The theme I was most interested about from this week’s readings was the increasing marketization of global higher education governance.  While this trend makes sense within the broader trend of globalization, I am curious as to how a more market approach to higher education will work in countries that historically have much different governance structures.

In the article An analytical framework for the cross-country comparison of higher education governance, the authors Dobbins, Knill, and Vogtle’s discuss the historical governance structures of higher education in Europe. The three main types of governance in European higher education institutions include:

  • the state-centered model, which originated in countries like France, Spain, Portugal, Turkey, and many formerly-communist Eastern European countries, which “conceives universities as state-operated institutions” (670). Under this model, “universities are understood as rational instruments employed to meet national priorities” (670). Admission requirements, curriculum, exams, and hiring of academic personnel and administrative staff are directly coordinated by the state.
  • the university as a self-governing community of scholars (the Humboldt model), which was established in Germany, Austria, and other post-communist countries. This type of governance is modeled off of Humboldt’s principe of Lern and Lehrfreigeit, which translates to “freedom of teaching and learning” (671). Under this model, the governance structure is centered around a strong faculty self-regulation model with weak university management. However, the university is almost entirely dependent on state funding, so there is a significant level of collective bargaining between the two.
  • the market-orientated model contends that “universities function more effectively when operating as economic enterprises within and for regional or global markets” (672). Governance-wise, most of the power is concentrated among the university management/administration, who see themselves as “the role of a producer and entrepreneur” who provide a service or commodity to students (672). This structure revolves around competition, entrepreneurship, and accountability, and it is most commonly associated with Anglo-American colleges and universities.

While Dobbins, Knill, and Vogtle point out that it is virtually impossible for a HE institution to follow one model purely, most countries do skew towards one over the others. However, in an era of higher education internationalization and the subsequent breakdown of geographical, political, and economic barriers, the authors point out that the market approach is becoming increasingly common, and countries who countries who have historically adopted alternative governance structures will have to adapt if they want to remain competitive and continue to attract students from their home countries and abroad.

However, that is easier said than done. This article made me think about my experience as a student in Paris in 2009. The program I did through CIEE (in theory) partnered with Parisian universities, so the majority of my coursework should have taken place there. Almost immediately when I arrived, however, it was quickly clear that would not be the case. Thousands of French students and faculty went on strike, protesting then-President Sarkozy’s market-based reforms to the French university system, which included tuition hikes, job cuts, and a change in governance structures that would give university presidents much more power. The French higher education and research minister Valérie Pécresse told The Guardian, “‘The reforms are necessary to improve the way French universities work.” The article continued, “She has previously argued that reforms are necessary to improve the competitiveness of French universities, which are lagging behind internationally.” With no end in sight to the strikes, my program had to take quick action, so they arranged a new curriculum for us that was based entirely at the CIEE campus. As I’m sure you can imagine, this was incredibly frustrating since the whole reason I chose this program was because of its emphasis on immersing students in French university life.

This example demonstrates the tension many historically state-centered and Humboldt modeled universities will face as the market approach to higher education continues to increase globally. As an American student, I couldn’t help but think that the protesters were being a bit unreasonable. Of course, I was used to a market-based model, where education is a commodity. I was used to paying incredible sums for my education. However, for countries who have traditionally had a much more egalitarian approach to higher education, these kinds of reforms are quite the shock to the system. As one French student explained, “They are trying to make the university into a place for the elite, the American way.”

This article only applied to European countries, but I expect many other non-Western countries will face similar challenges as France as the market approach to higher education continues to become more prevalent.

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