Structural Reforms in 11 European Countries

Horizontal Differentiation Reform Processes

in 1994, the Austrian government established a new sector of universities of applied sciences (Fachhochschulen), in an attempt to regionalise higher education. The chapter by Pausits presents this case of horizontal differentiation reform as one aimed at the diversification and expansion of vocational education, the development of programmes geared towards the needs of the labour market, the promotion of permeability of the educational system and flexibility of graduate career paths. The key policy instruments were a new ‘Fachhochschulen’ act (FHStG) and funding mechanisms. Important stakeholders were involved in the design of the policy, and there was considerable scope for local and regional initiatives, also involving private partner, in the implementation phase.

As presented in the chapter by Brankovic and Vukasovic, the structural reform in Croatia focuses on the establishment of non-university higher education institutions since the mid-1990s, and the government’s attempts to gradually make these institutions the sole providers of professional study programmes, which implies gradually abolishing such programmes in universities. These reforms aimed at ensuring a contribution of higher education to the regionally balanced development of Croatia as a knowledge society by increasing the quality, efficiency and accessibility of higher education. The reform comprised changes in system-level legislation and the introduction of procedures and criteria for accreditation of institutions and programmes, with no changes in the funding mechanisms.

At the turn of the millennium, in the Netherlands the establishment and institutionalisation of a research function as the second core task of the Dutch universities of applied sciences (hogescholen) was introduced to contribute to the strengthening of the innovative capacity of the Netherlands by the optimal use of the sector in delivering highly skilled modern graduates and services needed by regional industry and the public sector. For these purposes, the research base of hogescholen had to be strengthened. Several policy instruments have been introduced to strengthen this research function by means of the introduction of new staff positions, grants for practice-oriented research and grants for the establishment of centres of expertise. In the Dutch case study, De Boer describes and analyses what has happened in the last 15 years since the first steps were taken to strengthen the research function of Universities of Applied Sciences (UAS) in the Netherlands and evaluates to what extent it has obtained a structural and indispensable position in Dutch higher education. Do the UAS really have a stronger research orientation than they used to have?

The structural reform project in Norway, analysed by Elken and Frolich, was part of the broader ‘Quality Reform’, and pertained to the profiling and changing status of higher education institutions (horizontal differentiation). The main overall goal of the reform was to increase efficiency and quality. At the practical level, this was translated into giving higher education institutions more autonomy and allowing them to profile and position themselves more strategically. One of the options offered to university colleges was to ‘upgrade’ to university status. The key policy instrument for the structural changes, starting in 2000, was regulation, with funding provided for the establishment of the Norwegian Agency for Quality Assurance in Education (NOKUT) and other aspects of the reform.

The reform process in Poland, analysed by Antonowicz, Kwiek and Westerheijden, concerned assuring and strengthening of the quality of (private) higher education. The Polish case explains why and how the market failed to regulate the provision of higher education. A few attempts to change the situation failed, until the government set up an accreditation agency to remediate the ‘mushrooming’ of the private sector after 1989 and low-quality provision in general. The accreditation agency became operational in 2002.

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