The ‘Why’ of the Policy Outcome

Policy Content

For the better part of the 1990s, the proposed solution, that is, the instrumental goal of the reform to establish and strengthen the nonuniversity sector in Croatia was not explicitly linked to specific policy problems, that is, the reform’s strategic goals. This is to some extent caused by the fact that the structural reform was never a ‘stand-alone’ reform but always a smaller element in much larger reform projects that concerned the main part of the higher education system - the universities. This embeddedness of the structural reform in the larger reform project may, at first glance, indicate that the horizontal linkages between the reform and other policies related to higher education were particularly strong. However, an analysis of policy documents, in particular from the mid-2000s onwards, suggests that the structural reform was actually of secondary importance compared to the reform of universities. The ideas about and challenges for the non-university higher education were discussed to a much lesser extent, while the reform of universities, including their governance and degree structure of the programmes they offered took the lion share of attention. Moreover, the structural changes that the reforms were envisaging did not have strong historical linkages with the previous higher education policy. The reform was envisaging the establishment of a whole new sector and, perhaps most importantly, the institutionalized practice that the universities also provide professional programmes was supposed to be abolished, indicating that the expected change was far from incremental.

Overall, insufficient attention was given to the development of policy instruments, given that (1) the bulk of the reform relied only on changes in legislation and (2) most of these changes actually concerned the overarching reform process and the functioning of the universities and less so the functioning of the non-university sector. The fact that the funding mechanisms were not changed meant that there was incompatibility between policy instruments. The number of students enrolled remained the key criterion for public funding which meant that professional programmes were actually an important source of income for the universities, thus undermining the regulation which foresaw that these programmes should be abolished. Therefore, it may not be at all surprising that the legislation was effectively redesigned during implementation, by the Parliament as well as by the Constitutional Court. This iterative characteristic of the policy process in which design and implementation overlap implies that it is necessary to consider the whole ofthe policy process and not assume that specific stages are clear-cut and isolated processes. Moreover, the back and forth of the reform is also a consequence of institutional arrangements and politics of the Croatian structural reform.

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