international organizations. His analysis shows that higher education research has remained essentially national in focus, without sufficient evidence-based work to establish the impact of national policies on higher education institutions. It finds also a paucity of work in international comparative research on higher education.

Professor Teichler notes, further, the lack of clarity and agreement in the delineation of the specific academic areas that define higher education policy, observing that it is an heterogeneous research domain and “a field of expertise with very fuzzy borderlines between research on the one hand, and consultancy, administrative oversight, evaluation and other search for evidence on the other hand.” This leads him to ask the following two questions: “to what extent do these conditions serve the enhancement of higher education research? And to what extent do these conditions of knowledge generation serve a desirable future of higher education?” His answer is guardedly optimistic. He expresses the view that the joint perspective of higher education researchers and higher education policy analysts may enrich the understanding of the complex evolution of higher education systems and institutions.

Dr. Orr's chapter presents the methodology and findings of a recent major study on cost-sharing, which was commissioned by the European Union as an impact study on changes to the balance of higher education costs between public grants and private revenues. The purpose of the study was to provide a basis for a better understanding of reforms to higher education funding and their consequences.

This work on cost sharing was conducted on the basis of standardized case studies in nine countries: Austria, Canada, England, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Poland, Portugal, and South Korea. Following the approach successfully applied to analyzing higher education reform by Cerych and Sabatier in their seminal work from the mid-1980s, the national case studies enabled to reflect both the influence of each specific context and the general impact of changes in cost sharing policies (Cerych and Sabatier 1986).

The analysis of the nine case studies led to the following general findings. First, public funding to higher education institutions did not decrease overall as cost sharing increased, not even on a per-student basis. Second, traditional universities were less agile in responding to changes in student demand patterns as a result of increased cost sharing. Finally, it is very difficult to attribute any adverse equity effect to increased cost sharing as the demand for higher education has continued to rise everywhere in the last two decades, even in countries like England where tuition fees are high.

Professors Ion and Iucu focus on the relationship between educational research and policy-making process, using the case of Romania as specific example. The paper focuses first on the production of research and its relevance to policy making. It then examines the views of policy makers about research products and knowledge dissemination. Finally, it discusses the obstacles to the transfer of research findings to policy making.

Relying on in-depth interviews of researchers and policy-makers, as well as questionnaires administrated to postgraduate students in Romanian universities, the authors find a large disconnect between education research and policy-making. The first major barrier is the fact that the quality and relevance of higher education research leaves much to be desired. The absence of proper communication and dissemination mechanisms is another important obstacle. Based on these findings, Professors Ion and Iucu make a series of recommendations to improve the appropriateness of research and develop adequate channels of communication to ensure better relationships between research and decision-making.

The last paper, prepared by Professor Hairston, investigates the impact of the Bologna process and ensuing reforms in the German higher education scene on the role and work of academics. This case study of the University of Potsdam, based on in-depth interviews of 25 professors, seeks to provide a detailed account of the transformation of teaching and learning under the influence of the Bologna process. The main finding of this research is that German academics are very resilient; they have adapted well to the many changes caused by the Bologna process: increased competition, new pay scale, introduction of junior professorships, increased enrolment and growing time demands in teaching and research, changing mentality and behaviour of students, and a greater authoritative management of their professorial roles. At the same time, the academics feel that “Bologna threatens the Humboldtian ideal of the university by reducing the responsibilities in the professional roles of teaching, research, and service and regulating a historically unregulated system. … Professors voiced their frustrations with the implementation of the Bologna Process especially in terms of ECTS points, modular definitions, student requirements, and a general lack of agreement across departments.” The article concludes by outlining the need for the leaders of the University to work carefully at clarifying and harmonizing the new rules for organizing the courses and

the teaching in accordance with the Bologna principles.

 
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