The Policy Design Process of the Structural Reform

Given the two potential policy scenarios (i.e. upgrading BHS or greenfield FHS), two different ministries played important roles. The Ministry of Education (BMUK), responsible for BHS, and the Ministry of Science (BMWF), the governmental entity for higher education institutions, took different approaches to the design of the structural reform (Pechar 2004b, pp. 55f). Both ministries have claimed a leading position in the structural reform’s design process.

The expert group at BMUK, responsible for vocational schools, immediately started with development work for new curricula to upgrade BHS. As curriculum development was one of the core competences of the ministry, the group embarked on the design process of the new policy process from this starting point. Another reason for this quick move was to gain a competitive advantage by being the first movers. With immediate action, they could outrun the system and avoid further discussions throughout the implementation process and, thus, be ready to start soon. BMWF took a different pathway and worked at a more conceptual level. BMWF tried to put the policy reform into a broader context by reviewing the current state of policy, identifying major challenges that the sector faced. Being responsible for universities, BMWF also worked on a new Higher Education Act, which tackled institutional autonomy and quality assurance of universities.

In fact, two different time schedules appeared during the design phase of the policy: task-based activism versus an experienced-based conceptualism at the two different ministries resulted in two different solutions. To overcome this conflict, BMWF proposed a review of Austrian higher education by the OECD. Such a report broadened the discussion about the new policy as well as brought an outside perspective to the national discussion. Furthermore, the background report, which was required by the OECD, was prepared jointly by the two ministries. It addressed fundamental issues of the new policy reform and provided a framework for internal and external reviews. Based on the timeline of the OECD report (BMWF 1993), the immediate, narrow, task-based policy design approach of BMUK was no longer possible; a broader design process had to be accepted. In the end, the decision about the OECD report most probably led to BMWF taking over the policy design process as the responsible ministry.

A series of workshops were organized by BMWF to support the preparation of the background and OECD reports (BMWFK, 1995).

International experts were invited in order to introduce other European concepts. Stakeholder groups also attended such workshops, including key persons from the coalition parties, social partners like employers’ representatives, teachers’ unions as well as universities and BHS. The OECD policy review started in 1992. It provided support from the beginning for the planned policy reform and the establishment of the new FHS sector.1 According to Jungwirth (Jungwirth, 2014), the policy gained key support from the highest political ranks (e.g. the Minister for Science, a party Spokesman of Science, the Head of the Department for Higher Education at the ministry and the President of the Rectors Conference) in addition to the organisational actors involved. These individuals were the architects of the policy that was eventually implemented.

A number of stakeholders (e.g. chamber of labour, universities etc.) did not participate from the very beginning of the design process, described as portraying ‘silent scepticism’ (Pechar, 1990-1994 p. 53). At a later stage, they were invited by the administrative core to join the process and had the chance to take a formal position.

Table 1 shows the different bodies involved and their role and influence on the policy design process.

Besides the expert groups, all actors had political or administrative power in the design process. However, the expert group was the engine

Table 1 Policy design actors in Austria

Involved bodies



Political parties

Identify goals, negotiate the design process, decision making


Administrative core

decision support services (e.g. reports,




Expert groups

Think tank, design of concepts (e.g.


(background report,

accreditation model), preparatory work

OECD review, etc.)

(report writing), international perspective

Chamber of Labour

Opinion formation, representation of



Chamber of Industry/

Opinion formation, representation of




Rectors Conference

Opinion formation, representation of






Opinion formation, representation of




Adapted from Hackl (2013) pp. 56-57.

of the final design, acting as a think tank in the process. The political willingness for change, international pressure via the OECD and EEC, and strategic moves like inviting the OECD shifted the opinion on the policy reform from being rather divergent to rather convergent.

The allocation of responsibilities and the definition of concepts was a political and organisational contest between the ministries rather than the parties or stakeholders. However, the process can be described as consensus-oriented, well-defined and broadly reflected upon. The involvement of key stakeholders, as well as the distribution of responsibilities and tasks, the milestones, strategic moves and decisions underlined the legitimacy of the output. Such a radical change and greenfield solution to establish a new non-university sector in Austria was the result of the interplay between differentiated actors (parties, administrative core, opinion leaders). This interaction strengthened their capacities as individuals or groups to take action in the process and support an ultimate solution.

On the other hand, the success of the policy design process was aided by the lack of strategic alliance between the opponents of the proposed solution (Hollinger, 2013). In contrast, the existent broad consensus for change was a result of an inside-out and outside-in process. The perceived fundamental need to diversify the system and to facilitate the recognition of degrees in an international context led to a common view of the policy reform by the majority of actors. A common course of action would not be possible without the consensus of the major political forces and individuals as well as a technical framework, legitimised by external review and political and expert support.

During 20 years, there was no serious discussion about policy reforms regarding the non-university sector in Austria (Jungwirth, 2014; Holzinger and Koleznik, 2014). Given the absence of any serious policy reform process for so long, such a rational approach to the FHS policy reform is highly remarkable. As the goals were clearly formulated, alternatives described, explored and internally and externally assessed, as well explicit targets defined and implicitly discussed and measured, we can argue that this was a rational policy reform, which took place over a comparably short period of time.

One of the major goals in terms of policy instruments was to solve the power conflict between BMUK and BMWF in the design process and to choose one of the two possible solutions. Indeed, there was a major concern, mainly from the Chamber of Labour, that the ‘privatisation’ of the non-university sector would be later followed by the privatisation of universities. The policy design process utilised a number of policy instruments to overcome this conflict, which can be identified as information tools.2 Focus and expert groups, advice (OECD), workshops, trainings and reports supported the dissemination of information and the broader involvement of interested bodies. Regulation based on the FHStG and, later on, the certification and accreditation of study programmes were also used by authorities. The foundation of the sector is the FHStG, which is a law pertaining to studies and not, as in other countries, an Act of and for an organisation.

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