Transnational actors: Gateway to exploring the multi-level and multi-actor aspects of higher education and research governance

Martina Vukasovic

Embodying multi-level and multi-actor characteristics of governance

 EHEA Ministerial conference in Yerevan in 2015. Photo credits: Fernando Miguel Galan PalomaresEHEA Ministerial conference in Yerevan in 2015. Photo credits: Fernando Miguel Galan Palomares

EHEA Ministerial conference in Yerevan in 2015. Photo credits: Fernando Miguel Galan PalomaresEHEA Ministerial conference in Yerevan in 2015. Photo credits: Fernando Miguel Galan Palomares

That governance of higher education and research takes place across several governance levels – institutional, national, European – is, arguably, common knowledge. The beginning of the Bologna Process and the launching of the Lisbon Strategy almost 20 years ago greatly intensified European integration and Europeanization in these two domains, as evident in European funded cooperation programmes, national reforms and institutional adaptations. While these developments are marked with various tensions between governance levels, as well as different policy domains, they are also characterized by strong involvement of stakeholder organizations, adding the ‘multi-actor’ aspect to the ‘multi-level’ description of governance arrangements. 

What is interesting is that many of these ‘new’ actors are multi-level organizations themselves. For example, the European University Association (EUA), a consultative member of the Bologna Follow Up Groupand contributor to public consultations organized by the European Commission, has national rectors’ conferences and individual universities as members, both of which are active in policy development in their own domestic policy arenas. The same goes for other university associations and alliances (e.g. EURASHELERU), European Students Union (ESU), professional and disciplinary organizations. Moreover, institutions, decision-making and advisory structures at the European level – such as the European Research Councilor the Advisory Group on the European Qualifications Frameworks – are connected to national or institutional policy-making through their individual members and their own connections that span governance levels. 

It is such collective non-state actors that operate across governance levels – i.e. transnational actors – that are the focus of the recently published special issue of the European Educational Research Journal, co-edited by Tatiana Fumasoli (Institute of Education, University College London), Bjørn Stensaker (Department of Education, University of Oslo) and Martina Vukasovic (Centre for Higher Education Governance, Ghent University).

Transnational actors as expert platforms, (latent) interest groups, meta-organizations, and linkages between governance levels

In the introduction to the special issue, the co-editors present various theoretical perspectives that have been employed thus far in analysis of transnational actors, including European integration, multi-level governance, comparative politics, policy analysis, organizational sociology and higher education research. These perspectives highlight different attributes of these transnational actors, e.g. their role in interest intermediation is particularly interesting for comparative politics, while the fact that many of them are meta-organizations – organizations of other organizations – is specifically visible through the lens of organizational sociology. The five contributions to the special issue each employ one or more of these perspectives, focusing on the shifting relationship between governance and knowledge, and on how new actors influence the processes and outcomes of decision-making within the field of higher education.

The European Qualifications Framework Advisory Group (EQFAG) is analysed by Mari Elken, who sheds light on the conditions conducive to organizational stability and legitimacy of a key organization in European knowledge governance. Elken’s study of how EQFAG was institutionalized shows that, while the EU constructs policy arenas to be filled up, actors profit from room to manoeuver and flexibility with regards to their new roles, suggesting that European level policy arenas can (also) act as opportunity structures for policy entrepreneurs.

Martina Vukasovic and Bjørn Stensaker compare two university alliances – EUA and LERU– focusing on how diverse membership bases (i.e. comprehensive vs selective) and diverse resources lead to somewhat differentiated roles and representation of interests in European policy-making. While both alliances have rather easy access to EU decision-makers, the bases for their legitimacy are different, affecting their positioning as well as the breadth and ambiguity of interests they advocate for. 

Looking at three European student organizations (ESU, ESN, and AEGEE) Manja Klemenčič and Fernando Miguel Galan Palomaresinvestigate the conditions determining insiders and outsiders in European knowledge policy processes. Their article shows how legitimacy plays a major role in accessing EU institutions and policy processes, even when organizational structures and resources are similar. 

Tatiana Fumasoli and Marco Seeber provide a mapping of European academic associations, focusing on their missions, structures, and positioning. Their findings articulate a nuanced landscape where traditional scholarly associations coexist with socially orientated academic associations. Equally, their article offers an insight into the different patterns of centre–periphery structures from a geographical, political, and resource perspective and highlights the coexistence of traditional and innovative academic organizations with varied levels of access to European institutions.

Finally, Bo Persson investigates the role played by key Swedish science policy actors in the process of building the European Research Council (ERC) in the 2000s. The article shows how national policy actors have leveraged on their organizational capacity and legitimacy to contribute to European agenda-setting and policy formation. Importantly, the article shows how national policy actors are able to do this partly through bypassing their own state authorities, thus becoming embedded in the European policy arena. 

Key ingredients for understanding governance of the Europe of knowledge

The in-depth analyses provided in this special issue show how European transnational actors can be conceptualized and compared according to their mandates and missions, organizational structures and decision-making processes, through their linkages to the EU institutions, the levels and types of influence in policy-making, and their position in the broader arena of European knowledge policies. These characteristics can be seen as the outcome of policy design, and of strategic intent, but also as the result of incremental and organic changes. Overall,while expertise and legitimacy could be considered requirements to access and influence policy processes, we suggest that organizational structures, resources, identities, and decision-making processes of these transnational actors need to be scrutinized further. The latter point implies that insights from comparative politics and organizational studies might be combined into a valuable framework for studying European governance in general, and that we need more studies in this area if we are to understand the governance of the Europe of Knowledge. 

Martina Vukasovic is a postdoctoral researcher at the Centre for Higher Education Governance Ghent

(CHEGG) at Ghent University. In her research she combines insights from comparative politics, policy analysis and organizational sociology in order to analyse multi-level multi-actor governance in knowledge intensive policy domains (e.g. higher education, research). More specifically, she focuses on the role of stakeholder organizations in policy processes, the interaction between European, national and organizational level changes, and the relationship between policy coordination and policy convergence. She holds a PhD from the University of Oslo and a joint MPhil (Erasmus Mundus) degree by the universities of Oslo, Tampere and Aveiro.

This entry was initially posted on Europe of Knowledgeblog.

 

 

 

 

Science diplomacy – a catch-all concept in public policy?

Nicolas Rüffin

 International Space Station. Photo: ESA

International Space Station. Photo: ESA

Science diplomacy has attracted a lot of attention during the last decade. Actors as different as the US State Department, the European Commission, the Royal Society, UNESCO and a great many of other intermediary organizations have adopted the term to rebrand their activities, programs, and agendas. The contexts in which the term science diplomacy emerges are just as diverse as the actors. It almost seems like science has become a panacea for most of the problems in public policymaking. For instance, when looking through the volumes of the journal Science & Diplomacy, we encounter topics like the global challenges, health diplomacy, issues of security and proliferation, international mega-science projects, and trade policies, not to mention regional priorities like the Arctic, Africa, the Middle East, or East Asia.

The rise of the concept of science diplomacy

Science diplomacy thus is first and foremost a new umbrella term to characterize the role of science and technology in numerous policy fields that have an international, boundary-spanning, component. As a matter of fact, a number of examples and documents illustrate that considerations regarding science and technology (S&T) have played a role in international policymaking before (e.g. Neureiter & Turekian, 2012). For instance, policy instruments like bilateral science and technology agreements (STAs) have been used at least since the 1950s (Rüffin & Schreiterer, 2017). These STAs formed a global network of legal commitments long before any remarks on a strategic use of science diplomacy emerged. 

However, the scope and number of S&T related policies have increased over time. For instance, we are witnessing the emergence and differentiation of agencies explicitly dedicated to matters of international science policymaking (Flink & Schreiterer, 2010; Rüffin, 2018). Several countries, including Germany, the UK, Switzerland, and Denmark, have established S&T outposts abroad in order to access new markets, buttress their innovation capacities, and to foster bilateral relationships. In addition, non-state actors like academies or research associations pursue their own objectives in terms of international science policy. They maintain offices overseas, conclude collaboration agreements, and some even establish joint research laboratories (e.g. the FrenchCentre national de la recherche scientifiqueor the German Max-Planck Society). The idea of science diplomacy, then, provides a new, more strategic and—more or less—coherent framework to integrate existing instruments in international S&T policymaking. Actors use the concept to propel their own agenda regardless of policy field or research area.

From my point of view, there are two items on the current research agenda regarding science diplomacy: The aspirations for the meaningful, “optimal” use of the concept (Van Langenhove, 2017) and the scholarly reflection on its role in a broader context. 

 Future directions for science diplomacy

There are several well-known and often cited examples of successful science diplomacy. For instance, physicists were the trailblazers in establishing diplomatic relations between the Federal Republic of Germany and Israel in the 1950s. The Pugwash conferencesprovided venues for low-key exchanges between scientists and policymakers from Western and Eastern countries during the Cold War. International research organizations like the European Organization for Nuclear Research, CERN, or the International Space Station, ISS, illustrate the opportunities that emerge if international partners join forces to pursue daring and high-quality big science research.

But aside from these famous examples, we know that the systematic implementation of the concept of science diplomacy faces serious challenges. Sometimes, scientists and officials from research organizations even are reluctant to use the term, stating that they would rather prefer to stay “under the radar” of politics. It is true that science diplomacy, as a type of track 2 diplomacy, always constitutes a balancing act between governmental interests and scientific autonomy. A strategic use of science diplomacy must take these concerns into account. Moreover, questions arise from the tension between competition versus collaboration of different actors. 

In Europe, both the European Commission and a great number of Member States are engaging in science diplomacy, yet the relations between the different players, the division of labor as it where, often remains unclear. Propelling European science diplomacy thus means that the stakeholders must define the domains of (shared) responsibility, explore areas of common interests, and coordinate joint programs where advisable. Hence, scholars should investigate the subjects where science diplomacy can contribute to the peaceful and sustainable coexistence, increased scientific collaboration, and eased tensions between countries across the globe. But they should also continue to examine the limitations of the concept and how it might play into increasingly tough economic competitions and races for innovation. Overall, researchers should be aware that they contribute to the evolution of the concept by introducing new tools, structuring established instruments, and by identifying new applications.

Contemplating the nature of science diplomacy

However, it is important to remember that science diplomacy is only one expression of a broader “elusive transformation” of policymaking (Skolnikoff, 1993). We need to put science diplomacy into perspective by drawing connections to other mega-trends in science policy like the turn towards innovation and the increasing importance of the global challenges. This strand of research could include historical studies on the origins of the concept, analyses of coalition building, or in-depth case studies of how foreign affairs and S&T interact.

Luckily, the community of researchers engaging with science diplomacy—both in substantial and in reflexive ways—is growing. Already, scientists from many countries are contributing to this endeavor, and within Horizon 2020, there are a number of projects that advance the study and implementation of science diplomacy (e.g. EL-CSID,InsSciDE, and S4D4C). 

After all, science diplomacy is a moving target and it will be interesting to watch which directions, trajectories and shapes the concept will take in the future.

Nicolas Rüffinis Research Fellow of the President's Project Group at the WZB Berlin Social Science Center. He joined the WZB in 2016, after receiving a master’s degree in science studies from the Humboldt-University of Berlin, and a bachelor’s degree in business psychology from the University of Bochum. Before moving to Berlin, he had worked as Programme Manager at Stifterverband für die Deutsche Wissenschaft, a joint initiative of companies and foundations for the advancement of education, science, and innovation in Germany. His research mainly focuses on issues of international science policy, the politics of intergovernmental big science projects, and science diplomacy.

 References

Flink, T., & Schreiterer, U. (2010). Science diplomacy at the intersection of S&T policies and foreign affairs: towards a typology of national approaches. Science and Public Policy 37(9), 665–677.

Rüffin, N. (2018): Science and Innovation Diplomacy Agencies at the Nexus of Research, Economics, and Politics. EL-CSID Working Papers 10. Brussels: Institute for European Studies at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel.

Rüffin, N., & Schreiterer, U. (2017): Science and Technology Agreements in the Toolbox of Science Diplomacy. Effective Instruments or Insignificant Add-ons?. EL-CSID Working Papers 6. Brussels: Institute for European Studies at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel.

Skolnikoff, E. B. (1993). The Elusive Transformation: Science, Technology, and the Evolution of International Politics. Princeton, NJ: University Press. 

Turekian, VC; Neureiter, NP (2012) Science and Diplomacy: The Past as Prologue. Science & Diplomacy. A Quarterly publication from the AAAS Center for Science Diplomacy. March, 2012; http://www.sciencediplomacy.org/editorial/2012/science-and-diplomacy

Van Langenhove, L. (2017). Tools for an EU Science Diplomacy. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union.

This entry was initially posted on Europe of Knowledge blog.

Improved coordination of research infrastructures policies in Europe

Isabel K. Bolliger, Alexandra Griffiths and Martin Müller

 InRoad 2nd Engagement workshop in Brussels, January 2018

InRoad 2nd Engagement workshop in Brussels, January 2018

In 2000 the European Commission (EC) launched the European Research Area (ERA) initiative, with the intention to improve coordination and collaboration in research and innovation in Europe. ERA became a key element of the ambitious Lisbon strategy in order for the EU “to become the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world” (European Council 2000). The development and the coordination of large-scale research infrastructures have been recognized by the EC as an essential pillar of the ERA. Relevant policy documents prioritized the stocktaking of “material resources and facilities optimized at the European level” (European Commission 2000, p. 10), with the intention to formulate a coherent European approach for research infrastructures. Two years later the European Council established the European Strategy Forum on Research Infrastructures (ESFRI) and mandated it to develop a coherent and strategic approach to policymaking on research infrastructures in Europe. Furthermore, it was asked to compose an inventory of existing research infrastructures of pan-European relevance as a roadmap. The first ESFRI Roadmap for Research Infrastructures was published in 2006 with iterations following in 2008, 2010 and 2016. Over time the ESFRI roadmap has been very influential in modernising national research infrastructure policies and planning.

International initiatives and challenges for research infrastructures

Already prior to developments related to ERA, research infrastructures had attracted increased policy attention at international level. In 1992 the countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) established the Megascience Forum (today Global Science Forum GSF), with the mandate to encourage international cooperation and common policy strategies for large-scale research infrastructures. At global scale, it was decided to establish the Group of Senior Officials (GSO) on global Research Infrastructures during the first G8 Science Ministers’ meeting in 2008. Reflecting discussions at EU and OECD level, the GSO is mandated to explore and take stock of cooperation on Global Research Infrastructures. As a result, the first International Conference for Research Infrastructures (ICRI) was organized in 2012 in Denmark to broaden the scope of its European predecessor and include the international bodies GSO and GSF.

Although research infrastructures are considered a key component of ERA, the ERA remains fragmented and imbalanced in regard to particular scientific fields and aspirations for world-class research infrastructures. In many countries, strategic priority-setting exercises are taking place or being developed. Procedures depend on the strategic and political objectives of the exercise and on the requirements of the national decision-making processes, including those of national budget regulations. Therefore, the results are very diverse in scope and there is a mismatch between strategic priority-setting exercises for research infrastructures between the European, national and regional levels. As soon as research infrastructures gain a European or global scope, this diversity risks making the funding of construction and operation of research infrastructures across Europe inefficient and not transparent. Thus, it threatens the overall long-term sustainability of the system.

The InRoad project

InRoad is a coordination and policy support action project funded under Horizon 2020 that aims to support a better alignment of research policies in Europe and hence responds to the challenges described above. InRoad was launched in January 2017 and supports research infrastructure policy development and the exchange of good practices for national research infrastructures roadmap processes and evaluation procedures, in order to promote harmonisation and coordination of national procedures in Europe.

 The InRoad project executed a first round of data collection through a broad online consultation addressing the actors responsible for the national roadmap process in all EU member states and associated countries represented in ESFRI. The consultation covered all aspects leading to national research infrastructures roadmaps. Twenty-two EU Member States and five Associated Countries responded to the consultation and the results confirmed the large diversity of practices and methodologies among countries in Europe. Some countries are very advanced in the process and have already conducted a series of research infrastructure roadmap exercise, while many others are only starting. Moreover, the purposes behind national roadmap processes also vary greatly across countries, ranging from identifying scientific gaps to providing a guide to funding decisions (see Graph 1 below). Nevertheless, the consultation also identified some areas of convergence, such as a shared interest in mutual learning and increased collaboration, as well as the importance of sound research infrastructure roadmap processes and evaluation methodologies in a national context.

  Graph 1. Results of InRoad consultation

Graph 1. Results of InRoad consultation

 

 Case studies on national roadmap processes for research infrastructures

As a next step the InRoad project will execute more in-depth data collection through case studies on the national roadmap processes in specific countries. The following cases were selected: Sweden, Finland, the Netherlands and the Czech Republic. The aim of the case studies is to identify the factors of success in national research infrastructure roadmap processes and lessons to be learned in order to establish in ideal benchmark towards which national processes should converge.

The consultation and preliminary literature reviews showed that national decision-making on prioritizing and funding of research infrastructures is very complex, considering the multiple actors and levels involved. This is why the case studies aim first at a thick description of these roadmap processes in order to identify the relevant context. Based on the input of all the relevant actors, including the user community, funders, policy- and decision-makers, the benchmark shall be elaborated. In view of the aim of the InRoad project, an ideal process should allow for better coordination at European level.

Outreach and outlook

The InRoad project has the opportunity to present and feed-in preliminary results at several upcoming events this year. The next possibility to meet and exchange with InRoad members will be during the Research Infrastructures Flagship Conference in Sofia (22-23 March), which is hosted by the Bulgarian Presidency of the Council of the EU. Related research will be presented by Isabel Bolliger at the ECPR General Conference 2018 in Hamburg (22-25 August) within the panel „Bringing the politics of international large-scale research into play“. Furthermore, the InRoad project looks forward to welcome interested audience to its sessions at the EuroScience Open Forum ESOF 2018 taking place in Toulouse during 9-14 July, as well as at the International Conference for Research Infrastructures (ICRI) 2018 in Vienna during 12-14 September.

Isabel K. Bolliger is a PhD researcher at the Swiss Graduate School for Public Administration (IDHEAP) at the University of Lausanne and interested in Science and technology studies and science communication. In her thesis, Isabel focuses on national decision-making processes for prioritizing and funding of large-scale research infrastructures. As a consortium member of the InRoad project she was responsible for the consultation and the design of the case studies.

Dr. Martin Müller is co-heading the Swiss Contact Office for Education, Research and Innovation (SwissCore) in Brussels and coordinating the InRoad project on behalf of the Swiss National Science Foundation. Martin has broad expertise on European research and innovation policy and chairs the Science Europe Working Group on FP9. He is very interested and committed to enhance the efficiency of European research and innovation policy and the interplay between national and European levels as well as between the different stakeholders involved. Martin holds a D.Sc. in biomedical engineering from ETH Zurich.

 

Alexandra Griffiths is currently a Master student at IDHEAP and Trainee for research at SwissCore, as well as Project Administrator for InRoad. As such, Alexandra is participating in the case study research within the InRoad project. Additionally, she is writing her Master thesis on research infrastructure roadmap processes, in relation to broader trends of science and research policy in Europe.

 References

European Council (2000): Presidency Conclusions. Lisbon European Council, 23 and 24 March 2000 (Council of the European Union, Brussels).

European Commission (2000): Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions. Towards a European research area.

This entry was initially posted on Europe of Knowledge blog.

 

 

 

 

Shaping the idea of the world-class university from outside the global “core”

Emma Sabzalieva

 Nazarbayev University in Astana, Kazakhstan. Image source: Author

Nazarbayev University in Astana, Kazakhstan. Image source: Author

We live in an era of intense and growing international connections, but also in a world of significant positional differences between localities, states and regions.

In this context, how can the idea of the world-class university be used by states to survive and succeed? What does this idea look like in states that are outside of the European and North American “core”?

 Out of the frying pan and into the fire

The global legacy of colonialism and imperialism bears a clear imprint on today’s world order. This is highly evident in the politics and policies of contemporary post-Soviet Central Asia, the area I study. Bissenova and Medeuova (2016) have compellingly argued that the Central Asian countries have in effect jumped out of the 20th century “frying pan” of the Marxist-Leninist discourse of development straight into the 21st century “fire” of a globalized capitalist discourse of modernization, in which states outside the West will always be trying to catch up to an ideal they didn’t create.

Since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, public policy in the Central Asian states has looked not just to former centre Russia but globally for influence and ideas. In the sphere of education, all five of the Central Asian states – Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan – have adopted elements of the European Union’s Bologna Process, and – uniquely so far – Kazakhstan is also a member of the European Higher Education Area.

In my recent article ‘The Policy Challenges of Creating a World-Class University Outside the Global “Core”’ (Sabzalieva 2017), I explored in further depth the public policy challenges and opportunities Kazakhstan faces as it seeks to create a brand new world-class university.

 The world-class university as public policy tool

The idea of the world-class university has become widespread not only as a seemingly replicable model in higher education, but as a policy pursuit of governments around the world. Public policy in Kazakhstan too has followed this logic.

I believe that the institutionalization of the idea of the world-class university is reinforced by three major dynamics:

·       Firstly, the neoliberal logic of efficiency has led to much greater selectivity in the areas that are supported financially by the state, with world-class or excellence policies being one such funding stream;

·       Secondly, there is growing convergence around the concept of the knowledge economy, the notion that brain power will bring prosperity and competitiveness to a state. Universities play a key role in this discourse, with the result that governments use policy levers such as world-class university projects to fulfil their objectives;

·       Thirdly, despite the impact of intensifying globalising forces that push for greater international engagement with and by higher education, the nation-state persists, using public policy to seek or consolidate national competitive advantage, for example through the creation of world-class universities.

Faced with these dynamics, the rapid spread of the world-class university around the globe can be understood as a policy tool used by states to survive and succeed in the contemporary era.

 A world-class university for Kazakhstan

In 2006, Kazakhstan’s President Nazarbayev proclaimed that “to establish a unique academic environment in our capital, a prestigious international-standard university needs to be created” (Nazarbayev 2006).

In a stunning feat of planning and construction, that “international-standard university” – now known as Nazarbayev University – has not only been built and populated, but celebrated the graduation of its first cohort of students less than a decade later.

With the opening of Nazarbayev University, opportunities have been created for academically excellent students to pursue high quality programmes and for a strong and highly international faculty to pursue teaching and research, all housed in an extremely well-equipped and generously funded environment. The legally bound commitment to academic freedom and institutional independence gives the university rights and responsibilities in governance that are currently unparalleled in Kazakhstan.

I discuss these three factors of human resources, funding, and governance in more detail in the article. As the Nazarbayev University project is still very new, I also raise a number of policy challenges that warrant further and detailed investigation.

 Both global and national: a unique example

Global higher education watchers will identify some parallels between the rapid ascent of Nazarbayev University and other institutions also claiming to be world-class, such as Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah University of Science and Technology or the National University of Singapore.

However, I consider Kazakhstan’s journey to a world-class university to be unique in three respects.

Firstly, in Kazakhstani public policy, the role of higher education in the knowledge economy is a critical element of the country’s strategy to reposition itself in the world system as one of the top 30 (the policy goal was originally to be a top 50 global economy, but this has since been raised to the top 30) global economies. Nazarbayev University was founded to act as a figurehead for the reforms that are expected to be adopted and adapted throughout the tertiary sector in Kazakhstan.

Secondly, although some nation-building ventures in Central Asia have been seen as contrived, the Nazarbayev University project, whilst experimental, is nevertheless a credible demonstration of a commitment towards national consolidation and improvement, substantiated by its ‘role model’ status within the national higher education system.

Thirdly, this dual policy commitment to both the national and the global sets Kazakhstan apart from many of the other states similarly investing in select higher education institutions.

 Where to from here: adopt, adapt, or invent anew?

There seems to be no question that the notion of the ‘world-class university’ is here to stay for the foreseeable future, and that it currently shows a continuing dominance of what is essentially a Western model of higher education.

This suggests another policy challenge for the states that do choose to develop their own world-class university: should they seek to replicate what they have seen elsewhere, or diversify the idea, thus making it a new one?

My case study of Nazarbayev University offers a worked example of the Kazakh government’s openness to aligning with international “best practices”, wherever these may be found (Tamtik and Sabzalieva forthcoming). This reflects a pragmatic ideology, recognizing that the world-class university model has benefits and seeking to build on these by domesticating the concept for a different context.

Continuing to study Nazarbayev University and the public policies of Kazakhstan will be critical to understanding the scope for states such as Kazakhstan to move beyond “frying pans” and “fires”, and innovate in ways that influence and diversify the positioning of a future world order.

 

Emma Sabzalieva is a doctoral candidate and Vanier Scholar at the Centre for the Study of Canadian and International Higher Education (CIHE), University of Toronto, Canada. Her core research interests are the global politics of higher education, social change, and contemporary Central Asia. Her wider research interests span ideas and knowledge creation, public policy, social institutions, university/community engagement, and the history of universities. Her website is http://emmasabzalieva.com.

 

References

Bissenova, Alina, and Kulshat Medeuova. 2016. “O problemakh regionalnikh issledovanii v/po Tsentralnoi Azii [Issues of regional research in/on Central Asia].” Antropologicheskii Forum [Forum for Anthropology and Culture] 28:35–39.

Nazarbayev, Nursultan. 2006. “Poslaniye Prezidenta Respubliki Kazakhstan N. A. Nazarbayev Narodu Kazakhstana. Strategiya Vkhozhdeniya Kazakhstana v Chislo 50-Ti Naibolee Konkurentosposobnikh Stran Mira: Kazakhstan Na Poroge Novovo Ryvka Vpered v Svoem Razvitiyi [Address by President of the Republic of Kazakhstan N. A. Nazarbayev to the People of Kazakhstan. A Strategy to Include Kazakhstan in the List of the 50 Most Competitive Countries in the World: Kazakhstan on the Threshold of a New Leap Forward in Its Development].” Official Site of the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan. March 1, 2006. http://www.akorda.kz/ru/addresses/addresses_of_president/page_poslanie-prezidenta-respubliki-kazakhstan-n-a-nazarbaeva-narodu-kazakhstana-mart-2006-g_1343986805.

Sabzalieva, Emma. 2017. “The Policy Challenges of Creating a World-Class University Outside the Global ‘core.’” European Journal of Higher Education 7 (4): 424–439. https://doi.org/10.1080/21568235.2017.1292856.

Tamtik, Merli, and Emma Sabzalieva. forthcoming. “Emerging Global Players? Building International Legitimacy in Universities in Estonia and Kazakhstan.” In Comparing Post-Socialist Transformations: Education in Eastern Europe and Former Soviet Union, edited by Iveta Silova and Maia Chankseliani. Oxford: Symposium Books.

This entry was initially posted on Europe of Knowledge blog.

 

Inconsistencies in the Governance of Interdisciplinarity: Lessons from the Italian Higher Education System

 

 University of Bergamo. Source: HERe research http://www.here-research.it/it/

University of Bergamo. Source: HERe research http://www.here-research.it/it/

Davide Donina

In recent decades, science studies have increasingly recognized that single academic disciplines are ill equipped to address complex problems that modern societies and science face (Nature 2015). Accordingly, interdisciplinarity has become a hot topic and a buzzword in the policy discourse for science and higher education. Yet, translating policy discourse into policy design and governance arrangements is not straightforward. Regarding interdisciplinarity, scholars showed that so far the discourse on interdisciplinarity conflicts with the persistence or even reinforcement of modes of governance that almost exclusively rely on rigid discipline-based classification systems.

As a matter of fact, it is the interaction of several policy instruments and governance domains that is crucial for achieving any policy goal. Therefore, in a recent article ‘Inconsistencies in the Governance of Interdisciplinarity: The Case of the Italian Higher Education System’, co-authored with Marco Seeber and Stefano Paleari (Donina et al. 2017), we took a comprehensive view on the governance of the Italian higher education system, and how this relates to the interdisciplinary target. Such perspective is particularly relevant in higher education systems like continental European ones where steering mainly occurs via laws and regulations developed by the governments and state-dependent agencies (Bleiklie and Michelsen 2013; Capano 2014; Donina et al. 2015). We examined whether the policy portfolio creates or hinders the conditions that favour interdisciplinarity by exploring the potential presence of different types of inconsistency –namely ambiguity, conflict, and incompatibility- between elements of the same policy instrument, between different policy instruments in the same governance domain, and between different governance domains. We considered four governance domains: i) universities’ internal organization, ii) institutional research assessment exercise, iii) doctoral education, and iv) academic recruitment/careers.

Interdisciplinarity: Between rhetoric and practice

The idea of dividing knowledge into discrete categories dates back to Plato and Aristotle. Nowadays, academic disciplines are the commonly accepted classification system for the production, communication, acquisition, dissemination, and validation of knowledge. However, disciplines could also create cognitive boundaries, which affect the organization and production of new knowledge by limiting research practices and their scope, and institutionalizing knowledge fragmentation.

For this reason, there has been a rise of interdisciplinarity rhetoric, which implies the integration of knowledge, methods, concepts, and theories in order to create a holistic view and common understanding of complex problems.

However, melding disciplines presents challenges. Science policy literature highlights barriers and disincentives that prevent researchers from engaging in interdisciplinary research. First, there are organizational barriers that arise from the organization around departments that promote disciplinary knowledge and reward scholars mainly for the outcomes within their home discipline. Second, research evaluation procedures are typically organized around disciplines. Third, doctoral courses are mostly embedded within a well-defined discipline, thus not fostering the development of the integration skills regarded essential to effectiveness in real-world problem solving. Finally, academic labour market values less interdisciplinarity since hiring, promotion, and tenure decisions are controlled by disciplinary departments and disciplinary professional associations, thus discouraging researchers from moving into interdisciplinary endeavours, particularly during early academic career stages. In sum, interdisciplinarity tends to be hindered by established governance arrangements in different domains.

Interdisciplinarity in the Italian policy design

Our analysis shows that elements promoting interdisciplinarity have been introduced in Italy, but the disciplinary rationale is still prevalent and, overall, dominates Italian higher education system governance. Therefore, inconsistencies are recognizable.

Conflict and/or Ambiguity between laws, ministerial decrees, and evaluation agency guidelines emerge within every governance domain. Inconsistencies are evident also among governance domains. In example, the regulation of doctoral programmes is the most strongly oriented to interdisciplinarity, but Ph.D. graduates must cope with the fact that their research outcomes will be assessed predominantly from the viewpoint of a single discipline, while calls for new hires are made by disciplinarily homogenous departments and within disciplinary recruitment sectors. Thus, deviating from the disciplinary interests may reduce (national) career prospects. Another inconsistency among governance domains emerges among evaluation procedures, since the same research output can be evaluated differently for individual career purposes and institutional research assessment.

As a result, the interdisciplinary target is hindered by different types of inconsistencies between both policy elements, instruments, and governance domains.

Practical way to nudge interdisciplinarity

The use of a disciplinary taxonomy to regulate curricula, organizational structures, research assessment, and careers, reinforce each other and represent a resilient disciplinary ‘iron-cage’ that is unlikely to melt soon. Reducing some of the inconsistencies and the creation of parallel structures and processes that emancipate from strict disciplinary principles can represent a realistic and pragmatic way to nudge interdisciplinarity in the short term. In example, the removal of the obligation of departments’ disciplinary homogeneity, the establishment of problem-oriented organizational structures, and the introduction of innovative recruitment procedures open to interdisciplinary profiles (such as cluster hiring and co-funded dual appointments; Sà 2008) alongside the disciplinary ones would benefit the interdisciplinary target. Clearly, similar innovations alone would not solve the problem of the governance of interdisciplinarity, unless the other governance domains are properly redesigned in line with our key message, namely that consistency in the policy portfolio is crucial in order to nudge interdisciplinary in practice.

This entry was initially posted on Europe of Knowledge blog

Davide Donina is a post-doc Research Fellow at Cisalpino Institute for Comparative Studies in Europe-Higher Education Research group (CCSE-HERe) where he undertakes research on Higher Education Policy and Governance, particularly on the Italian HE sector, and at Department of Management, Information and Production Engineering, University of Bergamo (Italy), where he teaches Corporate management and Corporate finance. His recent articles are published on Higher Education Policy, Tertiary Education and Management, Journal of Technology Transfer, Small Business Economics, Science and Public Policy.

References

Bleiklie, I., & Michelsen, S. (2013) ‘Comparing HE policies in Europe’, Higher Education, 65/1: 113-33.

Capano, G. (2014). The re-regulation of the Italian university system through quality assurance. A mechanistic perspective. Policy and Society 33(3), 199-213.

Donina, D., Meoli, M., & Paleari, S. (2015) ‘Higher Education Reform in Italy: Tightening Regulation Instead of Steering at a Distance’, Higher Education Policy, 28/2: 215-34.

Donina D., Seeber, M., & Paleari, S. (2017) ‘Inconsistencies in the Governance of Interdisciplinarity: The Case of the Italian Higher Education System’, Science and Public Policy, 44(6), 865-875.

Nature (2015) ‘Why Interdisciplinarity Research Matters’, Nature, 525/7569: 305.

Sà, C. (2008) ‘“Interdisciplinary Strategies” in U.S. research universities’, Higher Education, 55/5: 537-52. 

 

Discussing indicators in research funding: What role do altmetrics play?

Grischa Fraumann

donut1.png

At any rate, altmetrics, or alternative metrics, are gaining momentum in higher education (Holmberg, 2016). This post is based on my master’s thesis (Fraumann, 2017) that explores the usage of altmetrics with a focus on research funding. Altmetrics track down and count the mentions of scholarly outputs in social media, news sites, policy papers, and social bookmarking sites. Then altmetrics data providers aggregate the number of mentions. This allows an observation of how many times research has been viewed, discussed, followed, shared, and downloaded.

By following this line of thought, one might relate these mentions to impact or attention in the wider public or the society outside of the scientific community. As such, everyone with an internet connection would be able to engage with scholarly outputs online, even if only a fraction of the overall number of users do so. Nevertheless, it is important to note these mentions do not correlate with the quality of a scholarly output, they mostly visualise a community of attention, that is internet users that engage in some or way or the other with a scholarly output, such as a journal article. Altmetrics is an innovation with potential for further development (Bornmann, 2014; CWTS, 2017; Holmberg, 2016; Liu & Adie, 2013; Piwowar, 2013; Priem, Taraborelli, Groth, & Neylon, 2010; Robinson-García, Torres-Salinas, Zahedi, & Costas, 2014; Thelwall, Haustein, Larivière, Sugimoto, & Bornmann, 2013).

Following this development, altmetrics have reached the highest levels in European policy debates, and have been discussed, for instance, during the Open Science Mutual Learning Exercise (MLE) by the Horizon 2020 Policy Support Facility. MLEs are carried out under the Joint Research Centre Research and Innovation Observatory (RIO), and are aimed at providing the best practice examples from European Union (EU) Member States, and Associated Countries (European Commission, 2017b). Further evidence can be found in EU high-level expert groups that advise the European Commission, among others, on science, research, and innovation. From 2016 until 2017, altmetrics have been discussed in several reports of these high-level advisory bodies (European Commission, 2017a).

 Key Findings

For this study, representatives of a research funding organisation, and policymakers were first interviewed. Second, reviewers of a research funding organisation and researchers registered with an institutional altmetrics system were invited to take an online survey. Overall, the survey respondents and interviewees were unaware of the usage of altmetrics. The data also suggests a few of respondents are well-aware of the debates on altmetrics. If one closely follows the international debates on the usage of altmetrics, it might come as a surprise that the concept is so widely unused in this sample. It was expected that more respondents would be aware on the usage of altmetrics. In particular, if altmetrics are discussed in high-level policy debates in EU research policy, researchers need to be made aware of it, because this might also affect their academic career to some extent.

 Recommendations

As discussed before, altmetrics seems to be on the rise in policy papers and further international initiatives, such as at the level of EU policy. In turn, the findings that could be drawn from this sample of stakeholders suggest that altmetrics are not yet widely spread. In fact, they were unknown to the vast majority of the study participants. Furthermore, findings from the interviews also showed that different organisational types, academic disciplines, and further categories have to be treated differently. As proven in several technical studies, altmetrics are not yet ready for routine use in research evaluations, and several challenges need to be addressed (Erdt, Nagarajan, Sin, & Theng, 2016). Nevertheless, through altmetrics, it is possible to make a certain impact on the society visible or to visualise attention. How this impact is interpreted and set into context is essential.

Additionally, it was suggested by some interviewees that altmetrics might play a larger role in reporting on funded research rather than demonstrating impact in research funding applications. Criticisms were put forward by some respondents on altmetrics. Further, altmetrics should only be seen as a complementary measurement compared to citation counts and, especially, peer review. For instance, the impact of sharing a research data set can be made visible in a timely manner compared to citation counts of a journal article. The context of altmetrics data and aggregated scores needs to be analysed, as suggested by several scholars. As previously mentioned, the study findings for this sample of stakeholders in research funding indicate that altmetrics are mostly unknown. This needs to be considered if and when the usage of altmetrics is proposed by policymakers.  

 

Grischa Fraumann is a recent graduate of the Master in Research and Innovation in Higher Education (MARIHE) at University of Tampere (Finland) and Danube University Krems (Austria). This blog post is based on his master’s thesis: ‘Valuation of altmetrics in research funding’.

 

References

 

Bornmann, L. (2014). Do altmetrics point to the broader impact of research? An overview of benefits and disadvantages of altmetrics. Journal of Informetrics, 8(4), 895–903. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.joi.2014.09.005

CWTS. (2017). CWTS Research Line in Altmetrics. Retrieved June 5, 2017, from https://www.cwts.nl/research/working-groups/societal-impact-of-research/altmetrics

Erdt, M., Nagarajan, A., Sin, S. J., & Theng, Y. (2016). Altmetrics: an analysis of the state-of-the-art in measuring research impact on social media. Scientometrics, 109(2), 1117–1166. http://doi.org/10.1007/s11192-016-2077-0

European Commission. (2017a). Europe’s future – open innovation, open science, open to the world: reflections of the Research, Innovation and Science Policy Experts (RISE) High Level Group. Brussels.

European Commission. (2017b). Mutual Learning Exercise on Open Science: Altmetrics and Rewards under the Horizon 2020 Policy Support Facility (PSF). Second Workshop on “How to use Altmetrics in a context of Open Science.” Retrieved from https://rio.jrc.ec.europa.eu/sites/default/files/Agenda MLE Open Science_Meeting 31 May 2017_Helsinki.pdf

Fraumann, G. (2017). Valuation of altmetrics in research funding. Master’s Thesis. University of Tampere.

Holmberg, K. (2016). Altmetrics for information professionals: Past, present and future. Waltham, MA: Chandos Publishing.

Liu, J., & Adie, E. (2013). New perspectives on article-level metrics: Developing ways to assess research uptake and impact online. Insights: The UKSG Journal, 26(2), 153–158. http://doi.org/10.1629/2048-7754.79

Piwowar, H. (2013). Altmetrics: Value all research products. Nature, 493(7431), 159. http://doi.org/10.1038/493159a

Priem, J., Taraborelli, D., Groth, P., & Neylon, C. (2010). altmetrics: a manifesto. Retrieved from http://www.altmetrics.org/manifesto

Robinson-García, N., Torres-Salinas, D., Zahedi, Z., & Costas, R. (2014). New data, new possibilities: exploring the insides of Altmetric.com. El Profesional de La Informacion, 23(4), 359–366. http://doi.org/10.3145/epi.2014.jul.03

Thelwall, M., Haustein, S., Larivière, V., Sugimoto, C. R., & Bornmann, L. (2013). Do Altmetrics Work? Twitter and Ten Other Social Web Services. PLoS ONE, 8(5), e64841. http://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0064841

 This entry was initially posted on Europe of Knowledge blog.

 

 

Public research funding streams and the perspective of system actors

Olivier Bégin-Caouette

In the Europe of Knowledge, there are strong pressures on national governments to increase funding for research; one of Europe 2020’s headline indicators is to increase combined public and private investment in R&D to the equivalent of 3% of the GDP (see graph below). Beyond the amount of resources invested, it appears critical for both scholars and policymakers to question whether funding coming from different sources or taking different forms have a similar impact.

 Progress towards investing 3% of GDP in research and development in EU member states. Source: European Commission

Progress towards investing 3% of GDP in research and development in EU member states. Source: European Commission

Focusing our analysis on four Nordic countries (Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden), public funding and research produced in academic settings, we have attempted to analyze the impact of four funding streams, according to the perspectives of actors located within different levels of the higher education systems. Complementing studies based on bibliometric data, our actor-centered approach aimed at grasping the multifaceted and complex phenomenon of research production in a holistic manner. Part of a lager study (see also Bégin-Caouette, 2016), our recent article ‘The perceived impact of research funding streams on the level of scientific knowledge production in the Nordic higher education systems’ published in Science and Public Policy (Bégin-Caouette, Kalpazidou Schmidt, and Field, 2017) relied on a MANOVA processed on 456 questionnaires and a thematic analysis processed on 56 interview transcripts to explore how actors perceived the impact of four funding streams, defined as the funding flows at the actor level including various instruments and consisting in an intermediary layer between public authorities and researchers (Lepori et al., 2007): block funding, competitive funding, excellence funding and strategic funding.

The quality, equity and efficiency of funding streams

Analyzing the average survey scores obtained by the four funding streams, we noted that all streams obtained positive scores, but that, in all countries, competitive funding (defined as funding allocated to researchers based on “traditional” a peer-review process) was perceived as having the greatest impact. On the contrary, strategic funding (defined as a stream stimulating research in specific predefined areas) obtained the lowest scores in all countries but Sweden where it tied with excellence funding (defined as long-term peer-reviewed funding to groups of researchers).

Funding arrangements in Nordic countries have for long being characterized by a large block funding, and participants from all countries and at all levels confirmed it contributed to an equitable distribution of funding, and that equity was linked to the quality of the research produce since no funding body can know in advance where groundbreaking discoveries will occur (Öquist and Benner, 2012). Block funding based on performance measures would also increase research production in an efficient way since the small premium would create a signaling effect and generate symbolic capital for high achievers (Bloch and Schneider, 2016).

The competitive stream was perceived positively across countries because it enhanced quality research in an equitable manner since researchers from all institutions and disciplines could apply. It was however also perceived as being increasingly inefficient because of the diminishing acceptance rates, the correlated ‘Matthew Effect’ (Langfeldt et al., 2013) and the burden of writing multiple applications (von Hippel and von Hippel, 2015). Participants made similar comments regarding an excellence stream, which, despite concerns over equity and efficiency, would enhance the quality of the research production by being more stable, facilitating further grant applications (Bloch and Schneider, 2016) and fostering a critical mass of researchers (Bloch and Sorensen, 2015). Whether commenting on the block, competitive or excellence streams, participants made an association between an equitable allocation of resources and efficiency in research production. Strategic funding, although at the core of multiple recent policy initiatives, was still perceived at the periphery of traditional academic research systems, becoming a niche for emerging areas with less academic prestige (Benner and Sörlin, 2007).

Differences between the four Nordic countries

The MANOVA comparing survey scores by countries revealed some small but significant differences. Finnish participants attributed less importance to block funding than their Danish and Swedish counterparts. Swedish participants, for their part, attributed less importance to excellence funding than their Finnish and Norwegian counterparts. Like previously noted by Öquist and Benner (2012), Swedish participants considered research funding as being decentralized, complex and contradictory. In Denmark, actors attributed significantly higher scores to the block stream, which does represent a higher percentage of their country’s HERD than in other countries. Our thematic analysis is consistent with Välimaa’s (2005) observation that Danish policymakers were more concerned about supporting basic research than innovation, and with Öquist and Benner’s (2012) remark that the Danish National Research Foundation had channeled a massive increase of funding into the excellence streams, thus contributing to the increase in publications and citations.

In Norway, the excellence stream mitigated the negative impact of a scattered competitive stream by stabilizing the research system, fostering strong interdisciplinary centers and allowing promising scholars to attract sufficient funding for path-breaking discoveries (Asknes et al., 2012). It is finally interesting to note that, although the strategic stream is particularly important in Finland and could accelerate the innovation process, participants did not think it had a strong positive impact on the level of academic research produced.

Implications

This study provides concrete example of how different funding arrangements intertwine with existing academic traditions and are interpreted differently by actors located in different contexts. Streams’ adequacy to countries’ culture, history, national environment, industrial R&D and military development could have as much impact as the amount of funding or the specificities of the instrument developed. Despite shortcomings regarding national nuances and differences in actors’ perceptions, our article suggests that funding streams are perceived to have the most impact when they are consistent with academic traditions and the norms regarding an open, equitable and meritocratic competition between scholars.

Olivier Bégin-Caouette, former Canada-Vanier Scholar, is a postdoctoral research at the Inter-University Center for Research on Science and Technology (CIRST), based at the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQÀM). He also holds a PhD in higher education (comparative, international and development education) from at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) at the University of Toronto. His research focuses on interactions between political-economic structures and academic research production. He also held the position of visiting scholar at HEGOM (University of Helsinki) and the Danish Centre for Studies on Research and Research Policy (Aarhus University).

 Evanthia Kalpazidou Schmidt is an associate professor and research director at the Department of Political Science, Aarhus University, Denmark. Kalpazidou Schmidt´s research interests include European science policy and evaluation, science and society studies, higher education studies, and gender equality in science. She has been involved in a number of European Union funded projects and has frequently been engaged as expert in the evaluations of projects funded by the European Union.

 Cynthia Field is a doctoral candidate in higher education at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE), at the University of Toronto. Her research interests include institutional differentiation, academic drift, sessional faculty and the academic profession.

References

Asknes, D., Benner, M., Borlaug, S.B., Hansen, H.F., Kallerud, E.K., Kristiansen, E., Langfeldt, L., Pelkonen, A. and Sivertsen, G. (2012) ‘Centres of excellence in the Nordic countries’. Working Paper 4/2012. < http://www.nifu.no/publications/963610> accessed Jan 25 2017.

Bégin-Caouette, O. (2016). Building comparative advantage in the global knowledge society: Systemic factors contributing to academic research production in four Nordic higher education systems. In C. Sarrico, P. Texeira et al. (Eds).  Global Challenges, National Initiatives, and Institutional Responses: The Transformation of Higher Education, Edition: 9 (pp. 29-54). Netherlands: Sense Publisher.

Bégin-Caouette, O., Kalpazidou-Schmidt, E. & Field, C. (2017). The perceived impact of research funding streams on the level of scientific knowledge production in the Nordic higher education systems. Science and Public Policy. Doi: 10.1093/scipol/scx014.

Benner, M. and Sörlin, S. (2007). ‘Shaping strategic research: Power, resources and interests in Swedish research policy’. Minerva, 45(1): 31-48.

Bloch, C. and Schneider, J.W. (2016). ‘Performance-based funding models and researcher behavior: An analysis of the influence of the Norwegian Publication Indicator at the individual level’. Research Evaluation, 47(1): 1-13.

Bloch, C., Sørensen, M.P. (2015). ‘The size of research funding: Trends and implications’. Science and Public Policy, 42(1): 30-43.

Evans, L. (2015) ‘What academics want from their professors: Findings from a study of professorial academic leadership in the UK’. In U. Teichler and W. Cummings (eds.), Forming, Recruiting and Managing the Academic Profession, pp. 51-78. Dodrecht, the Netherlands: Springer.

Frølich, N. (2011). ‘Multi-layered accountability. Performance-based funding of universities’. Public Administration, 8(3), 840-859.

Langfeldt, L., Borlaug, S.B., Asknes, D., Benner, M., Hansen, H.F., Kallerud, E., Kristiansen, E., Pelkonen, A. and Sivertsen, G. (2013) ‘Excellence initiatives in Nordic research policies’. Working Paper 10/2013. <https://brage.bibsys.no/xmlui/bitstream/handle/11250/2358609/NIFUworkingpaper2013-10.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y> accessed Jan 25 2017.

Lepori, B., van den Besselaar, P. Dinges, M. Poti, B. Reale, E., Slipersæter, S., Thèves, J., and B. van der Meulen (2007), ‘Comparing the Evolution of National Research Policies: What Patterns of Change?’, Science and Public Policy: 34(6), July, pp. 372-388.

Öquist, G. and Benner, M. (2012) Fostering breakthrough research: A comparative study. Stockholm: Royal Swedish Academy of Science.

The Economist (2011) ‘Academic publishing: Of goats and headaches; One of the best media businesses is also one of the most resented’. Economist, 399(8735), 69. <http://www.economist. com/node/18744177> accessed Jan 22 2017.

Välimaa, J. (2005) ‘Globalization in the context of Nordic higher education’. In: A. Arimoto, F. Huang, and K. Yokoyama (eds.). Globalization and Higher Education, pp. 93-114. Higashi-Hiroshima, Japan: Research Institute for Higher Education and Hiroshima University.

Von Hippel, T., von Hippel, C. (2015) ‘To apply or not to apply: A survey analysis of grant writing costs and benefits’. PLoS One 10(3): doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0118494.

This entry was initially posted on Europe of Knowledge blog.

Universities and the production of elites

Roland Bloch and Alexander Mitterle

Cover_Bloc&Mitterle.png

Universities have become central crossing points in modern society. They coproduce the narratives of our time, ranging from politics over neurogenetics to climate change. Universities educate students for diverse roles in society: nurses, musicians, lawyers, physicists, managers, neuroscientists, and philosophers have all been credentialized by higher education systems. In recent decades, there has been a consistent increase in the number of participants in higher education. The move from elite to mass education, has led to the emergence of an expansive, self-enforcing dynamic (Trow 2006).

Mass education implies that higher education has become crucial to securing access to labor markets, especially to positions with higher social status (Collins 1979). Over the decades, scholars have confirmed that educational credentials are door openers, which legitimate exclusive access to high-status professions and lead to occupational attainment (Abbott 2005). With the expansion of higher education, a growing differentiation, professionalization, and stratification within higher education systems can be perceived (Teichler 2008). Surprisingly, there has been less attention paid to how exactly the organization and (vertical) structure of higher education impacts on social structures and on occupational attainment. Beyond acknowledging the role of higher education in constructing elites, there has been a serious lack of research on the link between higher education and high-status positions.

Bringing the university back in

While acknowledging the important work that emphasizes the role of higher education in reproducing elites, our new book ‘Universities and the Production of Elites. Discourses, Policies, and Strategies of Excellence and Stratification in Higher Education’ (Bloch, Mitterle, Paradeise and Peter 2018) focusses on how universities as organizations produce elites.

As education provider and a research institution, the university “forms basic ideologies and creates academic degrees and expertise around these ideologies” (Baker 2014, p. 84). As a “sieve”, “incubator” or “hub” of society (Stevens et al. 2008), it both co-constructs and legitimizes “new classes of personnel with new types of authoritative knowledge” (Meyer 1977, p. 56). As an organization its forms of educational provision and its ties with the labour market are impacted by constant policy changes in the name of internationalization, excellence, New Public Management, quality improvement, efficiency and cost reduction (Paradeise and Thoenig 2015; Bloch and Mitterle 2017).

The aim of our book is to highlight the relationship between higher education institutions and the production of elites by focusing on how organizational change and increasing stratification in higher education impact on – or try to adjust to – the production of new elites for labor markets and academia. Its purpose is to provide new empirical and theoretical perspectives on this relationship and it focuses on the role of the university, rather than the labor market.

Discourses, policies, and strategies of excellence and stratification

The contributions originate from a small, intense workshop held at the Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg in September 2015. The workshop brought together scholars from Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Poland, Portugal, Norway, the United Kingdom, and the United States to explore these issues. The endeavor is of course much greater than an edited book can handle. We see it as a starting point for a longer discussion. It thus provides relevant theoretical approaches that help to think the relationship anew, such as discourse analysis, new institutionalism, institutional habitus approaches, or visibility theory. The approaches are developed along concrete case studies in the respective countries on multiple levels along which this ordering takes place (such as programs, organizational units, universities, global business school fields, and nation states).

The book begins with addressing some of the discursive rationales that underlie recent policy changes toward increasing stratification in higher education and that emphasize individual actorhood, responsiveness, and competition. We then examine how governments take up these rationales – in response to massification and internationalization in higher education – when formulating policy changes. Examples from Finland, France, Germany, and Ireland describe how such policy changes impact on and reshape the structure of higher education systems. Policy devices that exemplify verticality in programs and institutions (such as rankings) are key to implementing and sustaining these changes in higher education. We show how policy devices – as objective status distributors – make hierarchies visible along specific indicators and how such devices impact on universities. Universities respond to these policy changes by adjusting to status demands. Common indicators play an important role in comparative positioning but local organizational arrangements are very heterogeneous. With regard to educational pathways, we draw on case studies from China, the United States, and Germany (business education and doctoral programs) to show how universities and their schools seek to employ international faculty, visualize elite architectures, or build privileged pathways to job positions. Finally, we discuss the role of specific logics of elite production. Examples from the United States and France each show that even if internationalization strategies are in place and although universities are global institutions, they still largely follow national production logics in the way that they educate and socialize their students.

Connecting the various empirical studies in this book opens up a new perspective for future research on the nexus between higher education and labor markets. The vertical differences and the way that they rebuild higher education matter, and they matter particularly for educational pathways leading to high-status positions.

Roland Bloch is a research associate at the Institute of Sociology and the Center for School and Educational Research at Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg. He received his PhD at University of Leipzig with a dissertation on the study reforms in the course of the Bologna process and has worked on the structure of academic work at German universities. His latest research concerns stratifications in higher education, especially doctoral education.

Alexander Mitterle is a research associate at the Institute for Sociology and the Center for School and Educational Research at Martin-Luther-University. His recent research focuses on the development of stratification in German higher education. He has worked and published on various aspects of higher education including internationalization, private higher education, teaching structure and time as well as real-socialist higher education.

References

Abbott, A. (2005). ‘Linked Ecologies: States and Universities as Environments for Professions‘. Sociological Theory, 23(3), pp. 245–274.

Baker, D.P. (2014). The Schooled Society: The Educational Transformation of Global Culture. Palo Alto: Stanford University Press.

Bloch, R. and Mitterle, A. (2017). On stratification in changing higher education: The 'analysis of status' revisited, Higher Education, 73(6), pp. 929–946. DOI: 10.1007/s10734-017-0113-5.

Bloch, R., Mitterle, A., Paradeise, C. and Peter, T. (eds.) (2018). Universities and the Production of Elites. Discourses, Policies, and Strategies of Excellence and Stratification in Higher Education. Palgrave Studies in Global Higher Education. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Collins, R. (1979). The credential society: an historical sociology of education and stratification. New York: Academic Press.

Meyer, J.W. (1977). The Effects of Education as an Institution. The American Journal of Sociology, 83(1), pp. 55–77.

Paradeise, C. and Thoenig, J.C. (2015). In search of academic quality. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Stevens, M.L., Armstrong, E.A. and Arum, R. (2008). Sieve, Incubator, Temple, Hub: Empirical and Theoretical Advances in the Sociology of Higher Education. Annual Review of Sociology, 34(1), pp. 127–151.

Teichler, U. (2008). Diversification? Trends and explanations of the shape and size of higher education, Higher Education, 56(3), pp. 349–379. DOI: 10.1007/s10734-008-9122-8.

Trow, Martin (2006). Reflections on the transition from elite to mass to universal access: forms and phases of higher education in modern societies since WWII. In: James J. F. Forest und Philip G. Altbach eds., International Handbook of Higher Education. Vol. 1. Global Themes and Contemporary Challenges. Dordrecht: Springer, pp. 243-280.

 

This entry was initially posted on Europe of Knowledge blog.

Research Executive Agencies in Europe: Some Reflections

 Que Anh Dang. Photo credits: Thomas König

Que Anh Dang. Photo credits: Thomas König

Que Anh Dang

·       How might we understand the changing governance of scientific research at national, regional and supranational levels in Europe?

·       What are the prevailing and conflicting political, economic, cultural and ideational discourses, discursive contexts and rationales for constituting and governing intermediary research executive agencies? How do they operate?

·       What are the consequences/outcomes caused by the tensions and compromises between these supposedly independent agencies and the national governments or regional institutions?

·       What are the implications for research policies and academic practices at higher education institutions?

These are some overarching questions addressed by the panel ‘Research Executive Agencies – between Independent Organisations and Governments’ organised by Lisa Kressin and Sarah Glück in the Section on the Politics of Higher Education, Research and Innovation at the European Consortium for Political Research ECPR General Conference 6-9 September in Oslo. The papers in this panel examine the historical trajectories, discursive contexts in the institutionalisation processes and the actual workings of the research funding executive agencies in Germany, Austria, the Nordic region and the European Union.

National Contexts: Agencification and Autonomy

In some German-speaking national contexts, there is a practice of agencification in which the principals (ministries) play the role of defining political strategies, framework and rules, and let the agents (the executive agencies) be in charge of implementation processes and manage public research funds on the government’s behalf. Rupert Pichler and Sascha Ruhland, in their paper titled ‘The role of research funding agencies in policy discretion and coordination in Austria’, examined multiple funding agencies and focus on the case of the Austrian Research Promotion Agency (FFG) – a merger of several fragmented funding organisations. FFG has a legal form of a limited company and has the mandates to serve many ministries, provincial governments and the EU. They argued that the very nature of multi-principal and multi-sector agency has put FFG in a position to propose strategic plans that are to be approved by the various ministries. Sometimes the inter-ministerial negotiations are outsourced to FFG. In essence, the principals are coordinated by the agent rather than being in the driver’s seat, thus blurring the boundaries between principal’s and agent’s tasks and roles. They concluded that although principals and agents are deeply entangled, there are always ‘lasting tensions’ oscillating between agency capture and government interference. Therefore, the principal-agent relationship is constantly adjusted.

Regional Contexts: Changing Governance Architecture

Que Anh Dang presented the paper ‘Nordic Umbrella Organisations for Higher Education and Research: Region-building and Market-making and highlighted the case of the Nordic research funding executive agency – NordForsk. Although NordForsk was established in 2005 in the aftermath of the Lisbon Strategy with a competitiveness boosting agenda, it was rooted in the long-standing Nordic regional cooperation in many sectors. NordForsk is ‘old wine in a new bottle’ and it represents a continuation of previous regional initiatives and the Nordic informal and pragmatic approach to cooperation. However, NordForsk has constituted new spaces for policy making which alter regional governance pattern. She argued that, in the Nordic case, these new spaces are not located above the state, rather, regional frontiers are created within the national policy-making apparatus including its political institutions. NordForsk is not about the emergence, consolidation or sustainability of the supranational authority but about the rescaling of governance and pubic authority to regional spaces – a politics of regionalism that is simultaneously regional and national. The legitimacy of intermediary agencies, like NordForsk, is secured through various forms of accountability. Such accountability is ensured by ‘accountability communities’- a complex ensemble of public and private organisations endowed with capacities to perform legislative, monitoring and compliance activities. Que Anh concluded that these communities also possess particular understandings of accountability (soft law of standards and codes) and provide the basis for new ways of region-building and market-making.

Inga Ulnicane presented her research on Grand societal challenges asking if challenge-orientation represents a new policy paradigm in science, technology and innovation policy. She compared recent challenge-orientation with earlier mission-oriented science, technology and innovation policies and discussed a number of policy initiatives to address societal challenges launched by NordForsk, European Union and Sweden’s innovation agency Vinnova.

 Panel chair Sarah Glück

Panel chair Sarah Glück

Thomas König, one of the panellists, launched his new book ‘The European Research Council’ (ERC) during the conference. This book is a comprehensive research into the creation and development of the ERC. With an ethnographic method, Thomas gives a detailed account of how a group of strong-minded European scientists succeeded in establishing the ERC by pushing for a single goal: more money for scientific research with fewer strings attached. The book also critically analyses the achievements and challenges faced by the ERC and engages with a broader question concerning the relationships between politics, science and public money.

Some Reflections

Presentations in this panel prompted some reflections and ideas for further empirical studies:

-        The classical principal-agent theory is deficient in explaining the complex relationships between the research funding executive agencies and their founders and funders (be it national or regional bodies). We need new theories and novel ways of understanding the power relations between the principals (ministries, group of states, supranational union) and the agents (intermediary agencies);

-        Although the agents derive their authority from their expertise, they have to constantly negotiate and secure their legitimacy and autonomy in various ways and with a range of actors including the principals, academic communities, the society and the wider public (tax-payers);

-        Neoliberalism constitutes the hegemonic economic discourse within science and innovation which introduces a new mode of regulation premised on the belief that competition – in the name of ‘Excellence’– is the most efficient and a morally superior mechanism for allocating resources and opportunities. The workings of all these agencies are governed, albeit at varying degrees, by this economic discourse and its accompanied contractual relations;

-        The research funding executive agencies take on multiple identities depending on which actors they interact with. Despite their motto to uphold academic freedom and support investigator-driven research, they often act as translators and mediators between politics, science and administration.

In summary, the panel provides deep insights into concrete case studies and offers new ways of understanding intermediary agencies and the implications for research policies in the complex governance structures in Europe. We wish to exchange ideas and learn from more case studies in other national and regional contexts to broaden our scholarship.

Dr. Que Anh Dang is a researcher at the German Institute of Global and Area Studies, Hamburg.

Her research interests include higher education and regionalism, the role of international organisations in policy making, higher education in the knowledge economy, and education diplomacy. She is a co-editor and an author of the book ‘Global Regionalisms and Higher Education’ (2016).

 

This entry was initially posted on Europe of Knowledge blog.

Globalization and Change in Higher Education: Economic, Political, and Social Explanations

Beverly Barrett

Beverly_BookCover.png

The internationalization of higher education is a response to the pressures of globalization. There are economic, political, and social explanations for the reforms that have taken place in Europe since the Bologna Process launched 18 years ago on June 19, 1999 in the historic university city of Bologna, Italy. 

Correspondingly, these explanations for internationalization of higher education are globalization (economic), intergovernmentalism (political), and Europeanization (social). The progress of the Bologna Process to create the European Higher Education Area (EHEA) originated with the Sorbonne Declaration among the education ministers of France, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom on May 25, 1998.

My new book Globalization and Change in Higher Education: The Political Economy of Policy Reform in Europe (published by Palgrave Macmillan) explains the institutional change that has taken place as a response to these pressures.[1]  The 21st century’s increasing demands for knowledge reflect a knowledge society that is driven by a knowledge economy (David and Foray 2002).[2] This is defined as an economy in which growth is dependent on the quantity, quality, and accessibility of the information available. Universities and all types higher education institutions have experienced unprecedented institutional change in the knowledge society (Cantwell and Kauppinen 2014).[3] Educational sociologists have concurred that the international convergence of academic programs’ criteria that comes from the Bologna Process is unprecedented (Frank and Meyer 2007:299).[4]

History, Ideas, and Institutions

When the Bologna Process started, it had been less than a decade since the end of the Cold War. As a social explanation, the central and eastern European countries were eager to show solidarity with the leadership initiative from the countries in western Europe. The growth of the Bologna Process from 29 countries originally to 48 countries today reflects how it has complemented the expansion of the European Union’s  Single Market, as the EU has grown from 15 countries in 1999 to 28 countries today. 

The history, ideas, and institutions that frame our understanding of higher education are set out in the initial Chapters of the book, which frame the analysis in a historical institutional theoretical perspective.  The three primary objectives of the Bologna Process are convergence of higher education policies in 1) academic degree structure, 2) quality assurance, and 3) automatic recognition of degrees within the EHEA. Chapter 4 explains the dual roles of higher education institutions, as recipients of policy change from the national and European levels and as agents of policy change in the knowledge economy. The Bologna Process intersects with the higher education attainment objective of the Europe 2020 economic growth strategy of the Europe Commission. Chapter 5 explains, in quantitative assessment, that the most statistically significant relationship for higher education attainment is with GDP per capita among other variables in the political economy including employment, trade, R&D investment, population, and education spending.  

With similar histories of political governance and distinct structures of government, the Iberian countries, Portugal and Spain, provide qualitative assessment case studies for countries within the EU.  Chapters 6 to 9 explain that given the unitary government of Portugal, the process of reform has proceeded with more uniformity than in the quasi-federal government of Spain. In the country of 17 autonomous communities of sub-national regions, Spain has 11 higher education qualifications agencies as compared to most EHEA countries that have one, indicating the complexity of higher education in the country.  Portugal has made greater progress, from 11 to 31 percent, than Spain’s progress, from 29 to 42 percent, toward the Europe 2020 target objective for 40 percent (of 30-34 year-olds) for higher education attainment, though Spain has reached the target (Eurostat 2016).  

Model for Regional Integration and Key Findings

Referencing back to my posting in 2013, the Bologna Process has been a model for the regionalization of higher education throughout the world. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has developed its own Qualifications Reference Framework.  In North America, the Canadian and U.S. structures are similar. The U.S. and Mexico, together with Canada, have opportunities to collaborate, once able to overcome uncertainties around security, funding, and availability of academic mobility programs.[5]  The next step following graduates’ mobility is mutual recognition of professional qualifications, for which the ASEAN region continues to make progress.[6]

Among the key findings in the book are that these aspects of domestic politics matter for higher education policy reforms:

1) Structure of government (unitary v. (quasi-)federal)

2) Leadership consistency providing support for the reforms

3) Funding available for education or national wealth (measured by GDP per capita)

Today the 48-country EHEA, with the European Commission as a partner, continues to develop a higher education space where academic qualifications become recognized across countries. Competitive external economic pressures are part of globalization, while domestic politics influencing international cooperation drive intergovernmentalism. Leadership from the supranational EU that socially engages stakeholders and constructs regional norms is Europeanization. Approaching the end of the second decade of the Bologna Process, the change in higher education finds economic, political, and social explanations.      

 

Beverly Barrett has served as Lecturer at the Bauer College of Business in Global Studies and at the Hobby School of Public Affairs at the University of Houston. She served as Associate Editor of the Miami European Union Center of Excellence following her doctoral fellowship. Current research interests include international political economy, regional integration, and governance with particular emphasis on education and economic development.    

 

This entry was initially posted on Europe of Knowledge blog.

 

[1] Barrett, Beverly. 2017. Globalization and Change in Higher Education: The Political Economy of Policy Reform in Europe. London: Palgrave Macmillan. 

[2] David, Paul A. and Dominique Foray. 2002. “An introduction to the economy of the knowledge society.” International Social Science Journal, 54:171, 9-23. Paris: UNESCO.

[3] Cantwell, Brendan and Ilkka Kauppinen (Eds). 2014. Academic capitalism in the age of globalization. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

[4] Frank, David J. and John W. Meyer. 2007. University expansion and the knowledge society. Theory and Society, 36(4), 287–311.

[5] Vassar, David and Beverly Barrett. 2014. “U.S.-Mexico academic mobility: Trends, challenges, and opportunities.” Mexico Center Issue Brief. Baker Institute for Public Policy, Rice University, Houston, Texas.

[6] Asian Development Bank. 2016. Open windows, closed doors: Mutual recognition agreements on professional services in the ASEAN region. Mandaluyong City, Philippines: Asian Development Bank.