The European Higher Education Area. Between Critical Reflections and Future Policies
Bridging the gap between higher education research and policy making was always a challenge, but the recent calls for more evidence-based policies have opened a window of unprecedented opportunity for researchers to bring more contributions to shaping the future of the European Higher Education Area (EHEA). Encouraged by the success of the 2011 first edition, Romania and Armenia have organised a 2nd edition of the Future of Higher Education – Bologna Process Researchers’ Conference (FOHE-BPRC) in November 2014, with the support of the Italian Presidency of the European Union and as part of the official EHEA agenda. Reuniting over 170 researchers from more than 30 countries, the event was a forum to debate the trends and challenges faced by higher education today and look at the future of European cooperation in higher education. The research volumes offer unique insights regarding the state of affairs of European higher education and research, as well as forward-looking policy proposals. More than 50 articles focus on essential themes in higher education: Internationalization of higher education; Financing and governance; Excellence and the diversification of missions; Teaching, learning and student engagement; Equity and the social dimension of higher education; Education, research and innovation; Quality assurance, The impacts of the Bologna Process on the EHEA and beyond and Evidence-based policies in higher education.
One of generic characteristics of higher education systems is their slow evolution. Governments are not happy with this fact as they understand the role universities could play in the development of innovation-based economies or in the global political and cultural competition. More and more governments choose to push public and private universities to achieve the so-called world class status that brings additional legitimization for the state policies and allegedly facilitates the national economic development.
There are different approaches to establish a group of globally competitive universities in different countries. The paper examines the excellence-driven policies and initiatives. The paper includes the analysis of more than 20 excellence initiatives based on policy documents, ranking data and interviews. The paper shows that the there are two rationales for these initiatives. First, they are based on the belief that the world class universities help countries to become more competitive. Second, the international rankings put enormous pressure on the governments to demonstrate global competitiveness of their universities.
The paper shows that in the most cases the design of such initiatives is based on clear indicators of universities performance. There are many words that the aim of “pushing” universities for excellence is not only to achieve specific indicators but to develop within-the-university culture of self-development and change management. However the majority of the initiatives do not have specific elements of the design to achieve this goal.
The paper examines the implementation process of such initiatives in general and in the context of Bologna Process particularly. The main deficiencies of the implementation include tight control, insufficient time and financial resources. At the same time in many cases the implementation process relies on the increasing internationalization and modernization of the university management. The discussion of the outcomes of such initiatives is limited by the data available. Usually the changes in the ranking position are considered as the main outcome. The authors discuss other approaches to evaluate the excellence initiatives.
In the concluding section, the question of the relationships between Bologna Process and excellence initiatives in the context of the national higher education policies is discussed.