The Globalisation Challenge for European Higher Education

Convergence and Diversity, Centres and Peripheries

by Pavel Zgaga (Volume editor) Ulrich Teichler (Volume editor) John Brennan (Volume editor)
©2016 Edited Collection 394 Pages


The last decade has marked European higher education with particular dynamics. Today, after a decade of «connected» policy, national systems look much more convergent but new questions and dilemmas are emerging: about the nature and quality of higher education, about the real impact of recent reforms in different countries, and about higher education's future. The book examines the impact of Europe-wide and global developments on national higher education systems. The authors try in particular to place upfront issues of convergence and diversity, of equity and of the relationship between centres and peripheries in higher education. The book is an outcome of research collaboration between six institutes which developed a EuroHESC research proposal on the consequences of expanded and differentiated higher education systems.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the Editors
  • About the Book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Foreword
  • Introduction: Challenges for European Higher Education: ‘Global’ and ‘National’, ‘Europe’ and ‘sub-Europes’
  • Part 1: Front Issues: Quality and Mobility, Convergence and Diversity, Policy Ideas
  • Imagining Higher Education in the European Knowledge Economy: Discourse and Ideas in Communications of the EU
  • The Event of International Mobility in the Course of Study – The European Policy Objective
  • The Impact of University Rankings on Higher Education Policy in Europe: A Challenge to Perceived Wisdom and a Stimulus for Change
  • Diversification in Austrian Higher Education: A Result of European or National Policies?
  • The Effects of Europeanisation on Institutional Diversification in the Western Balkans
  • Part 2: Massified and Internationalised Higher Education: Equity, Values, Societal Issues
  • The Monolithic Un-intentionality of Higher Education Policies: On the Continuing Importance of Karl Marx, Joseph Stalin and the Minor Classics Less Known
  • “Hullabaloo in the Groves of Academe”: The Politics of ‘Instituting’ a Market in English Higher Education
  • Higher Education Differentiation and the Myth of Meritocracy: The Case of the UK
  • The Recognition of Prior Learning and Dutch Higher Education – At cross-purposes?
  • From System Expansion to System Contraction. Access to Higher Education in Poland
  • Part 3: Higher Education in Eastern and South-east Europe: New Trends, New Challenges
  • Higher Education Policy Dynamics in a Multi-level Governance Context: A Comparative Study of Four Post-communist Countries
  • What Kind of University for What Kind of Society? Nation-States, Post-National Constellations, and Higher Education in the Post-Yugoslav Space
  • The Bosnian Puzzle of Higher Education in the Perspective of the Bologna Process
  • Reclaiming the Role of Higher Education in Croatia: Dominant and Oppositional Framings
  • Reconsidering Higher Education Reforms in the Western Balkans: ‘Policy Colonies’ or ‘Policy Autarchies’?
  • Editors
  • Contributors
  • Index
  • Series index


Pavel Zgaga, Ulrich Teichler and John Brennan

In this monograph, 19 authors – from different parts of Europe and of different ages – consider in 15 chapters some crucial aspects of higher education dynamics over the past decade or two. Different perspectives and experiences are therefore involved. This has been one of the objectives from the outset of our joint work: during the last two decades, the ‘globalisation challenge’ for European higher education has been continuously discussed and these discussions have most often led to identifying common features, trends, issues and policy directions. Also here, one of the objectives is to focus on major issues such as e.g. mobility, quality, diversification, access etc. as they appear within the contemporary European higher education discourse. Further, some social implications of higher education change and equity issues are elaborated, mainly through ‘national lenses’ and case studies. However, the aim has also been to present some ‘hidden’ or ‘alternative stories’ which speak about European policy transfer issues within specific and problematic regional and/or national environments. Therefore, the intention has been to discuss commonalities as well as differences within contemporary European higher education.

At the beginning, it is necessary to briefly sketch the context in which this monograph was formed. The story began with a research project proposal under the EUROCORES scheme of the European Science Foundation (ESF) a few years ago. Within this scheme, a theme proposal on Higher Education and Social Change (EuroHESC) had been selected in 2007 for further development. One of the research project proposals, developed by a consortium of research centres and institutes from seven universities,1 was entitled Differentiation, equity, productivity: The social ← 7 | 8 → and economic consequences of expanded and differentiated higher education systems (DEP). The project proposal was positively evaluated (2009), but unfortunately for various – formal and financial – reasons it was impossible to establish a consortium with a sufficient number of consortium members (i.e., 70 percent of all) and funded by all the respective national research agencies.

It was during this period that the Slovenian Research Agency (ARRS) joined the ESF and it took the decision to fund all research groups from domestic institutions that had been involved in projects evaluated positively by ESF peer reviewers, regardless of the possibility of establishing an international project consortium to undertake comparative European research, which turned out to be the situation facing the DEP project. Of course, in this case it was necessary to modify the original project for it to be viable in the new conditions, but it was also necessary to maintain cooperation with the international partners. In the original DEP project proposal, the Slovenian partner (CEPS) was in charge of the transversal issues and thus in the process of modifying the project the accent was placed on the internationalisation processes in higher education while some elements of the original proposal – too ambitious under the new conditions – were omitted.

From the start of 2010 to the end of 2012 a six-member research team at the University of Ljubljana implemented the modified DEP project, while also working closely not only with five partner institutions of the original project (unfortunately, contacts were abandoned with the Karlstad and Göteborg universities as the Swedish principal investigator Susan Marton suddenly passed away), but also with researchers from other institutions, mostly but not only in Central and South-east Europe. In addition, the modified project was linked in one of its dimensions to another joint project entitled Enhancing access through a focus on equity (EQUNET) financed through the Life Long Learning programme of the European Commission.2

Thus, a network was created and the fruitful cooperation of researchers from several institutions began. On one hand, the Ljubljana team was working on its own research agenda (much broader than the structure of this ← 8 | 9 → monograph); on the other, it was also organising colloquia and seminars with invited participants: so-called idyllic meetings in spring and symposion events in autumn. The first type of event was designed as a colloquium in a relatively small circle (20 – 25 people) allowing for a detailed discussion of particular themes while the second was conceived as a small-scale conference. The series of events started by discussing a broad theme of the future of European higher education, followed by a discussion on more detailed themes, such as e.g. equity in European higher education (co-organised by the EQUNET project team), the differentiation of higher education in an internationalised and globalised context, internationalisation and/or globalisation processes and their general impact on national higher education systems (with a particular focus on convergence and divergence as well as on centres and peripheries) and, finally, with an anniversary conference on “the past, present and future of higher education research: between scholarship and policy making” which marked the 25 years of the Consortium of Higher Education Researchers (CHER) after its annual conference in 2012.

As mentioned, a special feature of this network was its geographic and, in particular, generational diversity: senior researchers alongside early-stage researchers and PhD students. Several of them had experience from working for national student unions as well as for the European Students Union (ESU), thus being involved in European higher education reforms of the last decade in quite a direct way. Some participants were also professionals working for relevant European and/or national institutions and associations – or simply people with long and valuable experience in higher education. From the geographic point of view, almost all European regions were represented. In particular, participation from South-east Europe was emphasised, as a region which has not been appropriately represented, either within the contemporary circle of European higher education researchers or as an object of focused research. It is obvious that a generation of higher education researchers is growing today in this region who will have much to say in the future!

Such a network definitely sets up the potential for originality and novelty and has a special value-added: certain themes have been discussed in ways that open up new perspectives as well as dilemmas, allow for new insights and perhaps indicate some new solutions. It also provided a contribution that went beyond the basic horizons of the modified DEP project. It was therefore no surprise that an idea matured in the spring of ← 9 | 10 → 2012 that a core group of participants at these events would write a monograph based on some materials discussed and considered at previous events. The results can now be read in this book. It is made up of three parts: the first part focuses mainly on ‘global narratives’ in European higher education and specifically in relation to diversification, while the second elaborates on some particular aspects of equity and related issues in higher education. The third part pays attention to higher education reforms and developments in South-east Europe and provides a reminder that ‘global narratives’ are not dominant everywhere and that attention should also be paid to ‘regional and/or local narratives’ so as to see the whole picture.

Foreword to the second edition

The news that a book is sold out is always good news and an important recognition for authors, editors and the publisher. It means that with the themes and issues addressed in this book we have attracted considerable attention and also that the publisher has successfully promoted the book. We are delighted therefore that the publisher has decided to publish a second edition, and we hope that it will continue to mobilize the attention of the reading public. The new edition is unchanged except for minor editing.

Kassel, Ljubljana and London, November 2015


← 10 | 11 →

1       These institutions are: The Open University, Centre for Higher Education Research and Information (CHERI), London, UK; Dublin Institute of Technology, Graduate Research School, Dublin, Ireland; University of Twente, Centre for Higher Education Policy Studies (CHEPS), Enschede, the Netherlands; Poznan University, Centre for Public Policy, Poznan, Poland; Kassel University, International Centre for Higher Education Research (INCHER), Kassel, Germany; Karlstad University and Göteborg University, Centre for Public Sector Research, Sweden; University of Ljubljana, Centre for Educational Policy Studies (CEPS), Ljubljana, Slovenia.

2       The consortium was led by the Menon network (Brussels) and made up of eight associations and four umbrella organisations bringing stakeholder groups together from across Europe, including four research institutes and centres from Bologna, Hanover, Vienna and Ljubljana.


Challenges for European Higher Education: ‘Global’ and ‘National’, ‘Europe’ and ‘sub-Europes’

Pavel Zgaga, Ulrich Teichler and John Brennan

This book addresses the globalisation and/or internationalisation challenge for European higher education from two cross-cutting perspectives: convergence and diversity, centres and peripheries. At this point, we cannot enter into the complex relationship between the concepts of globalisation and internationalisation; instead, we will focus on the double meaning the globalisation and/or internationalisation challenge for European higher education has had over the last two decades: as ‘globalisation in the true sense’ on one hand and as ‘Europeanisation’, i.e. “the regional version of internationalisation or globalisation” (Teichler 2004: 4) on the other. In this book, this “regional version” is brought to forefront without forgetting the former. However, we also do not forget that even ‘Europeanisation’ has a double meaning: Europe as a ‘global region’ (i.e., a perspective of ‘looking out’) vs. Europe as ‘European regions’ (i.e., a perspective of ‘looking within’).


A review of the state of the research field which formed the basis for the EuroHESC programme (Higher Education Looking Forward: An Agenda for Future Research – HELF) found that “there is limited comparative research on the extent of the differences between countries and the possibility of convergence via globalisation” (Brennan et al. 2008: 11). Research on these issues is therefore strongly needed; however, its approaches should be carefully reconsidered. First of all, new research should begin by recognising that “a single narrative or ‘idea’ cannot any longer capture the complex and often contradictory nature of higher education” today as it exists across different countries, “variations reflect different traditions and contemporary circumstances and contexts”. Further, the HELF report warned that these variations should not become “an excuse to descend into praise of the particular and the unique”; on the contrary, “An ← 11 | 12 → understanding of the different things that higher education does is extremely important but the range of differences is not infinite, differences are bounded and they can be typologised in relation to both internal and external variables. And we should not rule out the possible existence of some unifying concept or concepts. A focus on difference may be a key route towards identifying and better understanding such concepts” (ibid.). This idea is shared by the authors of this monograph.

The relationship between ‘unity’ and ‘diversity’ – or ‘diversity’ and ‘unity’ – has been in the very front of contemporary debates on the ‘Europeanisation’ processes: both at a general level (e.g., as “a ‘European way’ to manage unity and diversity”, Olsen 2005) and in its particular dimensions, one of which affects and/or manifests in higher education (e.g. Haanes 2006, Amaral et al. 2009). Particularly after 1990, the general processes of ‘re-uniting Europe’ importantly challenged national higher education systems: in the given historical circumstances it seemed that parallel to the ‘national systems’ of higher education rooted in the 19th century there is a need for a ‘European system’1 at the turn of the millennium.

The policy dilemma – either a ‘united’ (‘harmonised’) ‘European system’ or ‘European systems’ as a ‘unity in diversity’ – was constantly reproduced over the next two decades, in one form or another and either consciously or unconsciously. Already at its inception it was not an easy dilemma. On one hand, it was provoked by the rapidly penetrating ‘globalisation’ and a fear of losing “a world-wide degree of attraction” or “international competitiveness”; on the other hand, it was an inner result of the ongoing “European process” and its “extraordinary achievements of the last few years” (Bologna Declaration 1999). The dichotomy of convergence and diversity, if we use other words to denote more or less the same issue, ← 12 | 13 → has already been inscribed, e.g. upon the foundation of the Erasmus Programme (1986). The fall of the Berlin Wall a few years later, followed by deep political, economic and social changes in Eastern Europe, spread it further to the Tempus Programme (1990) which was established to extend the new European strategy in higher education across the former Iron Curtain. The Zeitgeist called for the creation of more ‘unity’ in the European ‘diversities’; it was in this context that the political momentum was accumulated to establish the European Higher Education Area (EHEA).

The process of ‘Europeanisation’ – understood here as a ‘European way’ to manage unity and diversity in higher education – has encountered a number of interpretations. Basically, they can be divided into two groups: conditionally speaking, they depend on approaching and observing ‘Europeanisation’ either as ‘globalisation’ or as ‘internationalisation’. From the point of view of ‘globalisation’ as the ‘levelling of the diverse’, higher education is considered as part of a global market system; within this perspective, there is no necessary connection between higher education and national development. In contrast, ‘internationalisation’ can only be considered as a process inter nations. Yet, the discussion on ‘globalisation’ has proven that the issue is not so simple as the solution cannot simply lie in ‘joining the right side’. This levelling leads to eliminating all differences (and thus quality), while the difference in itself leads to autarchy. For example, international cooperation remains pure rhetoric if some convergence is not established between parties and a discussion remains a monologue until some ‘unifying concepts’ are set up. The relationship of convergence and diversity is driven by a specific dialectic. We need to establish ‘unifying concepts’ but – as mentioned above – only a focus on difference helps us to identify and better understand these concepts.

After two decades, European higher education still consists of national higher education systems; yet, some of them are more ‘globalised’ than others. Today, European national higher education systems look much more convergent than ever before but a cluster of new challenges is emerging: questions about the nature of the true potential of the EHEA and about the real impact of recent reforms across countries; questions about the aims and near future of European higher education etc. There is also enough evidence that a tension between ‘European’ convergence and ‘national’ diversities persists – and is perhaps even becoming exacerbated with its sharpening economic as well as political problems. The Zeitgeist has obviously changed and today it seems to be closer to rehabilitating the European ‘diversities’ ← 13 | 14 → aspect than strengthening a perspective of European ‘unity’. Of course, this general change cannot remain without consequences for higher education. For example, the reduced funding for the Erasmus Programme – for the first time in its 25-year history – is just one of the signs of the depth of this change.

Different interpretations of the formerly ‘concerted’ pan-European policy (either in Bologna 1999 or in Lisbon 2000, or both) as well as diverse implementation processes at the national and/or regional level – enhanced by a mix of different discourses and the ‘local’ political and ideational pressures behind these processes – are now producing a new kind of European ‘divergence’. Here we come across another dichotomy, the dichotomy of centres and peripheries. It has not received much attention during the discussions of the last two decades; nevertheless, it seems that it can open up some new perspectives in understanding the higher education dynamic of the present decade.

It is obvious that today the EHEA is not a homogenous area – and that it cannot be. Changes in individual national systems influenced by the ‘Europeanisation’ and ‘globalisation’ processes, and the Bologna Process in particular, are having quite different impacts in various European countries and/or regions. On one hand, different qualities of e.g. ‘big’ and ‘small’ higher education systems demand adapted policies and specific actions. This cannot be interpreted as a necessary and inevitable contradiction of the ‘common policy’; only focusing on differences may help to identify and understand what is common. Moreover, the ‘common higher education space’ that was declared in 2010 after 10 years of ‘harmonised’ reforms in 49 countries of the continent is producing certain new tensions: e.g. in organisation of the system and its support institutions;2 the large imbalances in incoming and outgoing mobile students and staff; the ‘attractiveness’ of national universities in various countries etc.

On the other hand, it looks like an ‘invisible hand’ is pushing European countries to either accept roles of ‘policy exporters’ or ‘policy importers’. There is a strange incapability on the part of ‘peripheral’ countries to design their own national policies; instead, they are adopting and implementing recommended ‘common policies’ developed in ‘policy centres’ without taking the specifics of the ‘peripherals’ into account. Of course, there are ← 14 | 15 → many reasons for this; one of them is likely to be located in the very nature of the formation of the EHEA: the domination of the ‘common policy’ focus has led to “Bologna omnipresence” or “pan-Bolognisation” in contemporary European higher education discourses (Zgaga 2012: 30). This is just one of the reasons it is necessary to focus on differences again in order to reconceptualise a ‘unifying concept’ or ‘concepts’.


The chapters in this book are organised in three parts, with each part consisting of five chapters. Part 1 addresses some ‘front issues’: quality and mobility, convergence and diversity and policy ideas.

In claims about global challenges, the term ‘knowledge economy’ tends to be put forward to suggest that higher education across all countries is bound to be more strongly shaped by economic imperatives. Janja Komljenovič and Klemen Miklavič depict the European Union as a strong advocate of a common European higher education policy in their article “Imagining Higher Education in the European Knowledge Economy: Discourse and Ideas in Communications of the EU”. Higher education policy statements by the European Commission have emphasised the importance of higher education for the economic future of Europe from the outset of the EU’s involvement in higher education policies since the 1970s, but the biggest policy early initiatives such as establishing the ERASMUS programme of student mobility in the 1980s and efforts to create a convergent pattern of study programmes and degrees in the Bologna Process – led by national governments since the late 1990s – have obviously pursued a relatively broad range of objectives without calling for a single and convergent major set of policy objectives.

The authors point out that the Lisbon Strategy was the major EU initiative of placing knowledge, and in this framework higher education, in the core of economic policy. In their critical discourse analysis of documents and their analysis of expert interviews undertaken, they argue that the EU aims at “causing the approximation of the academic sphere and the economic sector”: Europe’s answer to the global ‘knowledge economy’ should be an increase of expenditures on knowledge and greater efficiency, quality and ‘competitiveness’ in higher education. In the various EU statements (‘Communications’ etc.) since the year 2000, the “hitherto unfitness of European universities” is deplored: “They are portrayed as ← 15 | 16 → ossified institutions that function in an old and outdated fashion rooted in the ideas and context of the 19th century”. The EU has advocated in its statements an increase in the institutional autonomy of universities that, if led by strong professionalised management and the desire to be responsive to external expectations, would enhance efficiency within the framework of economic rationales. The EU obviously considers the knowledge economy as a “central integrative paradigm”, generally being viewed as persuasive and inevitable, that is likely to create a widespread consensus among most actors involved. The “normative convergence” was viewed as being so strong that all national prerogatives and all alternative norms could be “elegantly circumvented”.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2016 (January)
dynamics nature impact reforms quality
Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2016. 389 pp., 12 b/w fig., 7 tables

Biographical notes

Pavel Zgaga (Volume editor) Ulrich Teichler (Volume editor) John Brennan (Volume editor)

Pavel Zgaga is Professor of Philosophy of Education and Education Policy at the University of Ljubljana, Slovenia where he also directs the Centre for Education Policy Studies (CEPS) since 2001. Ulrich Teichler is Emeritus Professor at the University of Kassel (Germany), where he served as director of the International Centre for Higher Education Research (INCHER-Kassel) for 16 years. John Brennan is Emeritus Professor of Higher Education Research at the UK Open University where he directed the Centre for Higher Education Research and Information (CHERI) for nearly 20 years. He is also a Visiting Professor at the University of Bath and the London School of Economics.


Title: The Globalisation Challenge for European Higher Education