23 SES 07 C, The Rationality of Merging in Further and Higher Education
Since 2014, the “higher education landscape decree” significantly changed Higher education (HE) in the French speaking community of Belgium. The institutional structure of education and research has been reorganized regardless of institutional traditions and affinities. Therefore, higher education institutions (HEI) are regrouped into five geographical poles corresponding to Belgian administration districts in order to achieve geographical proximity of education. Moreover, research and HEI are represented on the national and international level by a new centralized structure who is operating as a confederal organism, the “Academy for Research and Higher Education”.
This means a significant loss of HEI self-determination in their traditional and exclusive research fields. The choice to implement the academy follows the logic of centralized power which is rather untypical for the strongly diversified HE system and its liberal governance structures.
This paper points out that the French speaking community of Belgium is far to be a latecomer in implementing HE reforms: since the nineties of the last century, public policies are following international HE policies trends. These are characterized by supporting institutional mergers and integration of professional and academic HE. The steering of the Belgian HE system and the institutional governance of its universities is driven by fostering public management and new public management tools. The recent decree had been leading to a new HE landscape that differs in its institutional structures without reducing institutional diversity and complexity.
This paper also tries to answer the following questions: How does the actual HE landscape differs from the previous HE system? How do recently created autonomous bodies interact with traditional institutions? What are the new forms of institutional differentiation among the HE landscape and what are its drivers of change?
Some institutional evolutions of the HE landscape are attributed to international and European dynamics and compared to other countries. Finally, this paper shows how HE landscape of the French speaking community is positioning its HE landscape according to its “strengths in education, research or innovation, and forge partnerships within and outside Europe to reinforce and complement [its] individual profile” (COM(2013) 499 final: 8-9).
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