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Are English Universities likely to stop having to comply with EU public procurement law?

Albert Sanchez Graells

One of the elements implicit in the on-going discussion about higher education reform in England concerns the extent to which changes in the funding and governance structure of HEFCE (to be transformed into the Office for Students, or any other format that results from the consultation run by BIS) can free English universities from their duty to comply with EU public procurement law.

The issue is recurring in the subsequent waves of higher education reform in England, and the same debate arouse last summer following BIS statements that the most recent reform (lifting the cap on student numbers) would relieve English universities of their duty to comply with EU public procurement law (see discussion here).

Overall, then, there is a clear need to clarify to what extent English universities are actually and currently obliged to comply with EU public procurement rules, both as buyers and as providers of services. That analysis can then inform the extent to which in the future English universities are likely to remain under a duty to comply with EU public procurement rules.

This is what my colleague Dr Andrea Gideon and myself have done in our paper “When are universities bound by EU public procurement rules as buyers and providers? – English universities as a case study“. As the abstract indicates

In this study we provide an up-to-date assessment of situations in which universities are bound by public procurement rules, as well as the combined changes that market-based university financing mechanisms can bring about in relation to the regulation of university procurement and to the treatment of the financial support they receive under the EU State aid rules. National differences in funding schemes are likely to trigger different answers in different EU jurisdictions. This study uses the situation of English universities as a case study.

The first part focuses on the role of universities as buyers. The traditional position has been to consider universities bound by EU public procurement rules either as state authorities, or because they receive more than 50% public funding. In the latter case, recent changes in the funding structure can create opportunities for universities to free themselves from compliance with EU public procurement rules.

In the second part, we assess the position of universities as providers. Here the traditional position has been that the State can directly mandate universities to conduct teaching and research activities. However, new EU legislation contains specific provisions about how and when teaching and research need to be procured if they are of an economic nature. Thus, accepting the exclusion of university services from procurement requirements as a rule of thumb is increasingly open to legal challenge.

Finally, the study assesses if and in how far universities can benefit from exemptions for public-public cooperation or in-house arrangements either as sellers or buyers. 

The full paper is available on SSRN:

We have submitted our piece of research to BIS as part of the consultation on the green paper. We hope that our research and the insights it sheds can inform the discussion on the new mechanisms for the allocation of the teaching grant to English universities (and particularly the discussion around Q18 of the consultation).

Dr Albert Sanchez Graells is Senior Lecturer in Law at the University of Bristol Law School, and a Member of the European Commission Stakeholder Expert Group on Public Procurement (2015-18). He is a specialist in European economic law, with a main focus on competition law and public procurement. Albert is a regular speaker at international conferences and has been recently invited by the European Court of Auditors and European Commission as a specialist academic in public procurement and competition matters. He has also advised the World Bank and other international institutions regarding public procurement reform.

This post first appeared on: How To Crack a Nut


Organising scholarly networks: workshop programme

Organising scholarly networks

18 December 2014, Gaskell Building Rm 210, Brunel University London


10.00:                 Coffee

10.30-11.30:       Keynote 1: Louise Ackers (Salford)

11.30-13.00:       Panel 1: Scientific Diplomacy

  • Tom Rusbridge (Sheffield): ‘England in Europe: Scholarly mobility in the sixteenth century’
  • Meng-Hsuan Chou & Tamson Pietsch (Nanyang Singapore & Brunel/Sydney): ‘Organising scholarly networks: a literature review’
  • Rasmus Gjedssø Bertelsen (Aalborg): ‘Arctic Science Diplomacy: accommodating a rising Asia’
  • Commentator: Julie Smith (Cambridge)

13.00:                  Lunch

14.00-15.30:       Panel 2: Impacts and effects

  • Branwyn Poleykett (Cambridge): ‘Being mobile, making meaning: studying exchanges of scientific ‘capacity’ between Denmark and East Africa’
  • Lisa Scordato, Trude Røsdal, Agnete Vabø, Siri Aanstad & Rachel Sweetman (Nordic Institute for Studies in Innovation, Research and Education): ‘The impact of academic mobility programmes’ on strategic knowledge exchange’
  • Inga Ulnicane (Vienna): ‘What role does mobility play in international research collaboration?’
  • Commentator: Julie Smith (Cambridge)

15.30:               Coffee

16.00-17.00:     Keynote 2: Heike Jöns (Loughborough)

17.00:                Drinks

18.30:                Dinner for speakers

For further information, and if you wish to attend, please contact the organisers:

Dr Tamson Pietsch (Brunel/Sydney) tamson.pietsch [at]

Dr Meng-Hsuan Chou (Nangyang Technological University) hsuan.chou [at]


We acknowledge the generous support of the following institutions:

Society for Research into Higher Education

Nanyang Technological University Singapore

The University of Sydney

Brunel University London

Higher Education and World Politics

Isaac Kamola

PS coverIn recent decades the world has witnessed massive expansion of higher education. The total number of universities is continuing to expand, as is the total percentage of the world’s population receiving college degrees.[1] Many governments, most notably in the Middle East and Asia, are spending large amounts of money on higher education in the hopes of creating new opportunities and pathways for economic development. However, even as politicians recognize universities as important sites of international trade, economic development, geopolitical strategy, and elite socialization, higher education nonetheless remains fairly absent from scholarly conversations about international relations and world politics.  While there is a growing body of policy-focused research on the “globalization of higher education,” and an equally sizable literature on particular challenges facing various national and regional higher education systems, there has been less of an interest in broader question: How might we begin to think universities as themselves locations of world politics?


Universities as significant political actors

For those interested in this question, we would like to bring your attention to a symposium—“Higher Education and World Politics”—recently published in PS: Political Science and Politics (July 2014).  Originating with a series of panels organized at the International Studies Association’s general meetings (2011 through 2014), this symposium is itself a transnational conversation among scholars in North and South America, Asia, and Europe concerning how the social science literature—and that of international relations and world politics in particular—might better understand and theorize universities as significant political actors.


Drawn on cases from different regions in the world, the pieces in this symposium draw upon various regional analyses to make broader claims about how to begin thinking about the multiple and varied ways in which universities not only affect international relations but are themselves locations of world politics. The first piece, by Isaac Kamola, pushes back against the claim that African universities lag behind a globalizing trend, arguing instead that their colonial and postcolonial histories actually make them exemplars of “the global university.” Neema Noori’s piece examines how norms of academic freedom travel (or fail to travel) to the Middle East via branch campuses and private American-style universities.


A contribution on European policy formation by Meng-Hsuan Chou studies the numerous challenges faced by those working towards the integration of European higher education, and the mobility of scholars in particular. In her chapter on post-communist Serbian universities, Martina Vukasovic argues that treating universities as single international actors ignores the fact that universities are not homogenous entities but rather institutions constituted by individuals and groups that—especially during times of great political contestation—often find themselves in competition against each other. Salvador Peralta and Thiago Pacheco’s piece offers a detailed analysis of why leftist parties in Latin American, many of which came to power on a platform of education reform, have proven unable to enact sweeping changes due to domestic and international constraints. Rasmus Bertelsen rounds out the symposium with a historical account of the Christian-American missionary universities created in the Middle East, and the role they played in extending reverse soft-power—namely, giving host countries an avenue by which to inform American policy towards the region.


Higher education and the production of “the global”

Taken as a whole, these cases offer important insights into the various ways in which universities might be thought of as important actors in world politics. First, universities are seen as playing an important material role circulating people, money, ideas, and field expertise. While much of the conversation about “globalization” focuses on locations such as cities, financial hubs, international institutions, and production facilities, this symposium offers a number of compelling reasons why universities should also be added to this list.


Secondly, while there is much talk about interconnection among universities, the world of higher education is also incredibly heterogeneous and asymmetrical. International ranking schemes like the Times Higher Education Rankings and Academic Rankings of World Universities (Shanghai Jiao Tong University), after all, frame universities as firms competing within a highly competitive “global” playing field. The world of higher education, therefore, might be understood as a point of tension between the isomorphic trends towards a “world culture” of higher education, on one hand, and a diversity of lived realities, national and statist agendas, historical and cultural settings, and cultural terrains, on the other. In other words, universities might be thought as points of considerable “friction”[2].


And, finally, just as universities reproduce existing social and power inequalities, they also provide important opportunities for resistance and transformation. Universities around the world have historically served as institutions the open a space for thinking the world differently and for cultivating domestic and global contestation.


It is our hope that this contribution begins a more widespread conversation among social scientists about the role our colleagues, our students, and our institutions play in the making of world politics. Doing so will not only provide a more robust understanding of universities as political and economic institutions, but also expands the conceptual contours of what counts as “world politics.”


Isaac Kamola is an assistant professor of political science at Trinity College, Hartford, Connecticut, the United States. His research examines how the material transformation of post-Cold War higher education in the U.S. and Africa inform how the world came to be imagined as “global.” His scholarly work has appeared in International Political Sociology, British Journal of Politics and International Relations, Journal of Higher Education in Africa, Third World Quarterly, Polygraph, and Transitions as well as numerous edited volumes.

This entry has been initially posted on Ideas on Europe blog platform.


[1] I would like to thank Neema Noori for his help writing this post and editing the symposium in PS.

[2] Tsing, Anna Lowenhaupt. 2005. Friction: An Ethnography of Global Connection. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

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.

Approaching Europe: Israel and the Knowledge-Based Society

Yoav Freidman, Hannah Moscovitz and Hila Zahavi 


The conference “Approaching Europe: Israel and the Knowledge-Based Society”, jointly organized by Ben-Gurion University of the Negev’s Bologna Training Center (BTC) and the Israel office of the Konrad-Adenauer Foundation, sought to examine the European experience in higher education policy and reform, focusing on the European Higher Education Area (EHEA) and Bologna Process in particular, in order to shed light on this global process and explore the implications for the Israeli higher education system. Against the backdrop of the diverging trends in Israel; the lack of a clear governmental policy on the one hand and the strengthening of ‘bottom up’ initiatives on the other, the conference aimed to draw lessons from the European experience and to strengthen the understanding of current patterns in order to better grasp the policy implications for Israel. To this end, this year’s conference brought together faculty, students, practitioners and governmental representatives for a joint discussion on these matters.


BTC May 2014

From left to right: Inbal Avnon (NUIS), Fernando Galan Palomares (ESU), Anne Boddington (Brighton University), and Meng-Hsuan Chou (NTU)


While Europe has developed policies towards its higher education systems based on the vision of academic institutions as engines of growth for both economic and social development, Israel has yet to bring higher education policy to the forefront of the public debate. This is clear with regards to the development of academia-industry links. Although Israel is considered as a global power house for high-tech industries, the governmental level has yet to develop a strategy for binding the industry to academia for mutual benefit. While activities and programs promoting ties between industry and higher education in Israel do exist, they remain mainly local and sporadic initiatives within institutions themselves.

There is great potential for Israel to learn from the European experience in the area of higher education. However, in the absence of an articulated national policy towards the European Higher Education Area and the Bologna Process, the Israeli higher education system risks floundering as Israel’s society and economy distance themselves from global trends. Similarly to the case of the industry-academia collaboration in Israel, the academic cooperation with the European Higher Education Area is primarily driven by “bottom up” initiatives. There is an increasing interest and desire by Israeli higher education institutions to strengthen ties with Europe in the academic sphere. That being said, such initiatives have yet to be led by the National Council for Higher Education or other governmental bodies.


A missing perspective: Students are stakeholders

At the forefront of the conference discussion was the increasing importance of including student bodies as equal stakeholders in the various processes shaping higher education policies. Representatives from both the European Students’ Union (ESU) and the National Union of Israeli Students (NUIS) presented their perspective on the issues involved in the development of ‘knowledge-based’ societies. The growing European- level student platform was described by the ESU representative. Through its wide-ranging activities, the ESU underlines the importance of considering students as full members of the university community as opposed to “consumers”. As highlighted by the NUIS representative, the Israeli system lags behind in encouraging student involvement in policy issues related to higher education. Consequently, the student perspective is not typically represented in discussions on higher education policy and reform. Including the student view set the stage for a continued discussion on the importance of student representation and involvement in higher education governance in the country.

The student representatives were asked to assess the distinction between the concept of knowledge-based economy and that of knowledge-based society. Are these terms inter-changeable? Are there contradictions between them? Both the European and Israeli representatives discussed the fact that the idea of a knowledge-based society incorporates the economy but not necessarily vice-versa. Using the term knowledge-based society allows a wider perspective of the university’s missions.  The student representatives also related to the issue of employability as a major concern. However, they noted that while economic factors are important, they should not come at the expense of the university’s social mission. The fact that higher education should also be concerned with preparing students for active citizenship, personal development as well as maintaining a broad and advanced knowledge base was highlighted.


Beyond ‘bottom-up’ initiatives: developing an Israeli national strategy

Another important message highlighted by several speakers, was the fact that Israel has yet to develop a clear position vis a vis the Bologna Process and other global trends in the field of higher education. The importance of promoting ties and cooperation with Europe through various channels like Tempus and Erasmus Mundus projects was emphasized. While Israel is not a signatory member of the Bologna Process, there is a growing interest in participation in European funded projects as well as strengthening ties with European institutions in the academic sphere.  In particular, Israeli institutions are increasingly interested in understanding the Bologna Process and its various features in order to potentially implement them within their programs. For instance, in order to promote student mobility between European and Israeli institutions, it is crucial for Israeli universities and colleges to understand the ECTS (European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System) and to have a compatible system in place for credit transfers from Europe to Israel and vice-versa. The conference lectures strengthened the fact that these initiatives, while growing, have until now remained at the institutional level.

The comparative view between the European and Israeli discourses on the role of academia in society shed light on the fact that Israel is lacking a genuine debate over the future missions of academia. The discussion which evolved during the conference highlighted the fact that an articulated strategy for an “Israel of Knowledge” is crucial. The Bologna Training Center hopes that this discussion, relating to the overall quality, modernization and internationalization of higher education systems, will continue to develop through future events and activities in Israel.


Yoav Freidman, Hannah Moscovitz and Hila Zahavi are PhD students in the Department of Politics and Government in Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. They also work as project coordinators at the Bologna Training Center.

This entry was simultaneously published on Europe of Knowledge blog.

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.


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  • 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


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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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.

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.

Economic imaginary of the European knowledge economy – ideas and discourse

Janja Komljenovič

After being in the back front of higher education policy making for a good decade – between 80s and 90s of the past century (Corbett, 2006, 2011), the European Commission got a new opportunity to establish itself as an influential actor in the European higher education sector[i]. And it managed to do so quickly and strongly. In 2001 it became a full member of the Bologna Follow Up group with voting rights (the only non-state actor) which enabled it to co-create the Bologna agenda. The Bologna Process proved to be an important drive for higher education reforms on the European continent as well as a legitimation arena for certain projects (e.g. financial support for establishing the European Quality Assurance Register for Higher Education EQAR, or progressing EU’s work on transparency tools like the multidimensional ranking of higher education institutions U-Multirank). In other words, the European Commission (EC) could legitimate its financial support for projects that were established based on the Bologna Process. Through it the EU financed many initiatives and programmes to progress its vision of higher education.

But besides the Bologna Process, other events and strategies turned European higher education into a strategic tool for the economy, which are circling mainly around the Lisbon agenda of 2000. In our analysis, we have integrated two approaches: the analysis of main higher education related documents of the EC and the Council of the EU released since 2000 (17 of them) and 9 interviews with various officials ranging from civil servants to external experts responsible for higher education or involved in the creation of the texts in the EC and the Council of EU. Our main approach was the Discourse-Historical Approach (DHA) and more broadly Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA). In our findings we identified three categories of ideational and discursive practice of the EU that connected higher education to the knowledge economy hegemonic imaginary (Jessop, 2008; S. Robertson, 2008; S. L. Robertson, 2010). These are: (1) instrumentalisation of higher education for economic goals, (2) ideating the new governance and steering of higher education, and (3) ideational and normative convergence – towards new constitutionalism.

In the first category – instrumentalisation for higher education for economic goals – we show that higher education turned from an untouchable field under nation states’ subsidiarity to the instrumental field for realising the Europe of Knowledge. The latter is constructed as the ultimate goal connected to economic prosperity in the global competition. Higher education is thus said to be essential means to reach European goals. The dominant discursive topic is the flow of (applied) knowledge from universities to business and society. Connecting universities to industry or enterprise is strongly promoted and proposed in different ways (spin offs, start-up companies, attracting talents from other regions, more and employable graduates, innovation). The normative background is created by pointing to many problems within European higher education which paves the way for contextual legitimacy for the proposed policy and programs. The offered ideas are thus presented as rational and feasible solutions to the outlined challenges. As if there are no other possibilities. In the mid 2000’s the discursive argument is complemented with the key word ‘excellence’ which emerges from competition and ensures attractiveness. The term ‘relevance’ appeared as a new discursive element which created an idea that it is in the public interest for universities to respond to such demands of society. In 2011 jobs became a central discursive item which further presented higher education as responsible for creating jobs, economic growth, providing appropriate skills, building human capital.

In the second category – new governance and steering – we present the discursive image or legitimation for governance reforms. The discursive strategy is to create a notion of inevitability and urgency to reform the European higher education system as ‘European universities are not fit to compete’. This is done through the messages like the ones that European universities are poorly positioned at the world rankings and lag behind their US counterparts. Consequently the ‘modernisation’ of the governance structures and financing systems are proposed in parallel to the revision of the concept of autonomy. The European Commission was advancing policy proposals in the fields of funding and quality assurance – the two strongest steering mechanisms of the higher education system. The funding is proposed to be based on multiyear contracts that would set out strategic objectives. The idea is to change it from basic to outcomes based, competitive and relevance rewarding. The funding is supposed to urgently increase, but from the private sources (i.e. industry and students). In the field of quality assurance a common European market is seen to be created with national agencies complying with the European standards and becoming members of the European register EQAR. Such agencies would operate in other European countries and higher education institutions would be free to choose. Autonomy is conceptualised as a management tool for achieving efficiency. Universities are thus expected to reform in line with the principles of the New Public Management to become more efficient, productive and economically relevant.

In the third category – towards new constitutionalism – we note that the EU indirectly creates an imaginary in which nation states alone are not able to compete at the global scale which requires regional solutions, thus creating an argument for ‘enter EU’. Moreover, higher education is compared to other economic sectors (it is mentioned that the EU has successfully supported conversion processes of steel industry and agriculture and that it is now time to modernise its ‘knowledge industry’). There are clear tendencies to shift some regulatory competences for higher education to the supranational level with the result of increasing ‘soft regulation’ such as harmonising criteria/standards, guidelines, comparisons, monitoring reports, states’ reporting etc. In other words, it is still the competence of nation states and higher education institutions to regulate and make decisions, but they do so in line with the guidelines, objectives, procedures and technologies created at the European level. Moreover, we notice institutionalisation at the European level – e.g. support for the European Association for Quality Assurance in Higher Education ENQA, creation and strengthening of EQAR and EU transparency tools such as U-Multirank.

With such normative legitimation the ground is made fertile for reforms; solutions are proposed and presented as the only feasible and most logical; and consequently certain reforms are materialised. In addition, the EU is gaining competence and power over higher education at the regional level successfully circumventing national sovereignty. Our analysis illuminates the constructed direction of change of the European higher education. It is indeed in coherence with the hegemonic economic imaginary. It includes a variety of narratives, constructed realities, problems and proposals which seem to be obvious, rational and appropriate courses of action. What societal effects this will have in the future is still to be seen.

Janja Komljenovič is a Marie Curie PhD fellow at University of Bristol, UK.

This post has been initially published on “Europe of Knowledge” blog.


Corbett, A. (2006). Key Moments of the European Political Debate on Higher Education The Politics of European University Identity. Political and Academic Perspectives. Proceedings of the Seminar of the Magna Charta Observatory, 14 September 2006. Bologna: Bononia University Press.

Corbett, A. (2011). Ping Pong: competing leadership for reform in EU higher education 1998–2006. European Journal of Education, 46(1), 36-53. doi: 10.1111/j.1465-3435.2010.01466.x

Jessop, B. (2008). The cultural political economy of the knowledge-based economy and its implications for higher education. In B. Jessop, N. Fairclough & R. Wodak (Eds.), Education and the knowledge based economy in Europe (pp. 13-39). Rotterdam: Sense.

Komljenovič, J. and Miklavič, K. (2013), ‘Imagining higher education in the European knowledge economy: Discourse and ideas in communications of the EU’, in Zgaga, P., Teichler, U. and Brennan, J. (eds.) The globalisation challenge for European Higher Education: Convergence and Diversity, Centres and Peripheries. Bern: Peter Lang, pp.33-54.

Robertson, S. (2008). Embracing the global: crisis and the creation of a new semiotic order to secure Europe’s knowledge-based economy. In B. Jessop, N. Fairclough & R. Wodak (Eds.), Education and the knowledge based economy in Europe (pp. 89-108). Rotterdam: Sense.

Robertson, S. L. (2010). The EU, ‘regulatory state regionalism’ and nre modes of higher education governance. Globalisation, Societies and Education, 8(1), 23-37.

[i] This text is a summary of findings that are discussed in depth in Komljenovič, J. and Miklavič, K. 2013, where we analyse how the European Commission and other EU bodies created an economic imaginary around higher education.