Tag: university association

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.

Growing criticism towards German university alliances?

Jens Jungblut (University of Oslo)

Jens Jungblut (University of Oslo)

In this post, Hedda associate Jens Jungblut examines current developments with the German university alliances. Jens is working at the University of Oslo where he is writing his doctoral dissertation on the relationship between shifts in governments and changes in higher education policy. 

Institutional differentiation is something rather new to the German university landscape. While classically German universities were, and to a large extend still are, characterized by equality of funding and reputation, different recent activities aimed at creating more diversification in the system. The first and most influential of these activities was the excellence initiative by the federal and Länder governments. In a parallel process several universities formed alliances and associations, following the British example of the Russell-Group, to cooperate in a situation of growing competition for funding and students (see also an earlier article on this issue).

Open letter from a rector criticizing university alliances

Recently the debate around the differentiation of the German university system entered a new round. Ulrich Radtke, the rector of the University of Duisburg-Essen, published an open letter to the German rectors’ conference, in which he criticized the decision of his colleagues to form university alliances.

The University of Duisburg-Essen is the youngest universities in Germany and not a member of any of the German university associations. It is the result of a recent merger of two smaller universities and characterized by a relatively high percentage of students of non-traditional background.

Radtke criticizes several aspects of the newly established university alliances. He starts off by describing the university alliances as co-operations of the old and large universities against the young and smaller ones that try to enhance their position in a higher education system that is characterized by serious under-funding and student overload. For him the German higher education system offers a lot of excellent research environments but they are to be found on the departmental level and spread between many higher education institutions. For him there are maybe three or four universities in Germany that could claim to be overall stronger than the others, the rest are more or less equal.

All different but no longer all equal? New university alliance in Germany

Jens Jungblut (University of Oslo)

Hedda associate Jens Jungblut examines the establishment of a new university alliance in Germany and the implications of this to the system.

The foundation of the university alliance and lobby group German U15, encompassing 15 of the large comprehensive and research intensive universities could mark yet another step in the break-up of the classical formal equality of universities in Germany and could have serious impact on the position of the rectors’ conference as well as the cooperation between politics and the higher education sector in general.

The German universities have been characterised by a formal and structural equality for a long time. Although several universities always had a better reputation for certain subjects, stemming mainly from the employed professors, there was no top-down structural stratification between the universities and all institutions received their core funding based more or less on the same criteria (with some differences between the Bundesländer). It was only with the start of the excellence initiative of the federal government and the Bundesländer that one could identify a group of universities that would be regarded in the public arena as better than other and for this would also receive a significant amount of additional funds. However, the recent foundation of an alliance of 15 large German comprehensive and research intensive universities, the German U15, indicates that the dynamics that the excellence initiative introduced to the higher education system in a top-down manner are continued through bottom-up collaborations.

In Focus: The Catalan Public University Association (ACUP)

We continue our In Focus series where we highlight relevant organisations and associations for higher education in Europe and world wide. This entry was written by Alicia Betts, Project Manager at the Catalan Association of Public Universities (ACUP) and graduate of the European Master of Higher Education (HEEM) programme in 2009. 

The Catalan Association of Public Universities (ACUP) was created in 2002 as a bottom-up initiative stemming from the public universities of Catalonia: Universitat de Barcelona (UB), Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB), Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya (UPC), Universitat Pompeu Fabra (UPF), Universitat de Girona (UdG), Universitat de Lleida (UdL), Universitat Rovira i Virgili (URV) and the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (UOC). The main aim of the organisation is to jointly promote initiatives, programs and projectes to improve the university system for the social, cultural and economic development of Catalonia.

The ACUP has a one-year rotary President which is the Rector of one of the member insitutions and a permanent Executive Secretariat. The General Assembly is formed by the Rectors of the public universities and the Presidents of the Social Councils of the member universities (an external body to the universities) and decides the overall activities of the organization. The ACUP’s Advisory Board’s members are distinguished and experienced professionals in Catalonia as well as two international higher education and research experts.