Intended and Unintended Outcomes

To a large extent, all instrumental goals were achieved and the HE landscape changed as a result of the instrumental goals being achieved. The new types of degrees (bachelor-master) have been established. The implementation was not as swift as the policymakers envisaged, but ultimately all programmes were accredited and the 2012 Integration Decree can be seen as the (legal) keystone of the restructuring process. Most interviewees confirmed that degrees have become more transparent and distinctive, although it was argued by some interviewees that the bachelor’s programmes were actually not ‘stand-alone’ degrees, but often used as a bridge to master’s programmes (see also Verhoeven, 2008). Also, the new accreditation processes have been established quickly. This was not so surprising given that these were not radically new policies, but changes in existing policies and instruments (see Van Damme, 2004). Finally, the associations have been formed, with many partnerships being explored even before the decree was accepted in parliament.

Critical notes on the outcomes can be found in the literature and were also raised by most interviewees. First, the formation of associations ultimately led to power imbalances in the Flemish HE system in that the university sector has outcompeted the university college sector, especially after the full integration of the two-cycle university college programmes into the university sector in 2013-2014, which was an unintended effect of this structural reform (see Table 2). Furthermore, power imbalances between associations could also be identified. The market share of the Association Leuven is now around 40 % of the total number of Flemish students. One interviewee even spoke of a socio-religious compartmenta- lisation between Catholic and non-Catholic institutions. Arguably, in a small HE system like the Flemish one, a limited number ofpowerful actors can act as ‘institutional entrepreneurs’ (cf. Greenwood and Suddaby, 2006), hence strongly affecting structural reforms to their own advantage.

Table 2 Number of students enrolled in Flemish higher education (www.ond.









  • 56.603
  • 158.733
  • 86.267
  • 132.741
  • 88.794
  • 136.153
  • 116.135
  • 113.788
  • 116.269
  • 116.166

Academisation - the ultimate goal of the associations - has been successful, but critical voices argue that the process was never fully realised (De Clerq, 2009; Verhoeven, 2010). Also, some HE institutions and programmes have been more successful in the implementation than others. For instance, the academisation of the so-called ‘school of arts’ has been a highly problematic process (Tindemans, 2012). It can be argued that the research-teaching nexus (academisation) in the two-cycle university college programmes has only strengthened incrementally. Analogously, there is no evidence that the quality of these programmes has improved significantly, despite formal accreditation. As it is unclear whether academisation and quality improvements have actually taken place, it could be argued that the actual teaching activities have been relatively unaffected.

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