Project 1.4

The governance of higher education in Europe and the UK

The aim of this project is to explore the changing patterns of HE governance in the UK and the rest of Europe and to examine how global and system changes have impacted on institutional governance and what the institutional responses have been.

Project team

Background

It is generally accepted that there is a ‘crisis of governance’ which extends over both public and private sectors of the economy, in the corporate world as much as in the management of public services.

Higher education is not immune from this and substantial changes have taken place at the system and at the institutional levels. These changes have been driven by governments, themselves responding to global pressures (EU, OECD, World Bank etc) and by the demands of austerity, greater accountability, widening participation, international competition and the employment market.

One response in many European countries has been a devolution of governance and management, including financial management, from central government to universities. This has led to universities being able to exercise greater autonomy within steering and accountability frameworks laid down by governments.

In the UK, the removal of student number controls and the introduction of a new tuition fee based funding approach has produced a more marketised system. In all countries there has been a considerable growth in ‘alternative providers’, private universities either operating as self-financing charitable bodies or as for profit enterprises. All this has put traditional patterns of governance under strain.

There are three main strands to the research programme:

  1. An examination of global influences on HE governance through a review of the policies and activities of international organisations and of the impact of league tables, of the Bologna Process, and the existence of internationally dominant HE system models;
  2. A review of the changing forms of HE system governance in Europe and the UK including issues surrounding devolved or centralised governance, the existence of intermediary bodies and the inter relationship of the governance of public and private HE;
  3. An assessment of the evolution of institutional governance under the pressures of 1 and 2 and of student growth, history and complexity, differentiation and diversification, accountability and public engagement and entrepreneurial orientation.

Policy implications

With demographic constraints on further extensive expansion of higher education, it is timely to explore whether current approaches to governance – at system as well as institutional levels – remain fit for purpose.

What can we learn in respect to centralised or devolved approaches to system governance, or in regard to more managerial or participative approaches at the institutional level? Are there new governance paradigms emerging? How far is academic performance linked to good governance?