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Building the Knowledge Economy in Europe: New Constellations in European Research and Higher Education Governance

EOK coverWhy do knowledge policies play an increasing role on the European political and policy agenda? What are the synergies and tensions between European research and higher education policies? What have been the successes and challenges in establishing the European Research Council and the European Institute of Innovation and Technology? What role do stakeholders play in the Bologna process? And how strong are the soft modes of EU governance?


These and other questions are addressed in the recently published book ‘Building the Knowledge Economy in Europe: New Constellations in European Research and Higher Education Governance’ edited by Meng-Hsuan Chou and Åse Gornitzka. Meng-Hsuan Chou tells us about the rationales for and the key messages of their book.


Q1: How did the idea for this book on the knowledge economy in Europe emerge?

This edited volume gathers contributions from our ‘Europe of Knowledge’ section at the European Consortium for Political Research (ECPR) general conference in Reykjavik in 2011. This was the first time that we – researchers working on knowledge policies (higher education and research) – had our own section at the ECPR. While we have successfully reconvened a ‘Europe of Knowledge’ section at every ECPR general conference since, we wanted to mark the occasion with a publication to promote the study of knowledge policies among EU scholars. At the time, Elgar came out with a new series on ‘New Horizons in European Politics’ and we thought this was a perfect opportunity to introduce the topics to an EU audience. The reason for this is because we believe these two policy sectors have much to offer to those interested in regional integration dynamics. Moreover, I thought it would be interesting to spotlight the policies that are quite important to academics, as European knowledge policies affect how we teach and carry out basic research.


Q2: The book analyses two central pillars of the ‘Europe of Knowledge’, research and higher education policies. Have the processes of European integration in these two policy areas developed similarly or differently?

European cooperation in the fields of research and higher education has followed different pathways. We describe these developments in Chapter 1, which is available here for readers, but they can be summarised in a nutshell as follow: knowledge cooperation started very early in the integration process. Research cooperation has, however, evolved much further due to the overall national sensitivity surrounding higher education issues. A key development for research policy cooperation occurred in the 1980s: the institutionalisation of the Framework Programmes, which is now synonymous with EU research policy even though this area of cooperation is more than just about funding.

Higher education entered the political and policy spotlight with the signing of the Sorbonne Declaration and the launch of the Bologna Process at the end of the 1990s. Cooperation in this area has been very practical, e.g. establishing common degree structures and transferring course units, but of course it is also political. It is important to note that Bologna, with 47 members, is not an EU process, even though the Commission is heavily involved. The knowledge policy portfolio is spread across several of the Commission’s Directorates-General (DGs) and this contributes to the complexity of the governance process. I believe it is this very complexity that makes studying European knowledge policy cooperation so interesting.


Q3: One of the chapters looks at the establishment of European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT), which has to bring together research, higher education and innovation. What does the specific case of EIT tell us about the challenges for interaction among the different pillars of Europe of Knowledge?

The EIT chapter, by Åse Gornitzka and Julia Metz, tells us that creating an institution under ‘inhospitable conditions’ is possible, but it requires very powerful promoters at the very highest political level – in this case, Commission President Barroso. These ‘inhospitable conditions’ reflect precisely the governance division between research, higher education and innovation – the respective political and policy actors defended their sectoral turfs and perceived the establishment of the EIT as a ‘threat’. Barroso was able to successfully secure its establishment, but, in the end, he also did not have the EIT he initially wanted (i.e. the MIT model, university with top researchers). After the EIT was created, another set of actors came on-board and took over its daily operations. What the EIT case reveals is that the different pillars of the Europe of Knowledge may require heavy political steering to interact if new institutions were to deliver the intended outcomes.


Q4: European integration in research and higher education policies is characterised by the soft modes of governance such as the Open Method of Coordination (OMC). What are their advantages and limitations?

The OMC injects flexibility into compliance and allows different interpretation of agreed standards to co-exist. While the OMC may succeed in bringing people to the ‘mutual exchange’ table with some progress towards collective objectives, it does not generally latch on to another process to ensure continuity in some areas where progress is indeed being made. Therefore, in Åse Gornitzka’s chapter on the OMC, she argues for approaching the OMC from another perspective: what it tells us about how political and administrative institutions interact with this process and their respective experiences. She finds that, in the case of Norway, the OMC has become a ‘transmission belt’ for generating policy information as well as policy learning and ‘teaching’.


Q5: Some chapters of your book look at national responses to European integration processes in knowledge policy areas. Do you see any major national differences, for example, between Scandinavian countries and Spain?

Yes, there are major differences between countries and not just between the so-called Northern countries and those in the South. For instance, in Hanne Foss Hansen’s chapter – ‘“Quality agencies”: the development of regulating and mediating organizations in Scandinavian higher education’ – she demonstrates that, even though the Nordic countries share a tradition in how they perceive the role of higher education in society, they ultimately adopted different systems for quality assurance. In my chapter with José Real-Dato, which looks at how Norwegian and Spanish institutions approached the EU Commission-promoted Human Resource Strategy, we show that diverse national strategies and translation capacity explain variation in the speed and the extent of uptake. The domestic arena is significant in understanding how European integration in the knowledge sectors evolves, or does not.


Q6: You have worked and studied in the United States, Europe and Asia. Are knowledge policies in Europe considerably different from those in other world regions?

Yes, there are differences in terms of the emphases within debates about how knowledge should and could be used. For instance, in the US, I hear more about how knowledge could be used to advance the society’s wellbeing. The question being raised includes ‘How can we ensure equal access to high-quality education?’; this debate resonates with the phenomenon of the Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) sweeping the world. In Europe, solving the ‘grand challenges’ and the role of science in policymaking are central themes. In Asia, the focus is more on how knowledge could be used to increase the national overall economic competitiveness and to secure a lead in the decades to come. But, of course, these differences are very subtle and nearly all countries in the world are concerned about all these aspects. What I find surprising is that there are less talks about the role of higher education in ‘citizen making’. Indeed, it appears as if overnight we all became global citizens, moving seamlessly around the world, which is simply not true.


Q7: What are the main messages for scholars and practitioners of knowledge policies emerging from your book?

Since European integration takes place under different conditions and parameters, its evolution continues to attract considerable interest. This is especially the case for emerging policy areas subject to integration because these developments shed new light on the direction, dynamics and, an increasingly debated aspect, the very sustainability of Europe’s political order. Knowledge policies are one of these emerging areas. For scholars, I think what is especially interesting is that European knowledge policy governance occurs through supranational, intergovernmental and transnational processes in which the EU has different roles: as a key actor, an observer or merely one of several. These multiple avenues of integration provide a unique case to explore the different facets of integration dynamics – especially for refining concepts such as ‘differentiated integration’.

For practitioners, I believe that our book provides theoretically grounded explanations as to why knowledge policies are extremely difficult to regulate. The chapters in this volume go beyond the conventional argument that ‘knowledge policies are too sensitive for the EU to regulate’. Indeed, the cases demonstrate that other factors matter; for instance, from sectoral competition in the realm of knowledge policies, and a Commission President’s vision to European higher education institutions’ diverse motivations to participate in OMC-like processes. There are general lessons to be extracted, not least for European integration, but also for other regional processes.


Q8: What would be promising research lines for future studies on regional and global governance of knowledge?  

I think the most promising research approach would be comparative. As Europeanists, we tend to study EU as n = 1 and are entirely focussed on explaining its developments and nuances. But this perspective actually harms European integration studies because we overlook the interesting developments occurring elsewhere. Pauline Ravinet and I are currently discussing the global phenomenon we call ‘higher education regionalism’ and deciphering ways in which we can begin to identify, understand, and explain the emergence of ad hoc regional higher education initiatives throughout the last few decades (and seemingly more in the making!).

Another promising approach would be interdisciplinary collaborative work. There are many researchers working on issues concerning knowledge governance, but we are scattered across many disciplines. I think this is where UACES’s (Academic Association for Contemporary European Studies) collaborative research network on the European Research Area is so useful – it really facilitates sharing ideas and findings across disciplinary boundaries.

In terms of specific topics, I think it would be fascinating to compare how different world regions address or attempt to regulate the digital revolution sweeping higher education and research. What questions are being asked? What ideas are given prominence? Is there any policy learning involved? Have we moved beyond competition? Indeed, have the world’s geographical regions been reconfigured into new constellations of alliances? If so, who governs?


Dr Meng-Hsuan Chou is Nanyang Assistant Professor in Public Policy and Global Affairs at NTU, Singapore and an Associate Fellow at EU Centre Singapore. She is the Academic Coordinator for the UACES Collaborative Research Network on the European Research Area. Hsuan chaired the Europe of Knowledge section at the 2011 and 2013 ECPR conferences and will be co-chairing the 2014 section. Her articles have appeared in the Journal of European Public Policy, Journal of Contemporary European Research and PS: Political Science & Politics. She is currently researching how governments in Asia, Europe and North America compete for foreign talent in a globalised era and how scholarly networks are organised across time.

This entry was simultaneously posted on Ideas of Europe blog platform.

CFP: Internationalization of Science, Technology and Innovation: Politics, Cooperation and Competition (28-29 November 2014, Vienna)

Dear Colleagues,

We are happy to invite submissions for the panel ‘Internationalization of Science, Technology and Innovation: Politics, Cooperation and Competition’ at the Austrian Political Science Conference to be held on the 28th -29th November 2014, at University of Vienna.

Please find the panel abstract below and German version here. Abstracts (300 words, in English or German, according to the guidelines) have to be submitted by the 31st of May 2014 here.

For enquiries, please contact the panel chairs:

We look forward to receiving your submissions!

Inga Ulnicane, Lisa Sigl, Thomas König and Nina Witjes


Panel 8Internationalization of Science, Technology and Innovation (STI): Politics, Cooperation and Competition’; Austrian Political Science Conference, Vienna, 28-29/11/2014

Contemporary polities often are described as ‘knowledge societies’ or ‘knowledge-based economies’ highlighting the key role assigned to knowledge. Political choices have a major impact on the way knowledge is produced, diffused and utilized. Relevant political decisions are made at multiple and interconnected levels – organizational, regional, national, sectoral and global – and policy fields, in particular in areas of science, technology, innovation and higher education. In the context of global financial crisis knowledge policies have been seen as a road to the future growth and a tool to tackle major socio-economic problems.

During the last 10 years, international orientation of national and supra-national (EU) STI strategies has been further strengthened to take into account importance of Big Science projects as well to address ‘global challenges’ (e.g., climate change, health). Additionally, globalization of STI is facilitated by international organizations and forums such as OECD and the Global Research Council as well as private initiatives like the Gates Foundation. Complex interactions involved in global production and circulation of knowledge require a delicate balance between cooperation and competition (over scientific priority, talent, and resources), reviving scholarly interest in hybrid notions such as ‘a competitive cooperation’ (Merton 1942).

Overarching questions to be addressed include: What ideas, interests, values and formats are involved in designing STI internationalization strategies? How the main knowledge policy frames and paradigms (e.g. competitiveness, excellence, Grand Challenges, Responsible Research and Innovation) are interpreted and implemented in diverse contexts? What STI co-operations have been developed to address global challenges such as energy dependence? What new power relations are emerging in global production and circulation of knowledge? What are opportunities and risks of increasing international STI cooperation and competition?

Interdisciplinary papers are sought that build on and further develop theories, concepts and methods from the fields such as (but not limited to) political science, international relations, sociology of science, Science and Technology Studies and innovation studies.

The aim of the panel is to explore potential for interdisciplinary co-operation. Dedicated comments will be provided to each paper and cross-cutting issues will be addressed in general discussion. The panel will be held in English and German.

The value of the PhD in a knowledge-based economy: Beyond financial and career gains

Charikleia Tzanakou

Higher education and research have come to the forefront of international debates about economic growth. There has been a growing consensus among policy-makers that post-industrial society requires more highly-educated people with technical and professional skills in a knowledge-based economy. Doctoral education has become of paramount significance in a world where knowledge becomes the new ‘fuel’, the ultimate economic renewable to economic growth leading to a knowledge-based economy (Brinkley, 2006; Leadbeater, 1999). While there is still no consensus on the relationship between human capital and economic growth, PhD holders who have accumulated substantial human capital through education have been identified as ‘one of the key actors behind the creation of knowledge-based economic growth’ (Auriol et al., 2010, p.13).

From the individual perspective, investment in doctoral education is rather costly – in terms of fees, subsistence and foregone earnings – and lengthy. Considering that individuals might yield less returns to doctoral investment compared to a Master’s degree in some subjects[i] (see O’Leary and Sloane, 2005) and also the increasing criticism that the doctorate has received by the media in terms of career prospects and doctoral attrition (FP, 2013; The Economist, 2010), it is important to identify and highlight benefits that doctoral experience entails beyond financial and career returns for the PhD graduates and a broader knowledge-based economy.

Limited information exists about the value of the PhD for the individuals beyond pecuniary terms. Raddon and Sung (2009) have remarked the deficiency of information on the personal value of the doctorate together with the social and cultural impact of studying at this level in order to highlight the impact of PhD graduates. In their synthesis review of career choices and impact of PhD graduates in the UK they wrote: ‘..we still lack in-depth examinations of some complex areas including: In-depth examination of the direct impact of PhD graduates in the workplace and the ‘value added’ of employing these individuals; …Close study of the personal impact and value of the PhD, particularly over the long run’  (Raddon and Sung, 2009, p.iv)

Among the research objectives of my PhD project (Tzanakou, 2012) was to examine the benefits and impact that the PhD had on Greek PhD graduates[ii] from both UK and Greek universities in their early career paths. This was a mixed methods research project including an online survey (244 responses[iii]) and 26 semi structured follow up interviews with a subsample of the respondents[iv].

Enhancing transferrable skills

PhD holders identified further benefits of doctoral education beyond acquiring specialised knowledge. Such benefits include a set of transferrable skills: problem-solving, critical reasoning, thinking in-depth and from different angles and perspectives. While these skills were emphasised by most respondents irrespective of the current workplace employment, those in non-academic settings were more likely than their counterparts in academia to report that the PhD – and mainly these skills developed during the PhD – enabled them to make a difference in the workplace.

This seems contradicting but it might not be. Doctorate holders can be innovative individually but might not be able to make a difference in the academic setting being at an early career stage in universities that are resistant to change. In contrast, in non-academic employment where a more diversified workforce in terms of qualification levels can be expected, the PhD experience was perceived as added value in distinguishing oneself from colleagues. For example, a PhD graduate, working in a Greek Ministry reported that the PhD had helped him to be more critical and use research skills to fulfil tasks compared to non-PhD graduates. Respondents working in the private sector also emphasised how their ability to think from different perspectives and solve problems during their PhD were points that made them differentiate from their counterparts.

The interviewees felt that they provided added value and their advanced abilities were recognised and appeciated in non-academic workplaces. This suggests that there were wider benefits for employers entailed by deploying such highly qualified personnel, suggesting reputation enhancement and knowledge spill overs through the diversity of personnel.

Social impact of the PhD

The social impact the PhD had on the respondents could be decomposed in three ways: a) development of social skills (communication, presentation), b) accessing professional networks and building personal relationships and c) societal recognition. During the PhD period, PhD candidates find themselves involved into teaching undergraduates and postgraduate students, presenting their research to colleagues and different audiences and networking during conferences and academic events. These activities enhanced interpersonal and communication skills of respondents and facilitated them in becoming a member of highly esteemed networks that were considered invaluable for social and professional life beyond the PhD.

When respondents were asked about the impact and benefits of the PhD, all female respondents referred to social relationships reporting how during the PhD they met their partners and very good friends and how they boosted collaboration and cooperation with colleagues. From a less positive perspective, they perceived the PhD as an activity that limited their leisure time and the ability to socialise beyond the academic community. Only two men working abroad shared a similar concern about limited opportunities to make a family and reconcile academic career with living near to family and friends. Interestingly, a small number of male respondents – who were working in the Greek private sector – reported that the PhD provided high status to societal circles possibly because the PhD is not a degree often required in the private sector as illustrated in the example below:

‘For example in some social circles, I believe it is considered as an advantage, let’s say as social status […] when they introduce you somewhere, it is mentioned that you have also done this.’

Personal development

Participants highlighted personal development gains through their PhD, such as maturity and independence. In addition, they reported further development of perseverance, persistence, time management and organizational skills among others. These skills were utilised not only in the workplace but also in their everyday lives. For example, respondents reported how a purchase of a domestic appliance was often completed after extensive research and increased scrutiny and how they thought methodically even about bureaucratic processes (e.g. completing and submitting documents to public services) in order to optimise time and effort involved.

In addition, personal satisfaction in their doctoral achievement, self-awareness and self-actualisation through meeting their professional aspirations and performing self-fulfilling employment roles were also reported as invaluable aspects of pursuing this qualification.

To sum up, research has been pre-occupied with the returns of doctoral degrees in financial terms but there is limited information about the impact of the PhD beyond these terms. This research provides examples of PhD gains and impact in terms of transferrable skills, social life and personal development. In this way, it is shown that PhD graduates in their reflective accounts identify a plethora of different benefits, which reflect the unique and individualised experience of a doctoral degree.

It should be mentioned though that these findings are limited to Greek PhD graduates in their early career paths and larger scale research is required to get a better understanding of the PhD incorporating ideally the perspectives of other stakeholders (employers, colleagues, etc) beyond self-perceptions of PhD graduates.

Dr. Charikleia Tzanakou is a Research Fellow, University of Warwick, UK. She is interested in transitions of higher education to the labour market, academic careers and gender.

This entry was initially posted on Ideas on Europe blog and was later reposted by University World News.


  • Anonymous. 2010. The Disposable Academic. The Economist. December 16
  • Auriol, L. (2010). Careers of Doctorate Holders: Employment and Mobility Patterns. OECD Science, Technology and Industry Working Papers, No. 2010/4. [Online] Available drom: [Accessed 03/03/2014].
  • Brinkley I. 2006. Defining the knowledge economy. Knowledge economy programme report. The work foundation.
  • Drezner D. 2013. Should you get a PhD. Foreign Policy. April 15.
  • Leadbeater, C. 1999. Living on thin air, London: Viking, Penguin
  • O’Leary, N. C.  and Sloane P.J. 2005. The return to a university education in Great Britain. National Institute Economic Review, 193(1), 75–89.
  • Raddon, A. & Sung, J. 2009. The career choices and impact of PhD graduates in the UK: A Synthesis Review.
  • Tzanakou C. 2012 Beyond the PhD: the significance of boundaries in the early careers of highly qualified Greek scientists and engineers. PhD Thesis, University of Warwick.
  • Walker, I. & Zhu, Y. 2010. Differences by degree: Evidence of the net financial rates of return to undergraduate study for England and Wales, Discussion paper series // Forschungsinstitut zur Zukunft der Arbeit, No. 5254

[i] For example, a Masters in Engineering and Technology (7.76%) provided a greater premium rather than a PhD (4.97%).


[ii] Doctoral education in Greece, in contrast to European countries, has maintained the master-apprenticeship model and seems not to have been influenced by doctoral reforms in Europe, which aimed at improving the quality of PhD studies. This supervision model along with the limited funding available for doctoral studentships and the absence of a regulatory framework are included among the main reasons that lead Greek PhD candidates either to dropout or to prolong their degree compared to those in the UK.


[iii] The profile of the survey respondents is summarised as following: 80% of the respondents completed their PhD in Greece, 20% in the UK, 75% men, 25% were women, more than 75% were 30-40 years old.


[iv] There is no comprehensive database of this population with contact information readily available, so a database of Greek PhD graduates in natural sciences and engineering from Greek and UK universities was developed for the purposes of this research. The data for Greek-educated PhD holders was derived from the National Documentation Centre which holds approximately 80% of doctoral theses. Due to the Data Protection Act, in terms of UK universities, Alumni centres and societies of foreign-educated Greek graduates forwarded and promoted the survey on behalf of the researcher. By those means, doctoral graduates were contacted to participate in an online survey to collect data on their PhD experience and transition to the labour market, achieving 244 responses. Unfortunately, it was difficult to identify Greek PhD graduates who completed their studies in the UK, thus only 50 of these had been UK-educated


Where is Horizon 2020 leading us?

Mitchell Young

As the year 2014 gets underway, the Europe of Knowledge also begins a new phase with the launch of Horizon 2020. Now that the budget wrangling is over and the calls for the first grant proposals have been published, we will finally begin to discover what Horizon 2020 does to reshape the research environment in Europe. While we do have clear statements (Commission 2011c) about its bringing together the instruments for research and innovation funding under a single umbrella which covers the complete innovation cycle; simplifying and unifying many of the administrative rules and procedures; and seeking to promote the competiveness of the EU with a strong linguistic flavoring from the Innovation Union discourse; still, there are far more questions than answers.

From Framework Programmes to Horizon 2020: ‘A Break from the Past’?

The first question has to be whether it is deserving of its unique name?  Rather than continue with the sequential numbering of framework programmes that has been in place for the past 30 years and which provided continuity for what became a deeply institutionalized EU policy instrument (see Banchoff 2002 for an interesting discussion of how the power of this instrument may have harmed other efforts at common research policy and initiatives), the eighth framework program provides in the commission’s words, ‘a break from the past.’ But what kind of a break does it mark? And why do we need this break at all when the framework programme is generally considered to be one of the ongoing successes of European policy? Banchoff’s argument might suggest that the framework programs as an institution had grown too powerful, but weakening the institution does not appear to be the aim of changing the name, rather, the hope is to strengthen it further. 

Horizon 2020 includes more tools and covers a broader set of policy problems than before, but there is still significant continuity. In a recent conference paper (Young 2013), I argued that the fundamental change is one of policy narrative. I compared the policy documents, proposals, impact assessments and green paper process to see how different types of policy narrative were used in Horizon 2020 in comparison with the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7). My conclusion was that Horizon 2020 marks a shift toward a New Public Management (NPM) narrative for structuring research policy. NPM involves making public administration more business-like by adopting private sector management practices within a competitive market context with the aims of increasing performance, efficiency and outputs (Hood 1991, Barlezay 2001, Power 2005, Pollitt and Bouckaert 2011). While there is a complex layering process at work in Horizon 2020 which still includes elements of other public administration narratives, the balance has moved towards quantitatively measureable outputs and the efficiency of excellence rather than inputs or processes as a means of judging success and steering performance. 

In a very basic sense, we can say that FP7 was developed in the optimistic climate of post-millennial globalization, whereas Horizon 2020 was developed in the climate of economic crisis. This shift is visible in looking at how the Commission frames the challenges which the EU faces in its Impact Analyses for FP7 and Horizon 2020. In 2005, the Commission produced this broad statement to contextualize FP7: ‘Our time is one of high uncertainty. It is rich with threats and challenges as well as opportunities. The bipolar world  has come  and  gone and with increasing globalization new trends are emerging: the supremacy of the United States, the rise or awakening of Asian giants, but also the persistence of underdevelopment and the growing inequalities between – and within – the nations of the world’ (Commission 2005, annex p.1). The document goes on to say that Europe is not adapting well to these external challenges. By 2011, the tenor has changed, and the Commission writes: ‘The key challenge is to stabilise the financial and economic system in the short term while also taking measures to create the economic opportunities of tomorrow’ (Commission 2011, p.2). The financial crisis steers policy in a more inward-looking direction and narrows the language of opportunities to focus on economically oriented ones.

More spending on research and innovation?

The headline objective at the time of FP7 was increasing spending on research and innovation, the so called Barcelona target of spending three percent of GDP in this area, which became one of the five key indicators for the Lisbon Strategy. Relatively little progress has been made towards this target, though it continues to feature as one of headline targets of the Europe 2020 strategy. We might therefore anticipate that Horizon 2020 would attempt to influence and promote national spending. Instead, direct references to input based spending targets are downplayed in Horizon 2020. Austerity arguments coupled with ideas of increasing efficiency in order to compensate for fewer funds predominate. The lack of input-side increases in the member states is also playing out on the European level, where stabilization is considered success. 

While Horizon 2020 is generously funded, and does represent a significant increase in overall funding in comparison with FP7, that increase is still not enough to stabilize the funding level from the final year of FP7. The first two years of Horizon 2020 together have 15 billion, whereas FP7 had nearly 11 billion in 2013 not including the funding for the Competitiveness and Innovation Framework Programme (CIP) which is now part of Horizon 2020. It is worth asking why a more aggressive approach was not taken? What does this tell us about the politicians trust in the rhetoric of research and innovation being the drivers of competitiveness? In other words, why was austerity chosen as the preferred solution to the Euro crisis?

Regardless of whether there are overall increases or not, European research policy provides only a very small amount (about 10%) (Commission 2011a) of the overall funding for research and innovation compared to national sources, but its policy objectives are targeted at affecting the entire European research environment. For that it needs leverage, which can take many forms, including co-ordination, co-option, being given control over parts of what was previously a national competence, and also modeling so-called ‘good practices’ and policy ideas. Some of the ways this is happening are described below. At the same time, the level of competition for European funds is increasing. If the commission’s expectations are correct, success rates in Horizon 2020 will drop to 15% from the 22% success rate of FP7. Competition is seen as a way to increase quality, but is there a point at which too much of it becomes counterproductive?

EU research policy – a blueprint for member states?

In his recent blog post on research policy in Austria, Thomas König describes how Horizon 2020 was used by the Austrian government in legitimizing changes in their research policy, particularly in bringing it under the purview of the ministry for economic affairs. Austria is not the first country to do this; it follows the UK and Spain, and likely others will follow in placing research under the jurisdiction of economic policy rather than with higher education. But the consequences of these structural changes may create dramatic changes in terms of how research is conducted. While the EU has pragmatic reasons for depicting research as an economic activity as this is what gives it grounds to act in what otherwise might be a national activity, its strong propagation of the economic justification for research can now be seen at work in national policymaking as a blueprint for policy and governmental design. Of course there are also many other actors which promote this position, but as we can see, the EU plays an important role.

Another major area of leverage is the growing trend for countries to piggyback on the European Research Council (ERC) evaluation process. There are now reportedly 12 member states that provide national funding to researchers who reach the second stage of the ERC funding process but whose projects are not retained for funding (European Research Council 2013). This encourages researchers to apply for ERC funding, which is time consuming and has a low success rate. It also demonstrates national confidence in the European system of evaluation and maybe a willingness to relinquish more control over research to the EU. There is a clear desire in seeing more such initiatives; one of the targets for Horizon 2020 named in the Commission’s proposal is ‘Number of institutional policy and national/regional policy measures inspired by ERC funding’ (Commission 2011c, p.96). Further details are not provided, but this is something to watch.

Growing divide in European research

The public consultation for Horizon 2020 which was conducted in 2011 (Commission 2011a), shows broad support for the EU’s initiatives and ideas on how to update the Seventh Framework Programme. While there are some critical contributions, for the most part, there are supportive statements from those nearly 2000 governments, universities, organizations, corporations and individuals that participated. However, we should note that levels of participation in the green paper process followed closely both the levels of national investment in research and development as well as scores on the 2013 Innovation Union Scoreboard. This is indicative of the growing divide in European research: the leading research countries are separating quickly from the rest, introducing the danger of a European geography where serious research only happens in select pockets.

The EU is quite aware of this, and the so called ‘widening debate’ for research is on the agenda. How to best address this issue is less clear. In the earlier framework projects, having partners in the EU-10 countries (new member states which join in 2004) was legislated into the program, and brought about quite a bit of well-deserved criticism. In Horizon 2020 excellence-only evaluation became nearly taken-for-granted and was employed in debates as something of a code word for not engaging distributive justice issues. The commission tried to move these issues, which it referred to as the ‘stairway to excellence’, off to the cohesion and structural funds and out of Horizon 2020.

In the end, the widening debate does have a small presence in Horizon 2020 with a section devoted to reducing the innovation divide in Europe (e.g. Teaming initiative). It is not, however, incorporated into any of the other instruments; is a standalone area which will be used to fund partnerships between research leaders and participants in countries which fall below 70% of EU average on the “Composite indicator of Research Excellence” (Horizon 2020 Work Program 2014-2015). This is a new measure that is based on four variables which purports to define research excellence. This quantification of excellence is yet another sign of the encroachment of a New Public Management narrative.

Chasing horizons

What this means for researchers remains to be seen. Pointing out the influence of neo-liberal thinking in Horizon 2020 allows us to consider how it is likely to steer outcomes. In many countries a similar shift has already taken place, so the EU is not breaking new ground, but by grounding its narrative in these ideas, the EU does strengthen the foundation for further changes. Will these changes make Europe the world leader in research as hoped? Are the indicators and benchmarks up to that task? Is a more concentrated system of research universities, like that found in the US, the way to achieve this? Which countries will be most effective in obtaining funds, and which researchers will get them? Will the new rules and conditions lead their projects be groundbreaking and risky or more conservative?

What kind of pursuit is Horizon 2020? I am reminded of this short poem by Stephen Crane:

I saw a man pursuing the horizon;

Round and round they sped.

I was disturbed at this;  

I accosted the man.

“It is futile,” I said,

“You can never —”

“You lie,” he cried,  

And ran on.

Chasing horizons in hopes of catching them is likely futile, but we may still find great value in the process of seeking to get there.


Mitchell Young works at Charles University in Prague (Czech Republic) in the Department of West European Studies where he is conducting his doctoral research on the implementation of research policy and issues related to European Higher Education and Research Area. 

This article was originally posted on the Europe of Knowledge blog.


  • Banchoff, T. (2002) ‘Institutions, Inertia and the European Union Research Policy‘, Journal of Common Market Studies, 40/1:1-21.
  • Barzelay, M. (2001) The New Public Management: Improving Research and Policy Dialogue Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • Commission of the European Communities (2005) Commission Staff Working Paper, Impact Assessment And Ex Ante Evaluation, SEC(2005) 430, Brussels.
  • Commission of the European Communities (2011a) Green Paper on a Common Strategic Framework for EU Research and Innovation Funding: Analysis of public consultation, Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union
  • Commission of the European Communities (2011b) Commission Staff Working Paper, Impact Assessment  Accompanying the Communication from the Commission ‘Horizon 2020 –  The Framework Programme for Research and Innovation,’ SEC(2011) 1427, Brussels.
  • Commission of the European Communities (2011c) Proposal for a Regulation of The European Parliament and of The Council establishing Horizon 2020 – The Framework Programme for Research and Innovation (2014-2020),COM(2011) 809, Brussels.
  • European Research Council (2013) Ideas 2 (June), Brussels: European Research Council.
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Europe of Knowledge 2014: High Expectations and Complex Realities

Inga Ulnicane


Image: “The Large Hadron Collider/ Atlas at CERN. Source:”

The New Year of 2014 in European research policy comes with a couple of high profile events: launch of Horizon 2020 – one of the largest research funding programmes worldwide and envisaged completion of the European Research Area – so far the most comprehensive initiative in transnational knowledge governance. These major events involve a lot of activities at the organisational, national and global levels to facilitate effectiveness of research organisations and funding, to promote mobility and to support collaboration.

The year 2014 also marks a number of interesting anniversaries in the European research integration. It is the 60th anniversary of CERN, the European Organisation for Nuclear Research where among other things 25 years ago World Wide Web was invented. Moreover, 30 years ago the first European Framework Programme providing funding for research and development was launched. These events provide an opportunity to reflect on why and how transnational governance in the field of research has evolved and what kind of benefits has it delivered.


Context: why does transnational knowledge governance matter?

Research is a unique area of transnational governance because at the micro-level of the scientific community and research practice it has a long-tradition of internationalisation. Already in the Middle Ages learned institutions of the time – universities and monasteries – were linked by religious institutions having a broad pan-European scope (Crawford et al. 1993). Major university cities such as Paris, Bologna, Padua, Oxford and Toledo attracted faculty and students from all over Europe. During early professionalization of science in the 17th and 18th centuries researchers exchanged information in self-organising networks known as “invisible colleges” (Crane 1972; Price & Beaver 1966; Wagner 2008) and co-authored publications (Beaver & Rosen 1978). The late 19th century and the early 20th century witnessed active formation of international science associations (Crawford et al. 1993). Scientific community has developed a worldwide system of journals, associations, conferences, and personal and institutional networks. Some disciplines such as natural sciences have longer and stronger traditions of international interaction than others, e.g. social sciences and humanities. Thus, the scientific community already historically has been more internationally connected than most of the other professions. International links have facilitated scientific discoveries by ensuring circulation of knowledge and bringing together necessary expertise.

In the recent decades international collaboration among scientists have increased as shown for example by the growth of internationally co-authored publications (Adams 2013) due to a number of scientific and other reasons such as increased specialisation in science, growth of interdisciplinary research, need for complex instrumentation, growth of information and communication technologies, globalisation of industry, policies supporting internationalisation and easier travel (Katz & Martin 1997). Recently, focus on the need for research to solve the so-called grand challenges – major socio-economic problems of global scope in areas such as health, environment and energy (Cagnin et al. 2012) – provides an additional push towards international collaboration.

In parallel to trans-national research networks and practices, science is also characterised by diverse national systems and strong national interests. Most of the research funding is allocated nationally. Nedeva (2013) conceptualises relationship between internationalised research community and predominantly national research funding as a “tension between inherently global research fields and largely localised research spaces”. According to her, transnational research governance is emerging as an attempt to alleviate this tension. Important steps in the development of trans-national research governance started in the aftermath of World War II. These include intergovernmental initiatives in developing large-scale research infrastructures, gradual development of EU level research policy and global initiatives such as recent establishment of the Global Research Council.


Some milestones in transnational research governance

One of the major intergovernmental international science initiatives started in 1954 with the establishment of CERN, the biggest particle physics laboratory in the world. Established by 12 European countries and strong involvement of the United States (Krige 2006) it has grown to 20 member states, many collaborating countries and some 10 000 scientists from more than 100 countries doing research there. Large-scale scientific infrastructure at CERN has enabled complex experiments such as observation of the Higgs boson in 2012 confirming the theory for which the Nobel prize in physics was awarded in 2013. Unexpectedly, in 1989 a major breakthrough far from the field of particle physics took place at CERN when in order to connect CERN’s internationally mobile staff Tim Berners-Lee invented World Wide Web; it was made freely available and lead to fast growth of the web. During its history CERN has experienced tensions between collaborative needs and national interests of its member states, which are present also in ongoing efforts to build a large scale scientific infrastructure such as the European Spallation Source (Hallonsten 2012).

In the gradual development of EU research policy, the launch of the First Framework Programme in 1984 was one of the major milestones. Initially, the Framework Programme mainly brought together existing initiatives such as the Joint Research Centre budget and the ESPRIT funding program for IT (Peterson & Sharp 1998). Moreover, increased involvement of the European Community in research experienced strong opposition from the major member states such as Germany and the UK. However, during 30 years the Framework Programme (with the Eighth Framework Programme known as Horizon 2020 starting in 2014) have expanded considerably, gained support from diverse stakeholder groups and experienced considerable shift in priorities, e.g. if the First Framework Programme was heavily dominated by funding for energy (50% of the budget) and ICT (25%) then in subsequent programmes funding for aims such as human capital and mobility experienced sharp increase.

The Framework Programme has facilitated cross-border collaborations and developed innovative research funding modes. However, a significant question is whether EU research policy can move beyond narrow focus mainly on EU level funding programmes (Banchoff 2003). The Framework Programmes/Horizon 2020 alone cannot address all the important issues in European research governance; having a more comprehensive mix of policy initiatives is important.


Completing the European Research Area in 2014: a realistic target?

The European Research Area initiative launched by the European Commission in 2000 is so far the most comprehensive initiative in developing transnational research governance (Edler et al. 2003; Delanghe et al. 2009). The key priorities for the ERA in which “researchers, scientific knowledge and technology circulate freely” are more effective national research systems, optimal transnational co-operation and competition, an open labour market for researchers, gender equality and circulation of scientific knowledge via digital ERA. The aim of ERA is to make European research more efficient, competitive and better able to address major socio-economic problems.

To achieve ERA aims, a number of revised and new funding and “soft” governance instruments are used. Funding instruments include not only new instruments within the Framework Programme (e.g. Networks of Excellence, Joint Technology Initiatives) but also joint research programmes among the member states and opening up of national programmes for international participation (Lepori et al. 2014).

Additionally, the ERA is developed by using “soft modes” of governance, i.e. the so-called Open Method of Coordination OMC which involves setting joint targets, monitoring how they are implemented in national policies and ensuring mutual learning. Such method of coordination is deemed to be appropriate to accommodate diversity of national research policies and heterogeneity of involved institutions; however its efficiency has been questioned (De Ruiter 2010; Kaiser & Prange 2004; McGuinness & O’Carroll 2010). The task of overseeing ERA-related OMC activities has been assigned to the European Research Area and Innovation Committee (ERAC) consisting of the EU Member States’ representatives. As the ERAC was formerly known as the CREST, Scientific and Technical Research Committee – advisory committee of national representatives established in 1974, an interesting question is if there is continuity of accumulating experience of mutual learning in EU research policy over 40 years.

While there have been considerable efforts to strengthen ERA governance as a partnership between the member states, stakeholders and the Commission, an important leadership function is undertaken by the Commission. For example, the Commission has undertaken the leading role in monitoring the ERA by publishing the first comprehensive ERA progress report in 2013; it remains to be seen if the monitoring exercises will enhance mutual learning and deliberation among the member states and stakeholders or will be seen merely as an additional reporting burden.

An important question remains about the usefulness of legal instruments in achieving the ERA aims. While the legally binding instruments can facilitate specific ERA priorities such as open labour market for researchers, it is less clear how much they can help in achieving “effective national research systems”. In 2013, new proposals (including the manifesto “A Maastricht for Research” by two members of the European Parliament) for legally binding measures to implement ERA were put forward. A possibility to make decisions in 2014 about the need for specific legal measures has been mentioned.

The year 2014 is a deadline for completing the ERA, as set out by a number of EU documents including the Innovation Union flagship. This deadline has been widely criticised by experts and stakeholders either as being set too early or as unnecessary for a very broad long-term agenda of ERA. As stated in the Science Europe Roadmap, ERA “is a long-term project, and to strive for its ‘completion’ would be to lack ambition”. Thus, in 2014 it is important to look beyond predictable headlines of “missed target” on how a comprehensive agenda of ERA can be implemented in a sustainable way.


Trends to watch in multi-level knowledge governance in 2014

Globalisation: some interesting ongoing developments at global level include an emerging worldwide network of research universities as well as activities dedicated to research integrity and open access by the Global Research Council – a voluntary cooperation among about 70 national and regional research councils established in 2012. At the times when new players (e.g. emerging economies like BRICS, MINTs[i], Asia) are shifting the balance of power in global science and higher education, it is interesting to observe new patterns of international collaboration and competition and Europe’s changing role and place, e.g. in Global University Rankings.

EU level: 2014 comes with important institutional and leadership changes in EU research governance. DG Research and Innovation is undergoing major reorganisation and will have a new structure. In May a new European Parliament will be elected and the Euroscience is planning to use the momentum to organise debates to raise the profile of science in Europe. The new Commission will come with a new Commissioner for Research and a new Commission’s president. In 2014 the European Research Council has a new president Jean-Pierre Bourguignon. It remains to be seen if new leaders and new EU presidencies – Greece (January-June) and Italy (July-December) – bring new priorities to research policy.

National level: a number of events in 2013 led to questions about how much national governments and society value research. Austerity measures hit science in countries such as Greece and Spain, while new cabinets in Austria and Australia omitted dedicated science minister portfolios. In 2014 one of occasions prompting debates about value and evaluation of research at national level could be the completion of the Research Excellence Framework in the UK.

Stakeholders: in 2013 a number of European stakeholder organisations such as Euroscience, Eurodoc, Voice of the Researchers and others continued to raise their voices on core issues such as research careers, mobility and doctoral training. Further debates can be expected at one of the major biennial stakeholder events this year, i.e. ESOF 2014  Euroscience Open Forum.

Research organizations: last but not least – how universities and research institutes will be affected by and respond to the changes at global, European and national level and how are they going to use their autonomy to participate in and shape them?

These ongoing developments in trans-national and multi-level governance of knowledge lead to a number of scholarly and policy relevant questions, for example: the ERA is presented as a Single Market for research but is the market model relevant for organising research systems (Georghiou 2006) and scientific community (Hagstrom 1965)? What are the underlying ideas and values in the European knowledge governance? How research policy priorities of “excellent science” and “societal challenges” are defined and implemented? How multi-level research governance interacts with governance in related policy areas such as higher education, innovation, environment, regional development and economy?

In 2014, UACES’s ERA CRN will address these and other questions in a number of workshops and publications. We look forward to engaging with other scholars and practitioners interested in the multi-level knowledge governance.

Dr.Inga Ulnicane is a political scientist and European studies scholar specializing in multi-level governance and policy of science, technology, innovation and higher education.

This entry was initially posted on Europe of Knowledge blog.


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[i] “BRICS” stands for Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, but “MINTs” stands for Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria and Turkey.

European initiatives in higher education – why should one care?

Martina Vukasovic

To paraphrase one of my colleagues: for all intents and purposes European integration in higher education should not exist. This is not a normative position, but rather an observation of what seems to be somewhat of a puzzle: the European Union has very limited formal competences with regards to education in general, or higher education in particular, but there nevertheless are several European initiatives in higher education that have emerged in the recent (and not so recent) years, like the Bologna Process or the Lisbon Strategy and its successor the Europe 2020 Strategy, that seem to have had significant impact on higher education systems and institutions.

Essentially, there are three dimensions to this phenomenon: (1) new initiatives (or a new governance layer, if you will) forming at the European level, (2) these initiatives having an impact on higher education in countries that are EU members or in some other ways are considered to be part of “Europe” and (3) European initiatives having an impact on developments well outside Europe (e.g. Latin America, US, or Asia-Pacific region). I will briefly discuss each of these dimensions, to provide the basis for the claim that studying the European governance layer in higher education in more detail can contribute not only to better understanding of higher education dynamics but also to better understanding of the dynamics of European integration, its causes and consequences.


Emergence of the European governance layer in higher education

Origins of the European governance layer in higher education were traced by Anne Corbett back to the early ages of the European Union; a number of key policy entrepreneurs and events that lead to what eventually became the Erasmus programme have been identified (Corbett 2005), which in turn lead to the question whether the Bologna Process is as novel as many claim it is (Corbett 2006). Furthermore, an issue of research interest is also how what essentially started as a voluntary process with an unclear governance structure grew into monitored coordination and a consolidated governance arrangement (Ravinet 2008), as well as what are the linkages between the pan-European Bologna Process and the EU Lisbon Strategy (Gornitzka 2010; Keeling 2006). In addition, the focus has also been on the strengthening of the European Commission position in the Bologna follow-up structures (despite initial attempts to exclude it) which adds a supranational element to an otherwise primarily intergovernmental arrangement (Corbett 2011) as well as on the increasing involvement of European stakeholder organizations, such as the European University Association EUA, European Students’ Union ESU, Education International EI, European Association of Institutions in Higher Education EURASHE, whose presence adds a transnational flavour (Elken and Vukasovic forthcoming).

Essentially, what can be observed is the emergence of a Europe of Knowledge based on two main pillars – Lisbon (and its successor Europe 2020) and Bologna – the first firmly grounded in the EU institutions and perhaps more focused on research (in which EU has more significant competences than in higher education), and the other having a more pan-European focus and focusing primarily on higher education (Elken et al. 2011; Maassen and Musselin 2009). Such complex governance arrangement, in which supranational, intergovernmental and transnational dynamics overlap and interact is by no means unique to higher education, given that within the EU, regardless of the sector in focus, similar complexity can be observed (Börzel 2010).

What is distinctive is the existence of both EU and pan-European elements in the European governance layer and how they interact. So far, this interaction served primarily to consolidate and legitimize both processes, but with the further enlargement of the EU (even if only in terms of awarding candidate status to more countries) and the somewhat slowed down tempo of the Bologna Process (ministerial summits now taking place every three instead of two years) it will be interesting to see whether the interaction will lead to fading out of the Bologna element of the European governance layer in higher education or those involved in the process (who also may have some vested interests in keeping it alive) will find a way to re-invent it.

Furthermore, European integration in higher education (and research) is of importance for other sectors as well, given that higher education is being exported as a policy solution to sectors such as social policy, economic competitiveness, environment and security, i.e. higher education is expected to provide solutions to problems identified in other policy sectors. So it could be argued that European integration efforts in these sectors, many of which are at the core of the EU project, will be shaped also by how integration in the area of higher education proceeds in the long run.


Impact on higher education systems and institutions within Europe

The second dimension concerns the impact the emerging European governance layer in higher education has on higher education systems and institutions, or what can be labelled as Europeanization (though see Olsen (2002) for a discussion on different uses of the term). The focus so far has been on convergence of governance approaches or legal frameworks (Amaral et al. 2012; Voegtle et al. 2011), implementation of the Bologna Process (Hoffman et al. 2008; Moscati 2009), the relationship to national policy reforms (Gornitzka 2006; Musselin 2009),  the mechanisms and scope of change in the context of Bologna (Capano and Piattoni 2011; Witte 2006) or the effects of particular elements of European initiatives, e.g.  the  Erasmus  programme (Beerkens and Vossensteyn 2011), the EU Framework Programmes for research (Primeri and Reale 2012), the European Standards and Guidelines for quality assurance in higher education (Stensaker et al. 2010) or the European Scientific Visa and the Blue Card (Cerna and Chou 2013).

Similar to Europeanization in other sectors (see e.g. Cowles et al. 2001; Falkner and Treib 2008), the impact of the European governance layer on higher education systems and institutions is notable, though it varies across countries and issues (EACEA 2012; Westerheijden et al. 2010). This variety is partly related to the characteristics of the European governance layer as such (see below) but also to the differences in the domestic contexts, primarily in terms path-dependencies when it comes to policy formation and implementation (what Falkner and Treib call “worlds of compliance”). Thus, it would be interesting to explore whether the changes primarily amount to what Vaira (2004) has labelled to be an allomorphism – convergence on the surface, diversity underneath. Furthermore, even if there is significant diversity underneath, that does not necessarily imply a weak impact of the European governance layer, but rather points to the ambiguity of some of its preferences (e.g. the social dimension highlighted in the Bologna Process) and the consequent diversity in domestic interpretations both in the process of policy formation and in the process of policy implementation.

As a knowledge intensive sector, higher education is marked by several types of autonomy – universities from the state, constituent departments in relation to their universities, professional autonomy of members of academic staff in relation to their institutions – leading to complex organizational arrangements which provide ample opportunities for translation, use and abuse of the preferences promoted in European initiatives in higher education. Moreover, the European governance layer is not the only source of external influence on higher education policy (and by extension higher education institutions). There are also more diffuse yet not necessarily less powerful global scripts (Meyer 2000) which interact in various ways with the European governance layer and with the domestic contexts.

Here lies another potential contribution of research on higher education to European studies. As Gornitzka and Maassen (2011) demonstrate with a study on autonomy and funding reforms in Denmark, Finland and Norway, even amongst the systems which can be seen to belong to the same “world of compliance”, i.e. even amongst the systems in which significant convergence can be expected, there can be differences in how the same global scripts and European preferences are interpreted and implemented. Thus, studying the different interactions between the global, European, national and local in higher education may be a fruitful exercise for understanding better the key characteristics of each of these layers of governance, and the scope of change that may come as a result of their interaction.


Impact beyond Europe

The relationship between the global scripts and the European preferences provides a good entry point to the discussion of the third dimension of interest – the impact the developments in Europe have on other areas of the world, or how European preferences may become global scripts. This is perhaps the dimension that has been least studied so far. There is some evidence of this impact in higher education, judging by the focus on the external dimension of the Bologna Process (Zgaga 2011) and the establishment of the Bologna Policy Forum taking place in parallel to the Bologna Ministerial Summit, which in 2012 in Bucharest was attended by 23 non-European countries.

Furthermore, there is evidence that the European experience has been an inspiration for other regions of the world. Chinese higher education master plan for 2020 focuses on degree structures, while 52 countries from the Asia-Pacific region in 2006 adopted the Brisbane Communiqué and developed a follow-up governance structure similar to that of Bologna. The experiences from the so-called Tuning project have been exported to Latin America, the US, Russia and Africa with active (financial) support from the European Commission though with different outcomes (in Latin America it seems not to have taken off completely) and the US has increased recognition of the three year bachelor degrees in order to facilitate mobility from Europe to the US (Westerheijden et al. 2010). While the underlying mechanisms of such developments have not been identified in sufficient detail and while there is little data on how these initiatives develop over time, a good starting point could be to analyse whether such developments can be interpreted primarily as the voluntary lesson-drawing by the countries and regions outside of Europe because of Europe’s normative power (Birchfield 2013; Hyde-Price 2006; Manners 2002; Scheipers and Sicurelli 2007) or whether Europe actually plays an active role in these processes for strategic reasons.

In sum, it appears that research on higher education dynamics, either within Europe or beyond, is less and less possible without taking into account multi-level and multi-actor governance arrangements of which the European governance layer is a significant part of. Moreover, research on “all things European” could benefit from focusing more on an area which may be seen as less likely case of European integration and Europeanization, but in which significant developments involving the European governance layer nevertheless abound.


Martina Vukasovic is currently working within the Odysseus project on higher education governance at the Department of Sociology, Ghent University, Belgium. Until November 2013 she was a member of the Higher Education: Institutional Dynamics and Knowledge Cultures Research Group at the Department of Education, University of Oslo, Norway. Her PhD thesis, recently submitted for evaluation, focuses on higher education change in the several countries of the former Yugoslavia and the role the European initiatives have had in these processes.


This entry was initially posted on Europe of Knowledge blog.



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Integrating Science and Research into the Ministry of Economy in Austria: Better Coordination of Innovation Cycle?

Thomas König


After the election on 29 September 2013, Austria is facing another five years of the same coalition government under the Social Democrat Werner Faymann (SPÖ) and his junior partner, the conservative Christian People’s Party (ÖVP). While the Austrian media is almost unison in attesting this renewed government a sense of gridlock, one decision has caused an outcry and stirred even demonstrations: there will be no independent ministry for science and research anymore. Instead, the conservative Reinhold Mitterlehner will add the science and higher education agenda under the wings of his Ministry of Economy.

Among the many critics, some (the author included) have argued that this may constitute an opportunity, since the minister is a heavyweight within the government (unlike his hapless predecessor, Minister Töchterle). The majority however holds that the move is a simple sign of further economisation of the higher education sector. Almost no one outside of the government believes that the decision follows a distinct political strategy; judging on ground of the past five years, we know that the two parties in power are hardly interested in science and research at all. In the concrete context of forging the government, it seems as if science had to yield to a separate portfolio for family affairs (the number of ministries should not be extended, and family affairs is deemed more necessary by the heads of the government).


Austria: Innovation Leader or Follower?

Dismantling the ministry of science and research has a distinctive European angle. According to the European Commission’s Innovation Union Scoreboard, assessing the research and innovation performance of the EU27 Member States, in 2013 Austria is still an “Innovation Follower” – despite being one of the wealthiest and most productive economies in the Union. In 2011, the previous Austrian government (with the same chancellor, the same Vice-chancellor, and the same minister for economic affairs) has adopted the so-called FTI-Strategy (Forschung-Technologie-Innovation, Research-Technology-Innovation), which boldly proclaims to make Austria an “Innovation Leader”.

The goal to become an “Innovation Leader” is ambitious, although probably not too ambitious for a country that is faring quite well during the last years. Austria, however, has embarked on a Sonderweg, particularly in comparison with other European countries of similar size: unlike Israel, Denmark, Switzerland, or Sweden, the Austrian government is devoting more than 2/3 of public R&D money to industry-related research. The contributions for basic research and universities are far lower than in the countries just mentioned.

The problems of the basic research-funding agency, FWF, and also of the universities (that have made world media coverage in 2009/10 when #unibrennt movement against restrictions to the access to higher education spread from Vienna), can be found in this rather unique and, some would suggest, quite unfair balancing of taxpayers’ money. In any case: private industry already benefits from the expansion of investment more than the public institutions such as universities. Against this backdrop, the integration of science and research into the ministry of economy could be interpreted as another blow for the scientific community in Austria.


Looking to Europe

It is, however, noteworthy to take a closer look at the various justifications for the integration (or merger?) given by the new minister Mitterlehner early this week. Interestingly, they also refer to European issues of science policy.

The first justification by Mitterlehner for integrating the science and research agenda into the ministry for economic affairs referred to European good practice models: countries like UK or Spain had done a similar merger, so the minister. It is true that in both countries, the universities, research, and science in general belong to a larger ministry (or department). In UK, however, the institutional set-up of the executive branch is too different for easy comparison. Also, with David Willets, there is a dedicated Minister of State for Science and Universities. By and large, the Spanish solution resembles what is happening in Austria right now. If that were true, the future is bleak: for the moment at least, we can only hope that the brutally hard and ignorant path of the Spanish government towards science will not serve as a template for the Austrian government.

The other justification is about synergy effects: by bringing together two branches of the national administration, policy instruments should be better coordinated in the future. Mitterlehner even mentioned that his ministry would now cover the entire innovation chain (in this written statement, this was quietly exchanged to the more appropriate notion of the innovation cycle). In the same context, the minister explicitly refers to the new European research-funding programme. The ministry would now basically mirror the different facets and pillars of Horizon 2020.

It is true that the Austrian innovation and research system requires better coordination (like many other national innovation systems do). However, it is not true that the Ministry of Economy now covers all instruments, from funding basic research to industry-support. Most of the instruments directed at applied research are actually located in the Ministry for Transport, Innovation and Technology (bmvit). And anyhow, even if all instruments were to be located under the roof of one ministry, it is doubtful that this would result in better coordination – or at least, historically, it did not, as we learned in the early 2000s, when the bmvit was actually the only principal of almost all various agents.


Merger or subordination?

Still, the reference to Horizon 2020 is quite interesting. It is a signal that this programme has become the point of reference of research policy in EU Member States. It is also an interesting remark because it may indicate that the new leadership will be more outward looking, and will focus more on the political agenda of the European Research Area. If that were the case, the new minister may indeed start to appreciate basic research as a value on its own; and, maybe as important, he may build up more pressure on the universities to reform, something that is dearly missing so far.

So, what do we learn from this trip into the narrow world of Austrian science policy? Firstly, that the Austrian Sonderweg is probably to continue, even though the institutional integration of two ministries also holds the (unlikely) promise of strengthening all ties of the innovation cycle (and particularly the weak basic research). Secondly, we come to realize that the justifications mentioned above either do not hold, or have to be seen as signs of worse to come. And thirdly, we learn that the European research policy agenda, and “Horizon 2020” in particular, has become the point of reference for science policy in a European Union member state like Austria. Is the latter good news? Much will depend whether Minister Mitterlehner will interpret the enlargement of his portfolio as a merger of two ministries, or as the subordination of science and research under the Ministry of Economy. For that, and for concrete results of this development, we will have to wait and see.


Dr.Thomas König is currently on parental leave. In 2014, he will be a Fulbright Scholar at the Center for European Studies, Harvard University.


This post initially appeared on Europe of Knowledge blog.