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.

Listen without the Flashplayer

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.