Open Seminar: New actors in multi-level governance of higher education in Europe. European stakeholder organizations and university alliances

Presenter is Martina Vukasovic,Postdoctoral Researcher at CHEGG, Department of Sociology, Ghent University.

Martina Vukasovic. Photo: private


The seminar will discuss results of studies on higher education governance in Europe, using the interest group and epistemic communities perspectives, while the organizational and network perspectives will be discussed primarily in the context of possible avenues for further research. With the start of the Bologna Process and the increasing EU focus on the knowledge sector as the driver of economic, social and cultural development, higher education governance in Europe has become a clearly multi-level affair. However, the change is not limited only to upward or downward shifts in the locus of decision-making, but also includes increasing involvement of new actors, namely organizations which explicitly claim to represent different stakeholders (universities, students, academic staff etc.). On the European level, these are, for example the European University Association, European Students Union, Education International etc. In addition, on the European level there are also university alliances (e.g. League of European Research Universities - LERU, Coimbra Group, Network of Universities from the Capitals of Europe – UNICA, etc.) which provide opportunities for exchange of knowledge and experience across countries and governance levels and some of them also try to influence the European decision-makers.

These new actors can be studied from several perspectives. From an interest group perspective (Beyers et al. 2008; Eising 2008), these organizations are seen to have a clear political mandate to influence decision-makers. They might be ‘insiders’ (that is, be officially recognized as representatives of a particular stakeholder and have direct access to decisions-makers) or they might be ‘outsiders’. The main interests in this line of research would be which groups are ‘insiders’ or ‘outsiders’, under what conditions do they change from one to the other, which strategies do they employ in influencing decision-makers, and how successful are they in doing so. In addition, whether these groups professionalize over time, how they formulate their policy positions and how these policy positions change over time is also of interest, given that there is an expectation that involvement of these organizations may increase legitimacy to European decision-making, provided they (continue to) faithfully represent the interests of their constituents.

These organizations can also be seen as epistemic communities (Haas 1992), facilitating policy transfer through social learning by organising conferences, seminars, training for members, conducting projects, etc. As national HE governance has also shifted towards a corporate-pluralist mode, non-state actors, universities and student unions are now key actors in national policy development and implementation. Therefore, the European stakeholder organizations and university alliances can also act as agents of soft (non-coercive) policy transfer, both cross-nationally (horizontal policy transfer) and between the European and the national level (vertical policy transfer) and thus it would be interesting to explore whether and how they do so.

From an organizational perspective, it is important to stress that stakeholder organizations and university alliances have other organizations as their members (that is, they are meta-organizations), so internal decision-making, membership, identity and relationship to the environment are all more complex and the usual organizational insights do not necessarily apply (see e.g. Ahrne and Brunsson 2008 for a discussion on specificity of meta-organizations). In addition and of particular relevance for organizations of universities, the multitude of different university alliances operating in Europe can also be analysed through a network perspective, focusing e.g. on network densities, nature and strength of relations in the networks, centrality and (network) prestige of individual universities, cooperation and competition dynamics present in such networks, etc. In addition, network analysis can also be utilized for selecting cases for more in-depth organizational level research, e.g. exploring the organizational rationale for participating in such alliances.

Ahrne, G., and Brunsson, N. (2008). Meta-organizations, Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.

Beyers, J., Eising, R., and Maloney, W. (2008). "Researching Interest Group Politics in Europe and Elsewhere: Much We Study, Little We Know?" West European Politics, 31(6), 1103-1128.

Eising, R. (2008). "Interest groups in EU policy-making." Living Reviews in European Governance, 3(4).

Haas, P. M. (1992). "Introduction: Epistemic Communities and International Policy Coordination." International Organization, 46(1), 1-35.

About the presenter

Martina Vukasovic joined the CHEGG team as a postdoctoral researcher in December 2013. She holds a joint MPhil degree in higher education by the universities of Aveiro, Tampere and Oslo as well as a PhD in Educational Sciences from the University of Oslo. Her research focuses on the interaction between European, national and organizational processes, primarily the emergence of the European governance layer and how it may affect changes of policy and organization in higher education, in particular in the post-Communist countries. Martina is a member of the Consortium of Higher Education Researchers (CHER), the network of Early Career Higher Education Researchers (ECHER), the UACES European Research Area Collaborative Research Network (ERA-CRN) and has been continuously involved in the Europe of Knowledge section of the European Consortium of Political Research (ECPR). She is also a member of the Governing Board of the Centre for Education Policy from Belgrade and a member of the Council of the Magna Charta Observatory

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Published Sep. 21, 2015 1:04 PM - Last modified Aug. 14, 2018 4:08 PM