Interim Conclusion

Qualitative expert interviews which employed a format between ‘interview guide’ and ‘standardised open-ended interview’ were the most appropriate design for the research. The study has been limited to a small number of universities and subject areas (if appropriate) which have been chosen in an attempt to achieve a balanced sample. The questions were designed according to the results of the competition law analyses in Chaps. 3 and 4 and the experts were selected based on their ability to answer these questions. Generally, the interviews took place in a professional and friendly atmosphere. As only experts in their official role have been interviewed, there were no specific ethical issues. The interviews have been recorded and transcribed and were then analysed according to the same framework which had been used to establish the questions.

It is expected that the interviews have a high level of validity, since the experts are reporting about their everyday tasks and do not have any incentive to give false answers. The only concern could be that experts might be worried that their university is engaging in anti-competitive conduct and therefore attempt to cover this up. This, however, seems unlikely, since, different to, for example, a breach of criminal law, a potential breach of competition law is not necessarily an imminent threat. Firstly, HEIs would have to be regarded as undertakings to fall under competition law in the first place. Secondly, if competition law did apply and a breach was detected, there are a number of potential justifications. Thirdly, there have so far been no major investigations at the EU level which would lead one to think that this is currently a focal point of the enforcing authorities and that a study pointing to potential problems would lead to immediate action. The research thus did not try to uncover a clear breach of law which would lead to definitive action, so that interviewees should not have felt any need to disguise anything. Instead it aimed at uncovering potential tensions which it would be in the interest of the HEIs to know about in order to circumvent them. The interviewees seemed to widely understand this, found it helpful and were interested in the results.

The research is also expected to have a high degree of reliability. The questions have been designed to find out about specific situations in order to gain an insight into potential problems and they will be analysed in accordance with a framework set out in advance. As is general with more structured approaches, it is expected that similar results would have been obtained if the research had been conducted by another researcher and that the data gained can thus be regarded as relatively reliable. However, the research is a qualitative empirical study and as such has certain limitations. Only a small number of universities in three Member States have been studied at a certain point in time (2012/13). Whilst the sample has been strategically selected in order to present various types of universities, it can still only give an impression. The results are therefore not representative for all HEIs in Europe, but they do give an important insight into potential tensions between HEI policies and EU competition law.

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