EUROPE: Diversity prevails despite extensive reforms

Extensive university reforms have taken place in Europe over the past decade and more. But while system performance improved significantly, diversity remained one of the most striking features of European higher education, according to a comprehensive report, Progress in Higher Rducation Reforms across Europe.

The report, of nearly1,000 pages of analysis and documentation, was prepared by a team headed by Professor Jurgen Enders and Jan File of the Center for Higher Education Studies, or CHEPS, at the University of Twente. The team comprised 15 researchers with national experts in the 33 countries monitored.

The project is a merger of two European Union research contracts and the result of two CHEPS-led consortia which undertook studies on higher education governance and funding reforms across Europe and their relation to system performance.

The other main partners were the International Centre for Higher Education Research in Kassel, Germany, and the Norwegian Institute for Studies in Innovation, Research and Education in Oslo.

The project initially focused on four basic questions:

* What have been the policy changes in the governance of European higher education systems between 1995 and 2008? And what have been the policy changes in national higher education systems as regards governance reforms?
* To what extent does the current state of governance in European higher education reflect Europe's modernisation agenda for higher education?
* What are the possible links between governance reforms and the performance of higher education systems?
* What lessons can be learned and what might be the key governance policy themes in the further development of European higher education?

A variety of methodologies was used, including interviews with stakeholders in each of the participating countries, two institutional case studies in 15 countries, secondary analysis of the literature on governance reforms, and EU and national policy reports.

The report is extensive, comprising the executive summary, methodologies, performance data, literary survey, national system analyses and case studies, and 'governance fiches' for the 33 surveyed countries.

It contains almost 1,000 pages of printed material, tables and documentation, constituting an important data-mine on higher education governance in Europe.

In the report, the European Commission's 'pull' through its agenda for modernising European universities can be compared with the national responses and strategies actually implemented.

The report makes five main policy recommendations:

* European universities should be granted more overall institutional autonomy.
* The balance between autonomy and accountability needs to be revised.
* Increased investment in higher education and research in Europe is essential.
* More realism is needed when it comes to expectations that governance reforms will result in multiple and rapid effects.
* A European monitoring system should be established to address aspects of reforms and performance in higher education systems, now in a constant flux.

Governance is measured across the dimensions of access, educational attainment, employability, mobility, research output, capacity to attract funds and cost effectiveness. These aspects are all central to Europe's agenda for the modernisation of its universities.

While 13 countries had medium or high degree of autonomy in 1995, the number in 2008 was 21, with eight having a high degree of autonomy: Austria, Croatia, Estonia, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and the United Kingdom."

Five countries were characterised as having low autonomy in 2008: Cyprus, France, Greece, Rumania and Turkey. Nearly all of the countries with high autonomy have many incoming students, notably Austria, the Netherlands and the UK.

There have been significant changes in governance since 1995 in almost all countries. But, says the report: "The organisational autonomy of European public universities is still restricted in many countries by national legislation, regulations and guidelines.

"Only a few countries have implemented reforms that have seriously transferred to the university the power to decide on their internal governance structure."

The report analyses the following aspects of the modernisation agenda related to issues of governance:

* Introduction of a quality assurance system.
* Less state micro management and enhanced institutional autonomy.
* New internal governance structures.
* More emphasis on institutional strategy development and multi-year agreements with government.
* Clear accountability relations.
* Strengthened partnerships with business and industry.
* Sufficient levels of funding and increased financial autonomy.

In the governance process seen through these measures, nine countries can be said to have made progress on many aspects of the modernisation agenda of universities, eight have addressed some aspects, nine have tackled a few aspects and seven have addressed hardly any.

The country studies identify how the 33 countries perform. The top 10 measured for research productivity are nearly all in north-western Europe.

The report says traditional notions of collegiality and consensus-based decision-making are under pressure, making room for 'business-like' leadership and management. It says there now seems to be in Europe an increasing interest in reforms per se.

Web links to Progress in higher education reforms across Europe:

Volume 1: Executive Summary and Main report:
Volume 1: Executive Summary and Main report:
Volume 2: Methodology, performance data, literature survey, national analyses and case studies,
Volume 3: Governance fiches: