Transformation of Higher Education and Research in Europe

europenow; europenow journal; Kayla Maiuri; Katrine Øgaard Jensen

An introduction to our feature Transformation of Higher Education and Research.

 

Over the past few decades, higher education and research in Europe have undergone considerable changes. Important transformations have taken place at all levels, starting from the governance of research institutes and universities to national and European Union policies in these areas. Major changes include shifts from institutional to increased project funding of research, and from permanent positions, to a higher share of fixed-term contracts for academics as well as a growing role of quantitative evaluations, such as university rankings. A number of intergovernmental and EU initiatives have been launched and expanded—including the European Higher Education Area and the European Research Area—to facilitate harmonization, integration, and collaboration in higher education and research.

Contributors to this special feature address theoretical and empirical aspects of some of the key transformations: massification of higher education, reforming academic careers, and increased focus on international collaboration and productivity in research.

Contributors to this special feature address theoretical and empirical aspects of some of the key transformations: massification of higher education, reforming academic careers, and increased focus on international collaboration and productivity in research. The feature starts with one more conceptual contribution, which is followed by four articles addressing interrelated empirical developments.

In the first article, Tobias Schulze-Cleven lays out a future research agenda for European studies to analyze empirical transformation of higher education. He calls for scholarship, which would focus on the politics of university systems’ empirical transformation, namely, the distributional struggles that determine “who gets what, when and how.” In particular, he suggests three avenues to be explored: context, outcomes, and complex causal dynamics of higher education’s contemporary shifts.

Some of his suggestions are addressed in the following articles, which empirically address developments in European higher education and research. Tatiana Fumasoli focuses on just one major change in the Europe of Knowledge, discussing findings of a number of recent research projects on academic careers in Europe, which have demonstrated an increasing variety of positions according to local arrangements. Major trends include shifts from a hierarchical chair model governed by one chair-holder professor to a more egalitarian departmental model, and adoption of global models such as the US tenure track system coexisting with traditional models, such as Habilitation in countries following the German model. One interesting finding is that clear and transparent criteria for academic career progress allowing planning of individual and departmental strategies are significant predictors of research performance.

Next, two contributions by Inga Ulnicane, and Nicola Francesco Dotti and André Spithoven address one of the key features of European research integration: collaborative networks bringing together universities, research organizations, companies, and civil society organizations from all over Europe. While traditions of cross-border research collaboration go back several centuries, today scientific interactions are intensifying. One of the facilitators of this intensification is European policy initiatives, such as the EU Framework Program for funding research and innovation. Ulnicane’s contribution provides qualitative insights in benefits and challenges of international research networks, while Dotti and Spithoven present quantitative evidence on participation of different regions in the FP with a particular focus on Brussels as the “European research capital.”

A final contribution by Justin Powell and Jennifer Dusdal addresses another priority of contemporary research policy: productivity. In their article, they compare scientific productivity in four European countries (Germany, France, Belgium, and Luxembourg) from 1975 to 2010. They examine how the varying investments in research and institutionalization of higher education and science systems in these four countries have affected scientific productivity, measured as number of publications per million inhabitants. In all four countries, they find a dramatic increase in a number of publications, but Belgium has by far the highest productivity, followed by Germany, France, and Luxembourg.

What are the benefits and challenges of developing a minimal European common structure for academic careers? If international research collaborations tend to reinforce leading positions of the most advanced universities, regions, and countries, how do we broaden benefits for the whole of Europe? What role does Europe play in changing global science and higher education, and how is it interacting with other traditional and emerging knowledge powers?

All five contributions suggest a number of theoretical and empirical questions for future studies that are crucial for understanding on-going changes in higher education and research systems in Europe and beyond: What are the benefits and challenges of developing a minimal European common structure for academic careers? If international research collaborations tend to reinforce leading positions of the most advanced universities, regions, and countries, how do we broaden benefits for the whole of Europe? What role does Europe play in changing global science and higher education, and how is it interacting with other traditional and emerging knowledge powers?

 

Inga Ulnicane is an assistant professor at the Institute for European Integration Researtch at the University of Vienna

Nicola Francesco Dotti works at ISPOLE, Universitié Catholique de Louvain.

 

Below are links to the rest of this special round table.

Higher Education Reloaded: Studying the Politics of Institutional Change
Tobias Schulze-Cleven lays out a future research agenda for European studies to analyze empirical transformation of higher education.

Enhancing the Europe of Knowledge
Tatiana Fumasoli focuses on just one major change in the Europe of Knowledge, discussing findings of a number of recent research projects on academic careers in Europe.

A Geographical Perspective on the European Research Area: Brussels as the European Research Capital
Nicola Franceso Dotti and André Spithoven present quantitative evidence on participation of different regions in the FP with a particular focus on Brussels as the “European research capital.”

Global Research Collaboration and Competition: Bright Side and Dark Corners
Inga Ulnicane provides qualitative insights in benefits and challenges of international research networks.

Europe’s Center of Science: Science Productivity in Belgium, France, Germany, and Luxembourg
Justin J. W. Powell and Jennifer Dusdal compare scientific productivity in four European countries between 1975 and 2010.

 

Photo: The Leeds Library | Michael D Beckwith | Flickr

 

Published on December 1, 2016.

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