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What is higher education regionalism? And how should we study it?

Meng-Hsuan Chou and Pauline Ravinet

Higher education is undeniably global. But this did not prevent interested policy actors, meeting on the occasion of the 650th anniversary of the University of Vienna in 2015, to emphasise the significance of the global and international dimension, as their colleagues have done at the 800th anniversary of the University of Paris nearly 20 years ago. As academics, we know that higher education has a deep relationship with globalisation: from rankings to mobility of students, faculty, and staff; from quality assurance to student-centred learning outcomes; from university governance to the digitalisation of teaching and research collaboration. It is nearly impossible to separate the two. Yet we are still lacking a clear and shared definition of ‘global’ and ‘globalisation’ among higher education practitioners, scholars, and observers—the very people who have been struck by their intensifying relationship since the very beginning, whenever that was. Our handbook chapter develops a set of conceptual tools and lenses to understand the global transformation of the higher education sector by focussing on a particular pattern of this phenomenon we call higher education regionalism (Chou and Ravinet 2015).

Scanning the globe, we see regional initiatives in the higher education sector. For instance, in Europe, we have the Bologna Process towards a European Higher Education Area, familiar to the readers of this blog. But there are many more. Indeed, there have been consistent efforts in building common areas in Africa: the African Union’s harmonisation strategy, sub-regional initiatives of the Southern African Development Community, and activities of the African and Malagasy Council for Higher Education. Similarly, in Latin America, there is the ENLACES initiative, the MERCOSUR mechanisms for programme accreditation (MEXA) and mobility scheme (MARCA). Looking East to Asia, there are the many initiatives from the AUN and the very exciting SHARE programme. These are manifestations of higher education regionalism, which we define as referring to:

[A] political project of region creation involving at least some state authority (national, supranational, international), who in turn designates and delineates the world’s geographical region to which such activities extend, in the higher education policy sector (Chou and Ravinet 2015: 368).

We derived this definition after a review of what has been written on higher education regionalism in political science and in higher education studies—two distinct sets of literature that have much to say about this phenomenon, but rarely engage each other in a fruitful conversation on the subject. From political science, we learned from scholars who examined regions, ‘new regionalism’, and European integration (Caporaso and Choi 2002; Fawcett and Gandois 2010; Hettne 2005; Hettne and Söderbaum 2000; Mattli 2012; Warleigh-Lack 2014; Warleigh-Lack and Van Langenhove 2010). From higher education studies, we obtained insights from scholars who are serious about the impact that the re-composition of space, scales, and power have on past, current, and the future state of higher education (Gomes, Robertson and Dale 2012; Jayasuriya and Robertson 2010; Knight 2012, 2013).

The lessons from our review led us to these three positions concerning the study of higher education regionalism:

  • It must be comparative. Studying higher education regionalism means comparing varieties of higher education regionalisms to consider the sector’s apparent isomorphism.
  • It must be sector-based. Studying higher education regionalism is to take serious the particular dynamics of higher education and how they interact with the wider multi-purpose regional organisation (EU, ASEAN, AU, etc.) and national needs.
  • It must be differentiated. Studying higher education regionalism means to distinguish between intra-regional initiatives (within one geographical region) and inter-regional initiatives (between at least two geographical regions).

With these points of departure, we proposed a heuristic framework to study higher education regionalism along these three dimensions:

  1. Constellation of actors central and active in these processes: this means identifying the individual and collective actors involved and mapping their interaction patterns.
  1. Institutional arrangements adopted, abandoned, and debated: this refers to identifying the institutional form and rules and the instruments considered and accepted.
  1. Ideas and principles embedded and operationalised: this points to identifying the paradigms, policy ideas, and programmatic ideas guiding the instances of higher education regionalisms.

These three dimensions require intensive fieldwork with the key actors involved, which we are currently undertaking in the Southeast Asia region. But we invite researchers—especially those examining less studied regions such as Africa and Latin America—to get in touch so that together we can contribute to the conversation about higher education and globalisation from the regional perspective.


Meng-Hsuan Chou is Nanyang Assistant Professor of public policy and global affairs at NTU Singapore and Pauline Ravinet is Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Lille 2. They both acknowledge the generous support from Singapore’s Ministry of Education AcRF Tier 1 and Institut Français de Singapour (IFS) and NTU Singapore’s Merlion grant for this research.



Caporaso, J. A. and Y. J. Choi (2002) ‘Comparative regional integration’, in W. Carlsnaes, T. Risse and B. A. Simmons (eds) Handbook of International Relations (pp. 480–500) (London: Sage).

Chou, M.-H. and P. Ravinet (2015) ‘The Rise of “higher education regionalism”: An Agenda for Higher Education Research’ in J. Huisman, H. de Boer, D.D. Dill and M. Souto-Otero (eds) Handbook of Higher Education Policy and Governance (pp. 361-378) (Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan).

Fawcett, L. and H. Gandois (2010) ‘Regionalism in Africa and the Middle East: Implications for EU studies’, Journal of European Integration, 32(6), 617–636.

Gomes, A. M., Robertson, S. L. and R. Dale (2012) ‘The social condition of higher education: Globalisation and (beyond) regionalisation in Latin America’, Globalisation, Societies and Education, 10(2), 221–246.

Hettne, B. (2005) ‘Beyond the “New” regionalism’, New Political Economy, 10(4), 543–571.

Hettne, B. and F. Söderbaum (2000) ‘Theorising the rise of regionness’, New Political Economy, 5(3), 457–472.

Jayasuriya, K. and S. L. Robertson (2010) ‘Regulatory regionalism and the governance of higher education’, Globalisation, Societies and Education, 8(1), 1–6.

Knight, J. (2012) ‘A conceptual framework for the regionalization of higher education: application to Asia’, in J. N. Hawkins, K. H. Mok and D. E. Neubauer (eds) Higher Education Regionalization in Asia Pacific (pp. 17–36) (New York: Palgrave Macmillan).

Knight, J. (2013) ‘Towards African higher education regionalization and Harmonization: functional, organizational and political approaches’, International Perspectives on Education and Society, 21, 347–373.

Mattli, W. (2012) ‘Comparative regional integration: Theoretical developments’, in E. Jones, A. Menon and S. Weatherill (eds) The Oxford Handbook of the European Union (Oxford: Oxford University Press).

Warleigh-Lack, A. (2014) ‘EU studies and the new Regionalism’, in K. Lynggaard, K. Löfgren and I. Manners (eds) Research Methods in European Union Studies (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan).

Warleigh-Lack, A. and L. Van Langenhove (2010) ‘Rethinking EU Studies: The Contribution of Comparative Regionalism’, Journal of European Integration, 32(6), 541–562.


This entry was initially posted on Europe of Knowledge blog.

10 years after the “EU Big Bang Expansion” and 15 years after Bologna: insights from the former Yugoslavia

Martina Vukasovic

It is 10 years since the largest EU enlargement wave (sometimes referred to as “EU Big Bang Expansion”) and 15 years since the formal beginning of the Bologna Process. The former Yugoslavia countries provide an interesting example of integration of the “new member states” in the Europe of Knowledge. Slovenia entered the EU in 2004 and Croatia joined last year. The other ex-YU countries are in various accession stages: Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia are candidate countries, while Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo are considered potential candidates. All have been participating in the Bologna Process (Slovenia from the beginning, Croatia as of 2001, others as of 2003), apart from Kosovo whose lack of participation is linked to its disputed statehood.

Top-down Europeanization

While there are some differences in formal positions with regards to the EU and the Bologna Process, the countries of former Yugoslavia are similar in terms of their limited influence in shaping European higher education initiatives, with Slovenia being somewhat of an exception yet seemingly not very successful or very interested in uploading particular policy preferences to the European level (Vukasovic 2014; Vukasovic and Elken 2013). What is also common is that the European dimension is very present in domestic policy making in all sectors, including higher education and the processes of EU accession and implementation of the Bologna Declaration (and subsequent documents) are very closely linked.

The latter is, at the first glance, somewhat unexpected, given that the acquis communautaire does not include any specific requirements with regards to higher education. At the second glance, one needs to recall that the EU cooperation in the area of higher education and the Bologna Process are closely intertwined (Corbett 2011; Keeling 2006) and that the lack of explicit EU competences in an area does not mean lack of domestic impact of the EU (Gornitzka 2009). In addition, as in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe, in the countries of the former Yugoslavia there is a strong presence of a “return to Europe” narrative (Héritier 2005) in relation to social, political and economic transition. Many reforms were, for one reason or another, framed in relation to European initiatives, and this is in particular the case for higher education.

Apart from implementing the so-called Bologna guidelines – such as those related to the degree structure, use of a credit transfer and accumulation system, ratification of the Council of Europe Lisbon Recognition Convention or setting up a national and institutional quality assurance system in line with the European standards and guidelines (ESG) – the countries have also introduced (with varying degrees of success and support) changes that are not “covered by Bologna” but which were nevertheless part of the Bologna package of changes in legislation or other policy instruments. These include: a more integrated approach to internal governance of universities, financing of higher education (including introduction or increase of tuition fees), as well as changes in the relationship between the university and non-university sector, criteria for establishing private higher education and criteria for promotion of academic staff (Branković et al. 2014).

Interpreting and implementing European norms and values

Some of these changes, while not being explicitly part of the Bologna Process nevertheless have a European label. For example, through its Institutional Evaluation Programme the European University Association (EUA) has been effectively promoting integration of universities in the countries of former Yugoslavia. Furthermore, the EU’s TEMPUS programme, through which a total of €150 million poured in the region from 1992 to 2006 (Dolenec et al. 2014), promoted changes in some of the aforementioned aspects through setting up priorities for funded projects. However, it is not all about the “power of the purse”; such projects also provide an opportunity for mobility of students and staff and, therefore, an opportunity for persuasion of the domestic actors into desirability and appropriateness of European norms and values (see Checkel 2003 on ‘going native’ and socialization in European institutions). That of course does not mean that the attitudes towards these European norms and values are uniformly positive, though the presence of negative attitudes seems to be primarily linked to the domestic interpretations and problems in implementation and not so much to the ideological core of Bologna or related EU initiatives (Zgaga et al. 2013).

In sum, in the former Yugoslavia the European integration in higher education 10 years after the largest enlargement wave and 15 years after the Bologna Ministerial Conference has amounted to a complex combination of (a) Europeanization – a top-down process in which Europe provides a model for particular aspects of higher education, (b) cross-national policy transfer – horizontal process in which Europe provides a communication platform and (c) the so-called re-nationalization of Bologna in which the European processes are used to legitimize existing domestic policy preferences (Vukasovic 2014). With regards to its effects, the notion of differential integration and “Europe of several speeds” exists in higher education as well, as a result of institutional legacies, vested interests, domestic translations  and challenges in implementation (Westerheijden et al. 2010; Witte 2006). While both the complexity of integration and variety of its effects is evident in the so-called “old-EU” as well, the specificity of the former Yugoslav countries is the lack of the so-called “uploading-noise”: the relationship between the European and the national level in these countries is more clearly a top-down one. Whether it will remain as such remains to be seen.


Martina Vukasovic is a postdoc researcher in the Centre for Higher Education Governance Ghent (CHEGG) at the Department of Sociology, Ghent University. Her research focuses on the interaction between European, national and organizational processes, primarily the emergence of the European governance layer and how it may affect changes of policy and organization in higher education, in particular in the post-Communist countries. Until recently, she was involved in a large scale research project on European integration in higher education and research in the Western Balkans, coordinated by the University of Oslo (the Higher Education: Institutional Dynamics and Knowledge Cultures research group, HEIK).


This entry was initially posted on Europe of Knowledge blog.



  • Branković, J., Kovačević, M., Maassen, P., Stensaker, B., and Vukasovic, M. (2014). “De-Institutionalization and Reconstruction of Higher Education Systems: The case of Western Balkan countries”. City: Peter Lang: Frankfurt.
  • Checkel, J. T. (2003). “”Going native” in Europe? Theorizing social interaction in European institutions.” Comparative Political Studies, 36(1-2), 209-231.
  • Corbett, A. (2011). “Ping Pong: competing leadership for reform in EU higher education 1998–2006.” European Journal of Education, 46(1), 36-53.
  • Dolenec, D., Baketa, N., and Maassen, P. (2014). “Europeanizing higher education and research systems of the Western Balkans”, in J. Branković, M. Kovačević, P. Maassen, B. Stensaker, and M. Vukasovic, (eds.), The Re-Institutionalization of Higher Education in the Western Balkans: The Interplay Between European Ideas, Domestic Policies, and Institutional Practices. Frankfurt-am-Main: Peter Lang, pp. 61-90.
  • Gornitzka, Å. (2009). “Networking Administration in Areas of National Sensitivity – The Commission and European Higher Education”, in A. Amaral, P. Maassen, C. Musselin, and G. Neave, (eds.), The European Higher Education Area. Various Perspectives on the Complexities of a Multi-level Governance System. Dordrecht: Springer, pp. (forthcoming).
  • Héritier, A. (2005). “Europeanization Research East and West: A Comparative Assessment”, in F. Schimmelfennig and U. Sedelmeier, (eds.), The Europeanization of Central and Eastern Europe. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, pp. 199-209.
  • Keeling, R. (2006). “The Bologna Process and the Lisbon Research Agenda: the European Commission’s expanding role in higher education discourse.” European Journal of Education, 41(2), 203-223.
  • Vukasovic, M. (2014). “How can and how does Europe matter? Exploring the relationship between the European initiatives in higher education and the Western Balkans higher education in theoretical and empirical terms”, in J. Branković, M. Kovačević, P. Maassen, B. Stensaker, and M. Vukasovic, (eds.), De-Institutionalization and Reconstruction of Higher Education Systems: The case of the Western Balkan countries. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang Verlag, pp. 19-60.
  • Vukasovic, M., and Elken, M. (2013). “Higher education policy dynamics in a multi-level governance context: A comparative study of four post-communist countries”, in P. Zgaga, U. Teichler, and J. Brennan, (eds.), The globalisation challenge for European higher education. Convergence and diversity, centres and peripheries. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang Verlag, pp. 261-286.
  • Westerheijden, D. F., Beerkens, E., Cremonini, L., Huisman, J., Kehm, B., Kovač, A., Lažetić, P., McCoshan, A., Mozuraitytė, N., Souto-Otero, M., Weert, E. d., Witte, J., and Yagci, Y. (2010). The first decade of working on the European Higher Education Area. Bologna process independent assessment volume 1: Main report. CHEPS, Enschede.
  • Witte, J. (2006). Change of degrees and degrees of change: Comparing adaptations of European higher education systems in the context of the Bologna Process, University of Twente.
  • Zgaga, P., Klemenčič, M., Komljenovič, J., Miklavič, K., Repac, I., and Jakačić, V. (2013). Higher Education in the Western Balkans: Reforms, developments, trends. Center for Education Policy Studies, Ljubljana.

Teacher Education and Training in the Western Balkans – Is it in line with the times? Is it effective?

Elona Xhaferri

With an aim to assist the Western Balkans in the  area  of  education  and  training,  as  well  as  to  increase  regional  cooperation, in 2012 the European Commission launched the Western  Balkans  Platform  on  Education  and  Training  (WB PET). It includes seven Western Balkan countries: the newest EU member state Croatia, candidate countries Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia as well as potential candidates Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Kosovo.

The overall objective of EU in WB PET is to assist and provide guidance to the region in reforms in the area of education and training. The EU considers investment in education and training crucial to boost growth and competitiveness. The Platform including the Ministers of Education from the region convenes annually to identify topics and areas where regional cooperation and EU assistance is desirable. The Western Balkan countries use the Platform to discuss common issues, share good practice, identify priorities and needs for further support from the EU. The EU has provided considerable project support and assistance for teacher training both within and outside the EU. At the first Platform meeting, there was a common agreement that teacher training is the most important area for the region and EU support.

In order to identify and map teacher education and training systems and trends in Western Balkans, the European Commission (EC) conducted a study to map the education and training of primary and secondary school teachers and to improve the policy dialogue between the EU and the region.

The findings of the study were presented on 19-20 November 2013 in a regional seminar on Teacher Education and Training in the Western Balkans that assembled experts, scholars and researchers, representatives of educational institutions, civil society as well as central and local government. The purpose of the conference was to bring together key actors involved in reforming the system and process of education and training of teachers in the region. The seminar introduced cases of good practice, successful projects, identification of future cooperation opportunities for the region, and what is needed in order to move forward.

Teaching is a profession demanding innovation and continuous improvement of quality of learning systems to provide greater opportunities in a knowledge-based society. Teacher educators’, mentors’ and government’s role is to actively facilitate the learning of teachers to-be, foster innovation and creativity in teaching and learning, following latest developments in EU countries. In attempt to converge towards the EU model, the Western Balkans have experienced difficulties to adopt reforms which further promote and value teaching profession and education programs for teachers in higher education institutions.

The education reforms in the region which aim to restructure teacher education and the qualification system are in various stages of implementation. The process of teacher qualification has been carried out in a conventional manner and despite the efforts the process has been rather slow and in varying degrees among countries and pedagogical institutions. The region is experiencing slow pace of introduction of some reforms like learner-centred approaches, promotion of inclusive education in prevailing areas of ethnically divided schools in most of the countries that emerged after the dissolution of Yugoslavia. The limited innovation in teacher preparation and qualification is due to limited resources of schools and municipalities, teachers’ resistance towards change and fear of coping, poor teachers’ salaries and few or no incentives for teachers to introduce innovations.

Good practices

Despite the slow pace of reforms, there have been considerable achievements in terms of legislative, policy and institutional developments across the region. Legal frameworks are mostly in place, specialized institutions have been established and strategies, large-scale plans or projects that follow the education and qualification path of teachers have been adopted.

Several cases of good practice across the region were introduced. A representative from the Bureau of Education Services from Montenegro depicted the relevance of induction of primary and secondary school teachers and enhancement of the professional knowledge of novice teachers. The qualification model for career teachers presented at school level and mentoring scheme enables novice teachers develop professionally by observing the classes of their mentors, teaching on extracurricular activities, having their classes supervised and working on their professional portfolio. Another national initiative launched by the Ministry of Education and Technological Development in cooperation with municipalities in Serbia emphasized the role of parents cooperating with schools in Serbia. This initiative has emerged because parents – despite having high expectations from schools – do not recognize their own role and contribution to education institutions. In addition, at local level parents’ councils are involved in addressing several aspects of school community e.g., good practices, sports projects or launching Google groups for communication.


Teacher’s professional development and roles

Scholars examined teachers’ roles and their multiple identities to be taken into account in the professional development system. There is a wide range of teacher educators as the main actors that contribute directly to teacher education and qualification: academic staff teaching subject course and academic discipline, academic staff teaching educational sciences and methodologies, school-based supervisors supervising teachers to-be, school-based mentors tutoring novice teachers as well as education experts in charge of professional development of teachers’ careers.

Teacher educators have key roles to advance professional development of teachers. Albeit the common set of skills, competences and knowledge, shared expertise between these actors is minimal because their tasks and responsibilities are rather divided than mutually shared and because there is a disconnection between teacher education institutions, schools, and the business sector. In order to support development of teacher educators at policy level the Western Balkan countries should establish a systematic and self-regulated way to develop teacher training professionally, design competence standards for teacher educators, adopt national legislation on the quality of teacher educators, implement code of ethics for teacher educators, include the quality of teacher educators in accreditation programs as well as select entry criteria for the profession and progression in the profession (Snoek et al., 2011).

Currently, at EU level the existing policy documents pay limited attention to teacher educators and their professionalism. At national level government bodies and agencies are the key institutions involved in developing quality standards in many EU countries. At institutional level in most countries, teacher educators’ professional development seems to be the responsibility of individual teacher education institutions. At professional level, professionals seem to be hardly involved in the development of policies that promote their professional quality.


Need to implement a systemic approach

The legislation, regulation, national strategies and plans are designed with reference to Finnish model, as the most successful in Europe, at the same time being in line with EU policies. Nonetheless it is the gap between policies, rules, regulations and plans, and their implementation in practice which delays the impact of reforms making them ineffective.  There are many difficulties associated with implementation of legal changes requiring institutional and financial support, inter-institutional communication and coordination among interested parties. This is witnessed in the limited relevance and applicability of skills and knowledge offered during professional development of career teachers, unequal access to training, limited capacity of training  providers, and weak or limited quality assurance programs and procedures to evaluate teaching performance. The most cumbersome aspect is the limited budget connected with teacher education and training, not to mention, that for teacher education and training aspect in particular there is no budget allocated. Unavoidably that influences the status of the teaching profession which is relatively low and there are no mechanisms to promote the relevance of this profession in order to have qualified teachers in a knowledge-based society. The relatively low salaries and status of the teaching profession often result in the admission of poor-performing students.

In order to support the Western Balkan countries towards effective reforms for a knowledge-based society a systematic approach is needed – to ensure involvement and cooperation between all the stakeholders so that professional development is not a sole responsibility of teacher educators or educational institutions alone but of the whole system; to establish national standards across the region; to reprioritize the role of school and teachers as agents of change in the community; and to involve teachers in the development of policies that promote their professional quality.

Elona Xhaferri is a teaching assistant in the Faculty of Social Science, University of Tirana, Albania and an independent consultant in the field of education.  She has conducted research in several projects related to European Integration in Higher Education and Research in the framework of NORGLOBAL programme as well as co-authored a report on Bologna Process Reform in Tempus Countries on behalf of the European Commission. Recently, Ms. Xhaferri co-authored the report on Teacher Education and Training in Albania and attended the conference organized by European Commission where she presented the main findings.

This post was initially published on Europe of Knowledge blog.


Marco Snoek, Anja Swennen & Marcel van der Klink (2011): The quality of teacher educators in the European policy debate: actions and measures to improve the professionalism of teacher educators, Professional Development in Education, 37:5, 651-664.

Can regions shape university performance?

Mabel Sánchez-Barrioluengo

During the last twenty years researchers and policymakers have focused their discourses on the important role that universities play in stimulating the development of regions under the umbrella concept of “knowledge economies” [i]. Universities contribute to the region generating research and consultancy income, embedding knowledge in students and employees, upgrading regional business environments and potentially improving this process of regional value capture [ii]. This approach has emphasized the vision of Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) as active drivers of regional economic growth and innovation policy change.


To fulfill these expectations universities have embarked on many activities, which have increased their complexity and the necessity to redefine their roles. At regional level, HEIs do not only contribute to creation of skilled human capital, but also generate technological capital and knowledge stock. This conjecture promotes university involvement in regional economic development in addition to the traditional tripartite missions of teaching, research and transfer activities. But, is the expectation of universities engaging in all of these roles simultaneously realistic? Should the ‘one-size-fits-all’ model be prevalent in the Higher Education Sector, even more in times of economic crisis? More specifically, are there any differences between particular capabilities universities seek to contribute to their regions? Is there space for alternative university models?


To solve these questions it is important to ‘turn the tables’ and adopt an alternative perspective where not only university influences the region, but where regions shape university performance as well [iii]. This means that activities of universities are significantly influenced by the context and the environment in which the university is geographically located and by other actors involved in the innovation system. Adopting this view, we are assuming that if universities want to fulfill their roles, they need to increase their interaction with non-academic agents at regional level. This allows the university to build its own strategy of differentiation and specialization based on its specific capacities as well as taking into account the needs of the environment. Following the notation of the European Commission, we propose that this allows HEIs to create their own Smart Specialization Strategy (S3) and become drivers of innovation policy change and economic growth under the Europe 2020 Strategy. Even more important is the adaptation of different policies to emphasize the role of universities and their strategic priorities at regional level.


But is there any case where a region has shaped university’s strategy? We are going to present the case of the Mondragon University (MU) as an example where the university has exploited the characteristics of the environment as a competitive advantage to emphasize its specific regional role. MU is a cooperative university, that is, an autonomous association for voluntary cooperation with a view to preserve values such as self-help, self-responsibility, democracy and equality, equity and solidarity. It is located in Guipúzcoa, one of the three regions in the Basque Country (Spain). Founded in 1997, it is part of one of the largest cooperative groups, called Mondragon Corporation. MU was born from the demand side: to address the weaknesses of Mondragon Cooperative Model.


Under the specific characteristics of the Basque Science and Technology policy, the contribution of MU to its regional innovation system has been mainly through skilled workers with high levels of labor market participation and employment with the right qualifications, as well as through life-long education courses up-skilling employees for new tasks at the cooperatives [iv]. The development of research highly oriented to companies’ needs allows MU to have a large number of research collaborative programs with different firms operating in the Basque Country. The development of this strategy takes into account other agents in the innovation system and ensures interaction activities. MU framework for action is agreed with all the agents involved in order to respond to the challenges and needs of the environment concerning education and knowledge transfer [v].


Recent news articles [vi, vii] pointed out the case of MU as an alternative to the state-funded public university. But is this case exportable outside the socioeconomic characteristics and the historical background of the Basque context? Is the case of Silicon Valley in San Francisco or the MIT in Massachusetts transferable? Mondragon can be understood as an example of regional needs guiding a specialization strategy, and the university becoming active actor contributing to its region.


Thus, this approach creates a virtuous circle where universities are understood as drivers of innovation policy change and, at the same time, regional innovation policy guides university’s strategy for specialization.

Mabel Sánchez-Barrioluengo is a PhD student at INGENIO (CSIC-UPV) in Spain. More information on her research can be found here and here.


The first draft of this work was presented at the workshop ‘Regional Innovation Policy Dynamics: Actors, Agency and Learning’ in Manchester (UK), 23-24 September 2013.



[i] OECD (2007). Higher Education and Regions. Globally Competitive, Locally Engaged. OECD. Paris.

[ii] Benneworth, P. & Hospers, G. (2007). “The new economic geography of old industrial regions: universities as global- local pipelines” Environment and Planning C: Government & Policy, 25(5), pp. 779-802.

[iii] Casper, S. (2013). “The spill-over theory reversed: The impact of regional economies on the commercialization of university science” Research Policy, 42(8), pp. 1313-1324.

[iv] OECD (2011). OECD Reviews of Regional Innovation: Basque Country, Spain.

[v] Wright, S.; Greenwood, D. & Boden, R. (2011). “Report on a fi eld visit to Mondragón University: a cooperative experience/experiment”. Learning and Teaching, 4(3), pp. 38-56.

[vi] Tremlett, G. (2013). “Mondragon: Spain’s giant co-operative where times are hard but few go bust”. The Guardian 7 March 2013.

[vii] Matthews, D. (2013). “Inside a cooperative university”. The Higher Education Debate 29 August 2013.


This post was originally published on Europe of Knowledge blog.