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The European Union’s Modernisation Agenda for Higher Education and the Case of Ireland

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Ludovic Highman

The book sets out to offer a national perspective on the complex changes occurring in European higher education systems. The Lisbon European Council (2000) set an ambitious target for the Union to become "the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world" with important ramifications for higher education systems and institutions, because of the key role they play in driving innovation and producing knowledge. How this objective at the European Union (EU) level has been understood and implemented at Member State level will be the focus of this book. Higher education in several countries is at a crossroads, at both macro (system structure) and micro (institutional) levels. Several EU Member States have already embarked on major reforms pertaining to organisational and structural issues (Germany, 2005-2007; Finland, 2010; France, 2008; Ireland, 2011). A striking feature is the number of reforms happening across Europe, as well as the use of common priorities and policies within European countries’ reform agendas, including differentiation. The system level will be the primary angle for an in-depth study of documentary evidence for preserving a diversity of higher education institutions and the latter’s implications for the organisation of the Irish higher education system. However, the institutional level cannot be disassociated from the system level, of which it is an inherent part. Higher education institutions are the building blocks of a higher education system and therefore this study will examine the perspectives of both policy-makers and institutional representatives. The evidence provided indicates that the centre of gravity of decision-making in relation to higher education policy is shifting and can no longer be understood without looking to the European Commission’s "modernisation" agenda for higher education, and to research funding opportunities under the current Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development (Horizon 2020): both crucial tools for working towards achieving the Europe 2020 goals.

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