Structural Reform in European Higher Education: An Introduction

Harry de Boer, Jon File, Jeroen Huisman, Marco Seeber, Martina Vukasovic and Don F. Westerheijden

System-Level Change in European Higher Education

In higher education, we live in an age of reform. All over Europe, state authorities frequently adapt their policies and introduce new ones to encourage public higher education institutions to deliver high-quality services in an effective and efficient way. They take forceful initiatives and introduce

H. de Boer (*) ? J. File ? D.F. Westerheijden

Center for Hr Education Policy Studies, University of Twente, Enschede,

The Netherlands

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J. Huisman ? M. Seeber ? M. Vukasovic

Centre for Hr Education Governance Ghent, Ghent University, Ghent, Belgium e-mail: This email address is being protected from spam bots, you need Javascript enabled to view it ; This email address is being protected from spam bots, you need Javascript enabled to view it ; This email address is being protected from spam bots, you need Javascript enabled to view it

© The Author(s) 2017 1

H. de Boer et al., Policy Analysis of Structural Reforms in Higher Education, Palgrave Studies in Global Higher Education,

DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-42237-4_1

reforms to change the higher education landscape. Many such reforms are driven by the belief that higher education institutions play a pivotal role in the knowledge economy (e.g. European Commission, 2003; Kogan et al., 2006; Kogan and Hanney, 2000; Marginson, 2010; Maassen and Stensaker, 2011; Shattock, 2005). Studies on the effectiveness of reform, however, show that goal achievement as the result ofthe reform initiatives is not to be taken for granted. Therefore, with the intention to contribute to the body of knowledge on ‘how reform policies work’, in this book we will analyse a number of reforms that have been induced by governments to restructure their higher education systems.

In higher education studies, understanding reform is one of the major challenges. Apart from understanding and explaining reform itself, the unique nature of higher education and its institutions contributes to this challenge (Fairweather and Blalock, 2015). The uniqueness of higher education relates among other things to its multifaceted purpose, its fragmented structure in domains (education, research, innovation, R&D) and disciplines as well as the typical features ofhigher education institutions as professional organisations (e.g. Clark, 1983; Becher, 1994; van Vught, 1995; Musselin, 2005). The characteristics of the objects governments want to steer, control and change - the higher education institutions - and the nature of the goods and services they deliver influence the course of reform action and its successfulness (van Vught and de Boer, 2015).

System-level reforms in higher education, often initiated and supported by governments, are often part and parcel ofgeneral public sector reforms, which in the European context are related to the changing role of the state (e.g. Neave, 1998, 2012) and changes in views on public sector governance and steering, inspired by either New Public Management (NPM) or post-NPM reform waves (Christensen and Lagreid, 2011; Pollitt and Bouckaert, 2011; Paradeise et al., 2009). When developing higher education policies, governments often take inspiration from experiences abroad, using ideas, ideologies and concepts (‘soft’ transfer) as well as instruments and programmes (‘hard’ transfer) used in other countries for national policy reforms (Benson and Jordan, 2011). While this may lead to convergence of higher education policies with regard to goals and objectives (Dobbins and Knill, 2009; Heinze and Knill, 2008; Kim, 2009; Musselin, 2005), persistent diversity with regard to implementation and outcomes remains (EACEA, 2012; Vara, 2004; Westerheijden et al., 2010; Witte, 2006). Despite the common global pressures (Frank and Meyer, 2007; Krucken and Drori, 2009), domestic actors of necessity translate these pressures into the domestic context

(Bleiklie and Michelsen, 2013). Reforms are affected by distinct national, path-dependent flavours (Dobbins and Knill, 2009; Gornitzka and Maassen, 2011; Musselin, 2009; Witte, 2006). Even if ‘exactly’ the same policy or instrument were transferred, it might have a different impact due to the different national or local contexts into which it gets inserted (de Boer, 2003).

In summary then, the point of departure in this book, which addresses 11 reform processes in higher education, is that these reforms are both driven and supported by the central governments, of which many face similar external pressures for change and are exposed to similar policy ideas, models and templates. Policymakers, however, need to take into account the uniqueness of the sector and its institutions as well as domestic specificities and existing policies. Evidently, system-level reform processes are complex due to multitudes of actors, interests, overlapping and potentially conflicting policy initiatives, path dependencies and ‘local’ situations. This certainly holds true for one specific type of reform in higher education: structural reforms.

 
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