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date: 10 April 2021

Higher Education Policy in the European Unionlocked

  • Dorota DakowskaDorota DakowskaDepartment of Political Science, University of Lyon 2

Summary

Whether higher education (HE) can be defined as a European Union (EU) policy has been matter of debate. Formally, education is still a domestic prerogative, and in principle, the EU can only support and supplement national governments’ initiatives in the sector. Yet, this official division of tasks has been challenged in many ways over the last decades. First, the history of European integration shows that the European community took an early interest in educational matters. The Treaty of Rome established a community competency on vocational training. Subsequently, the European Commission framed HE and vocational training as two entangled policies. Second, the EU institutions, the member states, and noninstitutional actors have coordinated in innovative ways, through soft governance processes promoted by the Bologna Process and the EU Lisbon—and later Europe 2020—strategy, to impose a European HE governance based on standards and comparison. Third, the study of HE requires going beyond an EU-centric perspective, with international organizations such as the OECD and the Council of Europe cooperating closely with the European Commission. HE has been increasingly shaped by global trends, such as the increased competition between universities. The mechanisms of European HE policy change have elicited academic debates. Three main explanations have been put forward: the power of instruments and standards, the impact of the Commission’s funding schemes, and the influence of interconnected experts, stakeholders and networks. Domestic translations of European recommendations are highly diverse and reveal a gap between formal adaptations and local practices. Twenty years after the Bologna declaration, the European Higher Education Area (EHEA) presents a mixed picture. On the one hand, increased mobility and the growing interconnectedness of academic schemes facilitate the launch of ambitious projects such as the “European universities.” On the other hand, concerns are periodically raised about the growing bureaucratization of the process and the widening gap between the small world of the Brussels stakeholders and everyday academic practices in EHEA participant countries. Paradoxically, smaller and non-EU countries have been more actively involved in advancing the EHEA than large, older EU member states.

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