22 SES 04 A, Internationalisation in Higher Education: Governance and Learning
For the last few decades, various forces of change have impacted higher education systems. These are forces such as globalisation, massification, i.e. expansion of the number of institutions and students, increased mobility, competition, marketization, and economic functions. The dominant view today is that the knowledge-based economy, in which universities play a major part, are one of the prerequisites for the economic well-being of modern societies. Universities have also been seen as having several social functions, such as serving the public good and fighting inequalities (Brown, Lauder & Ashton, 2008; Hazelkorn & Gibson, 2018), “post-truth” politics (Gallagher, 2018), and authoritarianism (Giroux, 2015). These social functions involve the fostering of critical judgement and engagement. The development and changes within the higher education systems have, for example, resulted in European cooperation in the field of higher education, “rooted in a strong commitment to democracy and human rights” (Marquand, 2018, p. 13).
The Europeanisation of higher education has involved an emphasis on democracy, equality and active citizenship. It has been argued that the Bologna declaration is in essence a liberal democratic ideology (Marquand, 2018). In the Bologna Declaration, democracy, in the context of university education, was addressed by underlining the importance of collaboration, as a means of developing and strengthening democratic societies (Bologna Declaration, 1999). Gallagher (2018, p. 337) argues that due to the structural cohesion established with the European Higher Education Area, “the public and civic role of higher education has perhaps never been more important”.
The understanding of the public and civic role of higher education is not straightforward. The role of knowledge and understanding, i.e. fair access to academic knowledge, has been seen to have an important democratic role (e.g. Gallagher, 2018). Democratic values and practices are also seen as being reflected in institutional overt and covert admission requirements, i.e. which groups are over-and under-represented in the university (Isopahkala-Bouret et al., 2018; Reay, 2014; Weis, 2014). Universities exert a formative influence on their students, and this includes preparing them for their role as citizens. Students’ participation in deliberative discussions and decision making within their universities is also considered a part of the democratic role (e.g. Thomas & Hartley, 2010). Other but related examples of the democratic role of universities, in the context of the neoliberalism and corporatisation of higher education, could be that of counteracting the societal challenges ahead, by fostering critical thinking and political agency of its students (e.g. Giroux, 2015).
All universities in Iceland are active participants in the Bologna process. Adapting to the process has been considered an important part of strengthening their position internationally, as well as a means to promote good educational practices (Ólafsdottir & Jónasson, 2017). Adaptation to the Bologna Process was incorporated into Icelandic law by the 2006 Higher Education Act (Higher Education Act, 2006). In 2012, the paragraph, “Higher education institutions shall prepare students for responsible participation in a democratic society”, was added to Article two of the Higher Education Act (2006), as one of the roles of higher education institutions. This added paragraph indicates that from the governmental perspective, the university is expected to play a role in promoting and preserving democratic values.
The modern university, identified with somewhat inverse functions, economic and democratic, is the focus of this study. The aim is to analyse how the discourse in Icelandic public policy documents reflect a) the democratic role of universities and, b) universities’ role in preparing students for responsible participation in a democratic society. This study is a part of a larger interdisciplinary research project; Universities and Democracy – A critical analysis of the civic role and function of universities in a democracy.
This paper presents a discourse analysis (Jóhannesson, 2010; Rapley, 2007) of key policy documents related to university education in Iceland. The documents present university policy on three levels; a) the current official policy presented by the national authorities, b) the current policy of individual universities, and c) the most recent annual reports published by each university. These three levels were selected in order to allow us to explore the discursive themes on the democratic role of universities from the stage of formal policy making to reported actions in the institutions that adhere to the policy. All seven universities that operate in Iceland are part of the study. The criteria from which the public policy documents were selected, including Acts, regulations, and guiding reports, was that they formed a shared framework for the universities. In addition, they were identified as key documents by the Icelandic Ministry Office. The policy of individual universities can be found on their webpages, as well as their annual reports. It was decided to analyse their latest published report, which is from the year 2017. The documents were analysed using Jóhannesson’s (2010) five steps in (Foucault inspired) historical discourse analysis. First, the issue is selected and defined, then key documents are determined and selected for analysis. The third step is the analysis, where the documents are read several times and discursive themes recognised and developed. Then struggles, tensions, silences, and contradictions in the discourse are identified and analysed. The fifth step is the historical conjuncture of the discourse, in which the discourse is put into theoretical and historical context, in this case the Europeanisation of higher education (e.g. Lawn, 2011; Robertson, 2008), normative models on democracy (Habermas, 1994), and conceptions of the modern university (Skúlason, 2014). During the analysis, we moved back and forth between the last three steps, during which we followed a few guiding questions. Those were, for example: What is in these policies that can be related to the democratic role of universities? What is the view of the relations and obligations between the university and the society?
Preliminary findings of the study indicate a silence on the democratic role of universities in the official policy texts. The Higher Education Act (2006) states that “Higher education institutions shall prepare students for responsible participation in a democratic society”. Apart from this statement, the policy text does not discuss the democratic role further. During the analysis, we particularly looked for a discourse that would shed light on what is meant by “responsible participation”, but the idea was not conceptualised in the official policy texts. However, the university policies and annual reports put forward aims and practices regarding citizenship and willingness to “improve the world”. For example, aims towards equality, sustainability, and critical thinking were mentioned in some of the policies, in the context of the “complicated challenges” that the world is currently facing. The findings also point to contradictions when it comes to access to universities, as restrictions and expansions are concurrently mentioned. In general, the policy presents an emphasis on increased access, i.e. for previously underrepresented students, while at the same time discussing the need to limit access due to economic reasons and the need to do well in international comparison. The analysis suggests that tensions on quality and competitiveness are discursive themes, on all three levels of the policy documents. The universities are financed in accordance to measurable indicators, in which the most important factor is participation in the scientific activity and position in international comparison. In summary, the findings indicate a lack of conceptualisation of the democratic role of universities in official policies. While the university institutions report on current themes in the international discourse, vaguely related to critical public and civic role of universities, the discourse on quality and competitiveness are central discursive themes, obscuring the discourse on the democratic role.
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