Festschrift – Celebrating a friend and a research field

As an area of study, higher education is still relatively young, with research-based contributions having emerged only in the late 1960s and early 1970s while more systematic and comparative studies emerged in the 1980s and 1990s. It was during this latter, “particularly productive period”, that Maassen moved out of the faculty of public administration at the University of Twente in the Netherlands and joined the university’s newly established Centre for Higher Education Policy Studies or CHEPS.

Today, Maassen has earned an international reputation for his work on higher education governance systems and European integration. He is also known for his pioneering contributions to higher education research in Africa, having served, according to the festschrift, as a “key actor in the expansion of the field” to the African continent.

It is in recognition of these and other achievements that Pathways Through Higher Education Research: A festschrift in honour of Peter Maassen was published late last year to coincide with the year Maassen turned 60. Fittingly, it was launched at November’s third meeting of the Higher Education Research and Advocacy Network in Africa or HERANA, in which Maassen has been directly involved.

Academic and personal

Edited by Nico Cloete, Leo Goedegebuure, Åse Gornitzka, Jens Jungblut and Bjorn Stensaker, the book contains 28 short chapters penned by friends, peers, upcoming scholars and colleagues – many of whom are his former students – from Europe, the United States, Australia and Africa.

The writing frequently combines the academic with the personal, adding an informal and highly entertaining touch and, as the introduction predicts, complementing both the reader’s understanding of Maassen and the evolving field of higher education studies.

In terms of the development of the field, the festschrift reflects Maassen’s ongoing emphasis of a theoretically robust research approach. According to contributor Martina Vukasovic, Maassen’s work been a “continuous call for and work on improving the theoretical foundations of higher education research.

He has also tried to remind us of the importance of solid methodology and benefits of carefully designed comparisons, because while ‘strong convictions, weak evidence’ may be dangerous for policy-makers across different governance levels, it is "even more dangerous for [higher education] researchers”.

Broad contributions

The book comprises four sections, each of which reflect Maassen’s particular contributions to the field of higher education and at the same time highlight the broad scope of his work and interests. They include: Governance and Reform; European Integration in Higher Education; Higher Education in Africa; and Education in and Research on Higher Education.

In Europe, Peter Maassen’s work is credited by Antonio M Magalhaes and Amelia Veiga, with moving European integration “to the centre of the field of research on higher education” and highlighting “the need to adopt a challenging comparative perspective that simultaneously acknowledges the influence of supranational coordination efforts, and that reforms do not take place without national governments”.

In addition to his impressive academic and conceptual contributions, Maassen is recognised for his commitment to developing a cohort of higher education researchers and professionals through the introduction in the early 2000s of two higher education master’s programmes at the University of Oslo in Norway. The first of these, the Master in Higher Education, was the first of its kind in Europe.

As noted in the contribution of Rachelle Esterhazy and Jens Jungblut, the Oslo programmes have left a “considerable mark” on the community of higher education researchers and professionals. Fourteen years since their inception, the programmes have jointly educated almost 200 professionals and academics, “out of which many are directly engaged with higher education topics”.

As Norbert Sabic puts it: “If there is something I am certain about, it is that many young researchers learned to care about higher education thanks to Peter Maassen.”


Maassen’s involvement with Africa dates back to 1995 when he arrived in South Africa with Frans van Vught to participate in the establishment of a National Commission on Higher Education, a commission on which his future colleague and collaborator Nico Cloete was chosen to serve.

This early engagement is compellingly captured in a chapter in the festschrift by Cloete and Teboho Moja:
    "When Peter Maassen was invited to South Africa to participate in the historic discussions about the policy proposals for the reform of higher education post-1994, he arrived with Frans van Vught – both sleekly dressed in jeans, high collar shirts and blue jackets. Not only had apartheid South Africa isolated us from higher education debates, we did not even know how global higher education experts dressed! South African scholars involved were not only impressed with their dress style, but also by their sleek ideas and systematic diagrams of higher education systems. They worked in tandem and finished each other’s sentences. This was South Africa’s introduction to the Centre for Higher Education Policy Studies (CHEPS) at the University of Twente in the Netherlands. South African Commissioners serving on the National Commission on Higher Education (NCHE) wore a path to the Netherlands, so much so that one of the Commissioners, Jon File, is still there a few decades later."
Maassen’s arrival in South Africa and his participation in that policy process was also the start of a productive enduring collaboration between himself and Cloete. Inspired by CHEPS, Cloete established the Centre for Higher Education Transformation or CHET in South Africa and in 2001, Maassen was a collaborator on CHET’s review of five years of policy reform in South Africa.

Ongoing collaborative projects included a study on higher education and development aid in Africa, and its “mainly unintended” consequences, and the development of the Norwegian Masters Programme in Africa – a partnership between the University of the Western Cape, University of Oslo, where Maassen was then based, and CHET.


There followed in 2008 the conceptualisation and establishment of HERANA involving flagship universities of eight African countries and more than 50 collaborators from around the world.

Maassen is credited with making “crucial contributions” to the development of the conceptual framework which lies at the heart of the HERANA project, which recognises the fundamental importance of a strong academic core. Maassen remains a key fellow of CHET and is involved in “identifying and framing issues, contributing to research, writing, training and friendship”.

Maassen continues to maintain a strong connection with Africa. In 2015 he became an extraordinary professor in the Centre of Excellence in Science and Innovation Policy based at the University of Stellenbosch, which represents one of the few attempts in the world to combine higher education and science policy studies.

In another recent collaboration, Maassen is to be part of a new Carnegie-funded doctoral/postdoctoral programme in higher education studies offered by the University of the Western Cape, University of Oslo and the Eduardo Mondlane University in Mozambique.

As is noted in the entertaining chapter by Leo Goedegebuure and V Lynn Meek, it is difficult to do justice to Maassen’s “excruciatingly diverse” career. But this thoughtful festschrift succeeds in taking a fair step in that direction.

* Pathways through Higher Education Research: A festschrift in honour of Peter Maassen (2016), edited by Nico Cloete, Leo Goedegebuure, Åse Gornitzka, Jens Jungblut and Bjørn Stensaker, is published by the Department of Education, University of Oslo, Norway.