Vertical Differentiation Structural Reform Processes

Aiming to strengthen the strategic capacity of Danish universities - strengthening research priority setting and creating distinctive research profiles - by offering competitive funding, the Danish government launched the 5-year Investment Capital for University Research (UNIK) initiative (2009-2013), as part of the comprehensive Globalisation Strategy of 2007. Universities could submit proposals for long-term, large-scale research, which were assessed by an independent international expert panel. Out of 28 proposals, 4 have been awarded for funding. In the Danish case study, Aagaard and de Boer evaluate the UNIK initiative and argue that paradoxically it can be seen both as a success and a failure.

Concerning the French case, Boudard and Westerheijden point out that after the shock of not seeing French universities prominently in the first global rankings, two strands of policies were deployed since around 2006 aiming to improve the competitiveness of French higher education and research at a global scale, large investments in facilities and in world- class research, and merger operations. In both strands, two ‘generations’ of policy initiatives were taken, the second ones, with increased funding to respond to the 2008 crisis, strengthening and continuing the first ones up to the present. Investments to increase vertical differentiation were concentrated in a few, already strong universities (or strengthened through mergers). The mergers also started selectively. Higher education institutions competed voluntarily for funding.

The Spanish case study, by Seeber, focuses on the International Campus of Excellence initiative, in the period 2008-2014, which aimed to reduce the fragmentation of the higher education system, to open up universities to society, and to increase their specialisation and excellence. Universities had to develop strategic partnerships and aggregations among them and with other private and public institutions around a common project and campus. During the implementation phase, vertical differentiation (excellence) has blurred towards a more comprehensive approach by also including small and peripheral regions and universities.

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