23 SES 02 B, Globalization, Europeanization and Higher Education Reforms
The French speaking Higher Education System has been frequently described through the concept of "consociational" democracy (Lijphart 1968, 1999; Charlier & Moens, 2003a, 2003b; Moens 2007). Even if the concept of pillarization seems to grow old, it stands the test of time and proves its persistence in recent studies about the Belgian higher education landscape (de Coorebyter, 2008; Moens, 2007; Molitor, 2010 & 2013).
Nevertheless, it is now time to formally recognize the reality of recent evolutions in the higher education landscape. During the last decade the role of universities in Europe has been largely discussed under the paradigms of knowledge society and economy in Europe. Internationalization faced by universities wasn’t without consequences imposed on their local implementation. The construction of the European Higher Education Area came along with HEI’s “merger mania” in an international perspective (Goedegebuure, 2012).
Thus, in the French community of Belgium reforms induced by the Bologna process have caused a number of universities to merge since 2008. These changes have been encouraged by the “Decree defining higher education, fostering its integration in the European area of higher education and refinancing universities” which came into effect in 2004. The aim was to foster the community’s higher education institutions (HEI) towards greater concentration in order to encourage international visibility, as well as to respect traditional pillarization due to their philosophical affiliation. The legislator furthered the mergers of HEI but did not force their federation. Even though these changes were quite drastic, the decree didn’t reach the expected goals by reorganizing higher education landscape.
Yet, the new decree adopted in 2013 sticks to different principles and will completely change HEI landscape as well as the spirit of the 2004 decree. Primarily it aims to reorganize the structure of education and research regardless of ancient philosophical affinities: HEI’s will be regrouped into five geographical poles corresponding to Belgian administration districts in order to achieve geographical proximity of the French community. Secondly, research will be piloted by a new centralized structure and orchestrated by a confederal organism, the “Academy for Research and Higher Education”. This means a significant loss of universities’ self-determination in their traditional and exclusive research fields. The choice to implement the future academy follows the logic of centralized power, untypical for the Belgian higher education field until now. The legislator finally replaced its politics of stimulated voluntarism by the administration of steered cooperation.
The paper rises following questions: How does new higher education landscape differs from the ancient? How does power of new autonomous bodies interact on institutional liberty? Are there new forms of institutional differentiation among the higher education landscape? What are the drivers of change? Which part of the higher education reform may be attributed to international dynamics, European transformations or local particularities?
The theoretical framework covers three approaches: government policies are analyzed in a merger perspective. While the merger phenomena has been largely discussed under the perspective of international changes (Harman & Meek, 2002; Harman & Harman, 2008), the paper invokes theory that describes merger as an instrument for institutional innovation (Pruisken, 2012). Secondly, the new legal instruments – geographical poles and Academy of Research and Higher Education – will be analyzed by a classical comparative NPM perspective (de Boer et al., 2007). Finally, the dynamics of change at global level will be referred to Foucault’s apparatus, inspired by its recent conceptualization (Charlier, Croché, 2013; Charlier, Croché 2012; Croché 2010) in higher education research.
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