22 SES 01 B, Paper Session
The European Higher Education Area (EHEA) is an international project for the harmonisation of higher education (HE) systems through the Bologna Process action points. The EHEA was started in 1998 by four countries that included the UK. The project has ‘grown’, and it includes now 49 countries – the EU countries and some of its nearby states (EHEA, 2020). The EHEA developed into a platform for Europeanisation, particularly after the adoption in 2001 of the goal for the EHEA to become “the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world”, which followed Lisbon Council in 2000 when this goal was originally set specifically for the EU (Corbett, 2011: 36). The focus on Europeanisation in the EHEA was reinforced by its initial growing membership of EU countries, references in the EHEA documents to building a European identity within the EHEA and the inclusion of the word ‘European’ in the name of the EHEA (Kushnir, 2016). However, the EHEA eventually started expanding European borders by inviting non-EU countries to join it, which was accompanied “by aggravating tensions in the development of a territory–identity integrity in Europe constructed by the Bologna Process” (Kushnir, 2016: 665).
While research about UK HE is boundless, the studies that explicitly discuss UK’s participation in the EHEA are limited. Earlier studies are focused on the work of the Bologna action points in the UK, such as, e.g., quality assurance (Hartley and Virkus, 2003) or study cycles (Field, 2005). Furlong (2005) highlights little effort that the UK made in response to the harmonisation call in the EHEA. The promotion of student mobility was perhaps the most attractive EHEA idea for the UK but the UK’s international student market has never been limited to the EHEA (Cemmell and Bekhradnia, 2008). More recent studies explain the difference of enthusiasm for the EHEA action points in the devolved governments of the UK (Marquand and Scott, 2018). However, there is no research that investigates why the UK needs to remain part of the EHEA, particularly post-2020.
In the UK, “a process of ‘split Europeanization’ whereby Euroscepticism is triggered by the increasing mismatch between internationalized economies (and corporate economic interests) and localistic societies” has been underway for a while (Crescenzi, 2018: 117). It has recently culminated in Brexit, the transitional period of which finished in December 2020. UK’s polarised views about the EU has questioned UK’s attitude towards ‘the European’ in any policy endeavour that has European links, such as the EHEA even though it is not an EU project now.
This project is informed by the rational choice neo-institutionalist approach and the idea of differentiated Europeanisation. Rational choice neo-institutionalism is a stream of thought that explains the choice of organisational behaviour under the influence of the interactions amongst organisations and with a wider society (Peters, 2019). Europeanisation (or European integration), according to Radaelli (2004: 3) “consists of processes of a) construction, b) diffusion and c) institutionalisation of formal and informal rules, procedures, policy paradigms, styles, 'ways of doing things' and shared beliefs and norms which are first defined and consolidated in the EU policy process and then incorporated in the logic of domestic (national and subnational) discourse, political structures and public policies”. While this process originated in the EU, it takes places both within and beyond the EU (Kushnir et al, 2020) and can have many forms and meanings, according to Stubb (1996) who summarised the ongoing debate about differentiated Europeanisation.
All of this prompts the following important questions: 1. What are the perspectives of key HE actors in the UK on the significance of the membership in this Area for the UK post-2020? 2. How does this inform our understanding of the post-Brexit Europeanisation agenda in the UK in the area of higher education? BERA (2018) ethical guidelines were followed in the design of this qualitative collective case-study project, which is currently at the stage of data analysis. The UK is treated as a collective case study because it includes Scotland and the rest of the UK which, respectfully, have separate memberships in the EHEA (EHEA, 2020). While a degree of comparison is assumed here, it is not a comparative study per se, but rather a study aimed at gaining a full account of the issue in both cases (Stake, 1994). Qualitative data were collected through a purposeful sample of six in-depth elite interviews representatives from six key national HE actors (three from Scotland and three from the rest of the UK), listed on the EHEA website and 19 official communications from key actors (some overlap between the two cases) – i.e., relevant supplementary information on their websites such as policy documents and news items, published between 2016 and March 2021. The interviews were conducted online, via Ms Teams. The interviews were transcribed and analysed thematically in NVivo. The analysis follows Rubin and Rubin’s (2012) guide for open and axial coding of themes.
Preliminary thematic analysis is producing insightful results. Scotland and the rest of the UK are not driving EHEA’s developments now. While the Europeanisation agenda continues to be supported in Scotland through its active cooperation with the EHEA partners, EHEA membership in the rest of the UK is seen by HE actors as a contribution to its international cooperation in HE. The UK has taken on the role of an observer and consumer, whereby it utilises its EHEA membership as a market technique and as an indispensable facilitator of its international activity and passive influence on the international arena. This research makes an essential contribution to the scholarship about Bologna in the UK by advancing our limited knowledge about its significance post-2020 era. Revealing these trends is also important and timely for theorising differentiated Europeanisation in the UK in the area of HE after the end of Brexit transitional period and informing HE policy-making in the devolved governments.
BERA, 2018. Ethical guidelines for educational research (4th ed). Available at https://www.bera.ac.uk/publication/ethical-guidelines-for-educational-research-2018 (accessed 7 Dec 2020). Cemmell, J. and Bekhradnia, B., 2008. The Bologna Process and the UK's international student market. Oxford: Higher Education Policy Institute. Corbett, A., 2011. Ping Pong: competing leadership for reform in EU higher education 1998–2006. European Journal of education, 46(1), pp.36-53. EHEA, 2020. The European Higher Education Area and Bologna Process. Available at http://www.ehea.info/ (accessed 13.11.2020). Field, J., 2005. Bologna and an established system of Bachelor’s/Master’s degrees: The example of adult education in Britain. Bildung und Erziehung, 58(2), pp.207-220. Furlong, P., 2005. British higher education and the Bologna process: An interim assessment. Politics, 25(1), pp.53-61. Hartley, R.J. and Virkus, S., 2003. Approaches to quality assurance and accreditation of LIS programmes: Experiences from Estonia and United Kingdom. Education for Information, 21(1), pp.31-48. Kushnir, I., 2016. The role of the Bologna Process in defining Europe. European Educational Research Journal, 15(6), pp.664-675. Kushnir, I., Kilkey, M. and Strumia, F., 2020. EU integration in the (post)-migrant-crisis context: learning new integration modes?. European Review, 28(2), pp.306-324. Marquand, J. and Scott, P., 2018. United Kingdom: England (and Wales up to 1999)–Aesop’s Hare', Democrats, Authoritarians and the Bologna Process. Peters, B.G., 2019. Institutional theory in political science: The new institutionalism. Edward Elgar Publishing. Radaelli, C.M. 2004. Europeanisation: solution or problem? European Integration Online Papers, 8(16), pp.1-23. Rubin, H. J., & Rubin, I. 2012. Qualitative interviewing: the art of hearing data (3rd ed). Thousand Oaks, Calif: SAGE. Stake, R..E., 1994. Case Studies. In N.K.Denzin and Y.S. Lincoln (eds) Handbook of Qualitative Research. London: Sage Publication.Stubb, A., 1996. A Categorization of Differentiated Integration. Journal of Common Market Studies, 34(2), pp.283-295.
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