Category: Guest Bloggers and Commentary

Guest bloggers: The Politics of Higher Education Policies. Unravelling the Multi-level, Multi-actor, and Multi-issue dynamics

Dr. Jens Jungblut (INCHER, Kassel)

This guest entry is written by guest editors of a recent special issue in Policy and Society: Meng-Hsuan Chou, Jens Jungblut, Pauline Ravinet, and Martina Vukasovic. They briefly introduce the key focus of the special issue and describe the “three multi-s”.

In this thematic issue of Policy and Society (all contributions are openly accessible), we highlight the multi-level, multi-actor, and multi-issue (the ‘multi-s’) nature of public policy using the case of higher education policies.

We begin with an overview of how the global shift towards knowledge-based economies and societies has placed ‘knowledge’ at the core of contemporary public policy and policymaking. The governance of knowledge, however, is not a neatly contained policy coordination exercise: it requires collaboration across multiple policy sectors that may have previously experienced very little or less interaction. For example, we can think of a (non-exhaustive) list of relevant policy areas to include, such as higher education, research, trade, foreign policy, development, or migration. In our view, higher education policy coordination is thus permeated with respective sectoral concerns, with discussions taking place across distinct policy arenas, sometimes in silos, both inside and outside of formal government channels.

While the above characterization brings forth the multi-issue aspect competing for attention in higher education policy coordination, we suggest that it also points to the presence of multiple actors: state actors from different ministries or agencies, representatives from universities and businesses, other non-state actors (interest groups, stakeholder organizations), as well as users of such coordinative outputs (concerned parents, students, as well as employers). As regular readers of this blog would recognize: the multi-issue and multi-actor features of higher education policy coordination often result in duplication, competition, inconsistencies, clashing priorities, and even potential bureaucratic and political conflict (Braun, 2008; Peters, 2015)—all symptoms of horizontal policy coordination challenges (Gornitzka, 2010).




Guest blogger: All universities are “excellent,” but some more than others: the rise of elite associations

Jelena Brankovic (Bielefeld University and Ghent University)

This guest entry is written by Jelena Brankovic. Jelena is a Research Associate at Bielefeld University (Germany) and a PhD Candidate at Ghent University (Belgium). She is also a HEEM master programme graduate. Currently she is working on university responses to status dynamics and competition in higher education. 

You can follow Jelena on Twitter: @jelena3121

Universities have been forming associations for more than a century now. Among some of the oldest examples of such ventures are, for instance, the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities in the US, established as early as in 1899, the Rectors’ Conference of Swiss Universities (est. 1904), or the Association of Commonwealth Universities (1913). In principle, an association is established by two or more universities which have something in common, which could be either some specific characteristic, such as religious affiliation, ownership structure, or, perhaps, disciplinary focus; or, more often, a shared geographic, political, cultural or linguistic border. Or both. Think of examples such as the Association for European Life Science Universities, Association of Universities in Portuguese Speaking Countries, Japan Association of Private Universities and Colleges, or, for example, Association of Universities Entrusted to the Society of Jesus in Latin-America.

Associations are many and their number has increased over time. They can be regional, national and international. In addition to the level or field in which they operate, we can also distinguish between, on the one hand, those which are there to represent interests of the university institution in a particular region, such as right to autonomy and well-known academic freedoms of its members, and, on the other, those which are tied by some additional characteristic or cause, such as, for instance, the already mentioned religious orientation. To distinguish, we could call the former generalist and the latter specialist.

Any of this is hardly news. However, in recent years a particular type of university associations seems to be gaining in popularity, both in national contexts and internationally. Unlike the most commonly found type of specialist associations which seek to differentiate in a more functional or horizontal fashion, this type is made up of vertically differentiating – or status-driven – university associations. These associations are characterised by high status of their members, claims to superiority in terms of their quality and – typically – exclusivity when it comes to membership. In other words, they are invite-only clubs of the small elite at the apex of the respective hierarchy of universities. Think of the Russell Group in the UK, Group of Eight in Australia, League of European Research Universities (LERU), Japanese RU11 and you get the picture.




Podcast: University Civic Engagement – What Does It Mean To Be An Engaged University?

The recording was made during a seminar organized by the research group ExCID (Expert cultures and institutional dynamics: Studies in higher education and work) at University of Oslo. The ExCID group is focused on theoretical, methodological, and empirical understanding of the dynamics of higher education and its way of fostering academic and professional development. The seminar was held 15th of November 2016.

University Civic Engagement: What Does It Mean To Be An Engaged University?

Presenter: Dr. Bojana Culum (University of Rijeka, Croatia)

Bojana Culum (University of Rijeka, Croatia)

Bojana Culum
(University of Rijeka, Croatia)

Abstract for the seminar:

Civic engagement refers to the ways in which citizens participate in the life of a community in order to improve conditions for others or to help shape the community’s (better) future, through both political and non-political processes. Civic engagement is considered to be central to the public purpose of higher education and essential to the student experience, empowering students to become active and socially responsible citizens in a democratic society. However, in the context of major societal changes and challenges, it is argued that publicly-funded universities have to move beyond creating such engaged experiences only for students and that they have a civic duty to engage with wider society on the local, national and global scales, and to do so in a manner which links the social to the economic spheres. There are many ways to live our commitment to community and civic engagement, from big impacts to small decisions. This seminar will reflect on research in the field as well as critics and serve as a platform for discussion on what does it mean for contemporary universities to embrace civic engagement and become active and socially responsible institutional citizen(s) and caring (institutional) neighbours – how to foster meaningful connections and engagement between universities and communities to effect positive change in society.

Bojana Culum works as assistant professor at the University of Rijeka’s Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, Department of Pedagogy, Croatia. Her research focuses on university third and civic mission, university civic and community engagement (the concept of an engaged university) and changes in academic profession with particular interest for early career (female) researchers’ socialisation into academia. She was a Fulbright Visiting Scholar at Portland State University, USA, during the academic year 2015/2016.

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View the slides of the presentation here. 


The recording has been reposted with permission from the research group.

View the research group homepage here.




On the move towards research-led universities – Meeting of the HERANA project discusses institutional change in African flagship universities

This guest entry is written by Jens Jungblut and summarises some of the key activities at a recent HERANA workshop in Cape Town. Jens is currently a post-doctoral researcher at INCHER, University of Kassel. 

From November 20 until November 24 the Center for Higher Education Trust (CHET) organized a workshop in the context of the HERANA research project in Cape Town. During this meeting representatives of seven flagship universities from different Sub-Saharan African countries discussed together with a group of international experts the institutional developments of the different universities on their road to becoming research-led universities.

HERANA workshop participants

The workshop started out with a presentation of the activities of CHET by its director Nico Cloete, which was followed by a short lecture from Peter Maassen, professor of higher education at the Department of Education at the University of Oslo, who presented findings from a research project that investigated the characteristics of research flagship universities in Europe highlighting commonalities but also differences between several successful institutions. Afterwards, Åse Gornitzka, professor of political science at the University of Oslo, discussed organizational change processes in higher education with an emphasis on explanations from organizational theories why change processes can be slow, unpredictable and sometimes even fail. Professor Leo Goedegebuure, director at the LH Martin Institute in Melbourne, presented to the participants recent developments in higher education in South-East Asia and offered some conclusions on institutional factors that allowed some universities in Asia to strengthen their research function and catch up with global developments. His presentation was followed by a reflection from Fred Hayward on his work during the last years for USAID supporting the reform of higher education in Afghanistan in which he also highlighted some common challenges between Africa and Afghanistan.




Conference review: Higher Education as a Critical Institution – the CHER 2016 Conference

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Miguel Antonio Lim  (University of Manchester)

Now that next year abstract deadlines are coming up, it is just about time for reflections of what the conference season had to offer in 2016. 

This guest entry is written by Miguel Antonio Lim. He is Lecturer in Education and International Development at the University of Manchester. His research interests include the sociology of evaluation, international higher education, and professional expertise. He has worked on research projects around global university rankings and audit culture in higher education. Miguel has previously been EU-Marie Curie Fellow at Aarhus University and Executive Director of the Global Public Policy Network Secretariat. He has worked for the Asia Pacific Center at Sciences Po-Paris and taught at the London School of Economics.

The 29th Consortium of Higher Education Researchers (CHER) conference took place on the 5th-7th September at Cambridge University around the theme: ‘The University as a Critical Institution?’ While CHER is among the most popular and important research-oriented conferences in the field of higher education, the organizers noted an increased participation at the 2016 conference to almost 200 delegates.

CHER 2016 was marked by the strong presence of higher education researchers from around the world. There was a babble of languages spoken throughout the coffee breaks. Colleagues working in the UK, Russia, China, the USA, Germany, Italy, and the Nordic countries, among others, presented work about their various regions.

Apart from the geographical breadth of the conference, CHER 2016 also showcased a wide variety of disciplinary and methodological approaches towards the study of higher education. These were particularly apparent in the sessions of the conference in which Sue Wright, an anthropologist, and Vicky Boliver, a social policy scholar (using statistical methods) delivered their keynotes.




Podcast: Academic developers and quality management with Ester Fremstad and Tone Solbrekke

excid_logoWe are pleased to share with you some of the recordings that were made during a seminar that was arranged on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the Faculty of Educational Sciences at the University of Oslo.

The presentations are made by members of the ExCID research group that focuses on studies of higher education and work, with particular emphasis on expert cultures and institutional dynamics.

The seminar recordings were made on 27th of September 2016.

In this presetation, Dr. Ester Fremstad and Prof. Tone Solbrekke present their ongoing study on academic development: Academic developers and quality management: perspectives from institutional leaders

Listen without the Flashplayer

View the powerpoint presentation for this seminar.

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View also the presentation by Peter Maassen on quality management in higher education. Stay tuned for even more content from the seminar!




Guest blogger: Higher Education Learning Outcomes – do they matter?

Kvilhaugsvik_Hanne

Hanne Kvilhaugsvik (University of Bergen)

Hanne Kvilhaugsvik is a PhD Candidate in the Department of Administration and Organization Theory, University of Bergen. Her research interests are organizational change in universities, governmental steering of higher education, and university governance. Her PhD project explores how learning outcomes and criteria of relevance for the labor market are used to evaluate and steer higher education in Norway and Denmark. This blog post is based on material from her master’s thesis in Administration and Organization Theory from 2015.

By the end of 2012, Norwegian higher education institutions were required to introduce written descriptions of the intended learning outcomes for each and every course unit and study program, in every discipline. Learning outcomes are connected with qualifications frameworks, the Bologna process, and the OECD, and have therefore been introduced throughout Europe during the last couple of years. So, what happens to higher education institutions when learning outcomes are introduced? Do they improve the quality of education and provide transparency, or are they simply formal requirements?

What are learning outcomes?

Learning outcomes can be defined as: “[…] written statement[s] of what the successful student/learner is expected to be able to do at the end of the module/course unit, or qualification.” (Adam, 2004: 5). In pedagogy, learning outcomes have been connected to a paradigm-shift “from teaching to learning” or “from input to output”. The recommendation is to use expected learning outcomes as a starting point for planning course units and study programs (Biggs and Tang, 2011). This is described in contrast to planning based on traditional input factors, such as reading list and content descriptions.

Learning outcomes can be understood as administrative tools or formalities. However, they have increasingly been described and promoted as instruments for reform and change (Lassnigg, 2012; Bjørnåvold and Coles, 2007). There is no shortage of goals for using learning outcomes: To improve the quality of education, provide transparency, ensure relevant qualifications for the labor market, and provide better opportunities to steer education. Learning outcomes can therefore be understood in connection with New Public Management ideas, and especially with ideas of reforming higher education towards more ‘complete organizations’ (Brunsson and Sahlin-Anderson, 2000). While learning outcomes have been studied much within pedagogy, there has been less research on learning outcomes as political instruments or policy tools (Souto-Otero, 2012). It is therefore interesting to study how learning outcomes are introduced and defined as instruments in higher education.

A case study on learning outcomes in higher education 




Conference review: Only connect – Collaboration, cooperation and capacity building through HE partnerships – EAIR 2016

Isabel Roessler  (CHE)

Dr. Isabel Roessler
(CHE)

In this report, Isabel Roessler writes about the 38th annual EAIR Forum. Isabel works at the German CHE – Centre for Higher Education and focus upon her research on Third Mission, applied research and the reform processes of the HE system.

About 200 participants from all over the world joined the 38th annual EAIR Forum in Birmingham. The conference was organised by the Birmingham City University and took place from the 31 August 2016 to 3 September 2016. This year the tried and trusted remained and a new “idea” stand the test.

The title “Collaboration, Cooperation and Capacity Building through HE partnerships” indicates that the conference deals with the work beyond the traditional boundaries and confines Higher Education. Teaching and research as the traditional missions of universities do not cover the whole spectrum of activities: Higher education institutions cooperate with a diverse range of external partners form outside and inside academia. They cooperate inter-departmental as well as inter-institutional, collaborate with local communities, with industrial and commercial sectors of the economy and organisations like NGO, NPO or foundations. Hence, this conference focused on the partnerships of HEI in and with Higher Education.

As usual the EAIR started with a number of special interest groups on Wednesday: “Impact of Quality insurance”, “Graduate School Management and Accreditation of PhD Programmes”, “Widening Access to Higher Education” and “Student as co-designers: creating contemporary curriculum” and in addition “How to get published”.

In the evening, the opening keynote was about “Students and Serial Killers: The Legacies of Clarice Starling”. No doubt, the conference promised to become special. The keynote of Thursday morning addressed directly the title of the conference: “Partnerships and collaboration – lessons from another setting”. Right after the keynote the sessions started. Plenty of presentations were given in six different tracks. The first track concentrated on “Working in partnerships with students: the importance of experience and engagement”. Familiar the track “Learning and teaching in higher education: the perfect partnership?” Participants with a stronger interest in innovation choose the track “Innovative higher education practice through partnership work”. The other three tracks were about “Emerging quality partnerships”, “Creating impact through higher education research partnerships” and “Higher education governance in an age of collaborative working”. In total 86 presentations and five keynotes. The not yet mentioned keynotes in a nutshell: “Higher education and its stakeholders: Protecting ‘the commons’” (Maarja Beerkens), “Internationalising initial teacher education – A case of partnership working across boarders” (Bärbel Diehr), and “Cultural Intelligence – the next big thing for HE” (Marie Mohan).




Conference review: Knowledge politics and policies section @ECPR 2016

Dr. Martina Vukasovic  (CHEGG, Ghent University)

Dr. Martina Vukasovic
(CHEGG, Ghent University)

This guest entry by Martina Vukasovic (CHEGG, Ghent University) summarises the panels and presentations from the ECPR General Conference. 

The 2016 edition of the General Conference of ECPR (European Consortium for Political Research) took place in Prague, 7-10 September 2016. Approx. 2000 participants presented their most recent work in political science, policy analysis, public administration and related areas of inquiry in almost 70 different sections. The newly formed ECPR Standing Group on Politics of Higher Education, Research and Innovation, for the sixth time in a row organized a section dedicated to knowledge politics and policies.

The section consisted of eight thematic panels comprising 3-5 papers each, spread over the three conference days.

First, ‘Applying Complex Systems Theory to Higher Education and Research Policy’ panel looked beyond the commonplace description of political and policy phenomena as complex and discussed the possibilities of using complexity theory for public policy analysis. It featured presentations by Graham Room about agile actors on complex educational terrains (author of the 2011 book on Complexity, Institutions and Public Policy) , Sandra Hasanefendic about using complex adaptive system theory for analysing behaviour of higher education institutions, Mads P. Sørensen on complex policy conditions conducive to scientific breakthroughs and research excellence and Mitchell Young on the linkages between policy dynamics and biological systems.

The second panel – ‘Market-Making of, in, and around European Higher Education’ – focused on marketization of higher education, both as a process and as an outcome. Janja Komljenovic presented her work on actors involved in the process of construction of ‘diverse, variegated, processual and relational’ markets. Christopher Pokarier focused on expansion and downscaling of higher education market in postwar Japan, while Lukas Graf focused on decentralized cooperation in skill formation. Eva Hartmann then shed light on international coordination service firms (European Quality Improvement Systems (EQUIS) and their role in privatization of higher education. Finally, Susan Robertson focused on contradiction between the global trade agreements in the making (e.g. TTIP, TPP) and a creative and dynamic knowledge-based economy. 




Guest blogger: Learning outcomes – between perspectives and practice

Liliana Krstic

Liliana Krstić

Ljiljana Krstić is a recent graduate from the UiO’s Higher Education Master’s Programme. Her prior education includes a degree in the Greek language and literature as well as the human resources management. Main research interests involve organisational change within universities, management and internationalisation of higher education.

The idea to write the thesis about learning outcomes resulted from the article I read on how research has pointed out to the discrepancy between the narrative and actual application of the concept in practice, and how in fact application has turned out to be the slow and difficult (Adam, 2008). In addition, a CEDEFOP study (2012) confirmed that interpretations of the concept vary throughout Europe, and even within individual institution (Dobbins, Brooks, Scott, Rawlinson, Norman, 2014). Research indicates that application of such a broad concept may cause a variety of interpretations, misconceptions and misuses.

In general the problem with the reform rhetoric and changes that follow, are empirically unverified beliefs and assumptions of the reform policies. Some are expected to be adopted even if they lack empirical verification, normative agreement and clear theoretical propositions (Maassen, Olsen, 2007). Learning outcomes exemplify how a policy debate throughout Europe has the tendency to become more similar, despite the different traditions and varieties between the counties, implying the willingness of national actors to follow the new terminological fashion (Teichler, 2004) and to emphasise the “European perspective’.

Therefore I decided to write about perspectives necessary for understanding the concept of learning outcomes and empirically verifying whether some of them are more dominant than the other. Additionally, I wanted to hear the voices of academics and academic leaders as the ultimate recipients of the policy, responsible for its reshaping in practice and enquire about their interpretation of the concept and its embeddeddness within the institutional context of the University of Belgrade. Lastly, I used the data to find patterns in the perceptions of changes which occurred as a result of the application of learning outcomes in practice.

As for the methods of inquiry, University of Belgrade was treated as an embedded single-case study, with three faculties as sub-units integral to the University as a whole. The selection of faculties reflected the classification of disciplines into four broad headings: hard-pure, soft-pure, hard-applied and soft-applied (Becher, 1989; Neumann, Becher, 2002).

Understanding and interpretation of learning outcomes may vary respectively to the perceived learning orientation and purposes of the concept among academic community who assume different functions within the University. Thus, it was essential for the study to explore the perceptions of academics and academic leaders. Empirically, the thesis is built upon twelve in-depth semi-structured interviews and relevant university and legislative documents. The respondents are academics and academic leaders from: soft-pure, hard- pure and hard-applied faculties respectively.