Why do knowledge policies play an increasing role on the European political and policy agenda? What are the synergies and tensions between European research and higher education policies? What have been the successes and challenges in establishing the European Research Council and the European Institute of Innovation and Technology? What role do stakeholders play in the Bologna process? And how strong are the soft modes of EU governance?
These and other questions are addressed in the recently published book ‘Building the Knowledge Economy in Europe: New Constellations in European Research and Higher Education Governance’ edited by Meng-Hsuan Chou and Åse Gornitzka. Meng-Hsuan Chou tells us about the rationales for and the key messages of their book.
Q1: How did the idea for this book on the knowledge economy in Europe emerge?
This edited volume gathers contributions from our ‘Europe of Knowledge’ section at the European Consortium for Political Research (ECPR) general conference in Reykjavik in 2011. This was the first time that we – researchers working on knowledge policies (higher education and research) – had our own section at the ECPR. While we have successfully reconvened a ‘Europe of Knowledge’ section at every ECPR general conference since, we wanted to mark the occasion with a publication to promote the study of knowledge policies among EU scholars. At the time, Elgar came out with a new series on ‘New Horizons in European Politics’ and we thought this was a perfect opportunity to introduce the topics to an EU audience. The reason for this is because we believe these two policy sectors have much to offer to those interested in regional integration dynamics. Moreover, I thought it would be interesting to spotlight the policies that are quite important to academics, as European knowledge policies affect how we teach and carry out basic research.
Q2: The book analyses two central pillars of the ‘Europe of Knowledge’, research and higher education policies. Have the processes of European integration in these two policy areas developed similarly or differently?
European cooperation in the fields of research and higher education has followed different pathways. We describe these developments in Chapter 1, which is available here for readers, but they can be summarised in a nutshell as follow: knowledge cooperation started very early in the integration process. Research cooperation has, however, evolved much further due to the overall national sensitivity surrounding higher education issues. A key development for research policy cooperation occurred in the 1980s: the institutionalisation of the Framework Programmes, which is now synonymous with EU research policy even though this area of cooperation is more than just about funding.
Higher education entered the political and policy spotlight with the signing of the Sorbonne Declaration and the launch of the Bologna Process at the end of the 1990s. Cooperation in this area has been very practical, e.g. establishing common degree structures and transferring course units, but of course it is also political. It is important to note that Bologna, with 47 members, is not an EU process, even though the Commission is heavily involved. The knowledge policy portfolio is spread across several of the Commission’s Directorates-General (DGs) and this contributes to the complexity of the governance process. I believe it is this very complexity that makes studying European knowledge policy cooperation so interesting.
Q3: One of the chapters looks at the establishment of European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT), which has to bring together research, higher education and innovation. What does the specific case of EIT tell us about the challenges for interaction among the different pillars of Europe of Knowledge?
The EIT chapter, by Åse Gornitzka and Julia Metz, tells us that creating an institution under ‘inhospitable conditions’ is possible, but it requires very powerful promoters at the very highest political level – in this case, Commission President Barroso. These ‘inhospitable conditions’ reflect precisely the governance division between research, higher education and innovation – the respective political and policy actors defended their sectoral turfs and perceived the establishment of the EIT as a ‘threat’. Barroso was able to successfully secure its establishment, but, in the end, he also did not have the EIT he initially wanted (i.e. the MIT model, university with top researchers). After the EIT was created, another set of actors came on-board and took over its daily operations. What the EIT case reveals is that the different pillars of the Europe of Knowledge may require heavy political steering to interact if new institutions were to deliver the intended outcomes.
Q4: European integration in research and higher education policies is characterised by the soft modes of governance such as the Open Method of Coordination (OMC). What are their advantages and limitations?
The OMC injects flexibility into compliance and allows different interpretation of agreed standards to co-exist. While the OMC may succeed in bringing people to the ‘mutual exchange’ table with some progress towards collective objectives, it does not generally latch on to another process to ensure continuity in some areas where progress is indeed being made. Therefore, in Åse Gornitzka’s chapter on the OMC, she argues for approaching the OMC from another perspective: what it tells us about how political and administrative institutions interact with this process and their respective experiences. She finds that, in the case of Norway, the OMC has become a ‘transmission belt’ for generating policy information as well as policy learning and ‘teaching’.
Q5: Some chapters of your book look at national responses to European integration processes in knowledge policy areas. Do you see any major national differences, for example, between Scandinavian countries and Spain?
Yes, there are major differences between countries and not just between the so-called Northern countries and those in the South. For instance, in Hanne Foss Hansen’s chapter – ‘“Quality agencies”: the development of regulating and mediating organizations in Scandinavian higher education’ – she demonstrates that, even though the Nordic countries share a tradition in how they perceive the role of higher education in society, they ultimately adopted different systems for quality assurance. In my chapter with José Real-Dato, which looks at how Norwegian and Spanish institutions approached the EU Commission-promoted Human Resource Strategy, we show that diverse national strategies and translation capacity explain variation in the speed and the extent of uptake. The domestic arena is significant in understanding how European integration in the knowledge sectors evolves, or does not.
Q6: You have worked and studied in the United States, Europe and Asia. Are knowledge policies in Europe considerably different from those in other world regions?
Yes, there are differences in terms of the emphases within debates about how knowledge should and could be used. For instance, in the US, I hear more about how knowledge could be used to advance the society’s wellbeing. The question being raised includes ‘How can we ensure equal access to high-quality education?’; this debate resonates with the phenomenon of the Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) sweeping the world. In Europe, solving the ‘grand challenges’ and the role of science in policymaking are central themes. In Asia, the focus is more on how knowledge could be used to increase the national overall economic competitiveness and to secure a lead in the decades to come. But, of course, these differences are very subtle and nearly all countries in the world are concerned about all these aspects. What I find surprising is that there are less talks about the role of higher education in ‘citizen making’. Indeed, it appears as if overnight we all became global citizens, moving seamlessly around the world, which is simply not true.
Q7: What are the main messages for scholars and practitioners of knowledge policies emerging from your book?
Since European integration takes place under different conditions and parameters, its evolution continues to attract considerable interest. This is especially the case for emerging policy areas subject to integration because these developments shed new light on the direction, dynamics and, an increasingly debated aspect, the very sustainability of Europe’s political order. Knowledge policies are one of these emerging areas. For scholars, I think what is especially interesting is that European knowledge policy governance occurs through supranational, intergovernmental and transnational processes in which the EU has different roles: as a key actor, an observer or merely one of several. These multiple avenues of integration provide a unique case to explore the different facets of integration dynamics – especially for refining concepts such as ‘differentiated integration’.
For practitioners, I believe that our book provides theoretically grounded explanations as to why knowledge policies are extremely difficult to regulate. The chapters in this volume go beyond the conventional argument that ‘knowledge policies are too sensitive for the EU to regulate’. Indeed, the cases demonstrate that other factors matter; for instance, from sectoral competition in the realm of knowledge policies, and a Commission President’s vision to European higher education institutions’ diverse motivations to participate in OMC-like processes. There are general lessons to be extracted, not least for European integration, but also for other regional processes.
Q8: What would be promising research lines for future studies on regional and global governance of knowledge?
I think the most promising research approach would be comparative. As Europeanists, we tend to study EU as n = 1 and are entirely focussed on explaining its developments and nuances. But this perspective actually harms European integration studies because we overlook the interesting developments occurring elsewhere. Pauline Ravinet and I are currently discussing the global phenomenon we call ‘higher education regionalism’ and deciphering ways in which we can begin to identify, understand, and explain the emergence of ad hoc regional higher education initiatives throughout the last few decades (and seemingly more in the making!).
Another promising approach would be interdisciplinary collaborative work. There are many researchers working on issues concerning knowledge governance, but we are scattered across many disciplines. I think this is where UACES’s (Academic Association for Contemporary European Studies) collaborative research network on the European Research Area is so useful – it really facilitates sharing ideas and findings across disciplinary boundaries.
In terms of specific topics, I think it would be fascinating to compare how different world regions address or attempt to regulate the digital revolution sweeping higher education and research. What questions are being asked? What ideas are given prominence? Is there any policy learning involved? Have we moved beyond competition? Indeed, have the world’s geographical regions been reconfigured into new constellations of alliances? If so, who governs?
Dr Meng-Hsuan Chou is Nanyang Assistant Professor in Public Policy and Global Affairs at NTU, Singapore and an Associate Fellow at EU Centre Singapore. She is the Academic Coordinator for the UACES Collaborative Research Network on the European Research Area. Hsuan chaired the Europe of Knowledge section at the 2011 and 2013 ECPR conferences and will be co-chairing the 2014 section. Her articles have appeared in the Journal of European Public Policy, Journal of Contemporary European Research and PS: Political Science & Politics. She is currently researching how governments in Asia, Europe and North America compete for foreign talent in a globalised era and how scholarly networks are organised across time.