What is the role of knowledge today when almost every aspect of our lives is affected by the global pandemic? What changes does this radically new situation bring to politics and policies of science, technology and higher educattion? These and other questions were discussed at the Knowledge Politics and Policies Section of the first virtual General Conference of the European Consortium for Political Research (ECPR) 24-28 August 2020. At this year’s conference the ECPR not only celebrated its 50th anniversary but also addressed some of the most pressing topics of our times such as gendered impact of Covid-19 crisis and decolonisation of curriculum and political practice. The conference connected some 2200 researchers to discuss 1804 papers in 72 sections and 443 panels.
This is the ninth time when a section dedicated to the topics of politics and policies of higher education, science and innovation is organised at the ECPR General Conference. It is endorsed by the ECPR Standing Group on Knowledge Politics and Policies which brings together more than 200 researchers from arounmd the world. Some 30 papers were discussed in the eight panels of this section covering topics from geopolitics of knowledge and science diplomacy to policies for emerging technologies and higher education.
Politics and Policies of Artificial Intelligence
The panel ‘Politics and Policies of AI, Big Data and Algorithmic Governance’ kicked off our section. In recent years, the fast development of these emerging technologies has presented major opportunities and challenges as well as proliferation of dedicated policies to facilitate beneficial effects and mitigate concerns. Papers in this panel addressed political and policy dynamics in Europe, the United States and Asia and examined emerging patterns of global collaboration and competion. Nora von Ingersleben-Seip (Technical University of Munich) presented her joint research with Andrea Renda (College of Europe) on great power competition among the European Union, the US and China. In another collaborative paper, Pertti Ahonen (University of Helsinki) and Tero Erkkilä (University of Helsinki) examined questions of algorithmic decision-making as a challenge and opportunity to openness and transparency in the Finnish political context. In her contribution, Raluca Csernatoni (Vrije Universiteit Brussel) discussed artificial (in)security and the politics of hype in Europe through buzzwords, myths and imaginaries. Continuing the topic of AI and the EU, Inga Ulnicane (De Montfort University) traced elements of Normative Power Europe and Market Power Europe in emerging EU policies, ethics guidelines and regulation in the field on AI. In the final paper in this panel, Jongheon Kim (University of Lausanne) explored the evolution of discourses on AI in South Korea.
While the topic of politics and policies of AI is relatively new, it is attracting an increasing interest. One of attendees shared on social media that he has come to this panel ‘purely out of curiosity’ but has managed to follow it and has realised ‘what a central issue will be for the future of politics!’ All panel participants agreed that it would be beneficial to undertake comparative research on AI politics and policies.
How have changes to the higher education sector around the world shaped the profession of political science? The panel ‘Conceptualising Academic Time’ addressed this question through the lens of ‘academic time’. While time in the academy has been traditionally measured by tasks an academic performs (i.e. research, teaching, and service), its allocation is increasingly complex as requests for today’s academic labour grow from within and beyond the university. Tero Erkkilä (University of Helsinki), Meng-Hsuan Chou (NTU Singapore), and Niilo Kauppi (University of Helsinki) kicked off the panel with ‘Conceptualising Academic Time’. The paper reviewed how scholars of political science and higher education studies conceptualised time that ultimately revealed the elusive character of academic time as an object of study. Simona Guerra (University of Surrey) followed with ‘Crashing Time? The Contemporary Experience of Time’, and showed that the ways in which time is valued in the UK very much depended on the role that an academic occupied (senior, junior), as well as the financial, institutional, and individual resources available ‘at the time’.
Dorota Dakowska (University of Lyon 2) continued with ‘In Search of Lost Time. The Academic Profession Under Pressure’ that examined how the profession has evolved in Poland and France through the analytical lens of time. She demonstrated how the two cases confirmed that research time has become a scarce resource and how conflicting temporalities threatens research time—the very essence of the academic profession. By calling attention to the symbolic violence of ‘time stolen’ in ‘The Social Suffering of Some Homo Academicus(es): Digital Time Machine and Time Control’, Didier Bigo (Sciences Po Paris) discussed how public-private management narratives have invaded the world of universities, depicting higher education institutions as branded companies. In ‘Time, Space and Academic Identity’, Christopher Pokarier (Waseda University) argued that the transformation of academic work can be usefully examined from the perspective of time, space, and resources. By inviting us to study the temporalities and spatiality of academic work, he emphasised the interdependence between time and our physical worlds. James Mittelman (American University) and Heidi Mauer (University of Bristol), panel co-discussants, animated the discussions by asking the participants to consider how and why the analytical lens of academic lens is needed now. Some similar topics where further discussed in the panel ‘Time-scales and Time Policies in Higher Education’.
Knowledge and Global Challenges
Several panels highlighted global dimensions of knowledge politics and policies. The panel ‘Science Diplomacy and Global Challenges’ explored different aspects of science diplomacy as both an academic concept and a term of practice in foreign policy. The first paper ‘The Promotion of European Studies in China. A Case of European Soft Diplomacy?’ by Silvana Tarlea (University of Basel) looked at how the EU exercises soft power in its promotion of European Studies in China, finding that its influence was diminishing for two reasons, first because of its perception by China as a powerful global actor, and second, due to a misplaced focus with its grants on universities rather than think tanks, which the author shows are the key actors particularly in regards to the diffusion of knowledge into the foreign ministry. The second paper, ‘Knowledge as Power: Global Challenges and the Development of European Foreign Policy’ by Mitchell Young (Charles University), explored the ways in which knowledge could be understood as a form of power in international relations, and particularly questioned whether the EU could be depicted as a powerful knowledge actor. Finally, Muhammad Adeel (Murdoch University) presented a paper on ‘Application of Science Diplomacy for Regulation of Genome Editing’ which traced the efforts to regulate genome editing, and the policy narratives that have become engaged in these debates through a variety of diverse stakeholders, particularly he focused on the question of whether Crispr should be considered genetic modification or not. A lively discussion followed the papers.
The panel ‘Knowledge and International Relations’ explored the relationship between the international relations and knowledge policy domains. The first paper focused on how the re-emergence of nationalist ideas and the re-closing of borders (to a large extent spearheaded by right-wing parties) challenges the trend of intensifying internationalisation of higher education. The empirical setting in focus was Denmark and Katja Brøgger (Aarhus University) linked the various developments in Danish higher education, including significant reductions in English-speaking programmes, with the overall shift towards protectionist and inward looking migration and welfare policies. Sarka Cabadova Waisova (University of West Bohemia) discussed in her paper the concept of expert knowledge and how diffusion thereof has been and could be studied. She particularly discussed the promises and pitfalls of actor-network theory, social network analysis, and other approaches utilized in international relations literature, as well as bibliometrics, qualitative historical analysis, topography and topology.
Geopolitics of Higher Education
Papers in the panel ‘The Geopolitics of International Higher Education’ explored international dimensions of higher education within the altered global context of emerging powers, shifting international and regional relations, and growing populism and nationalism. Natalia Leskina (Ural Federal University, Russia) and Emma Sabzalieva (University of Toronto, Canada) presented their research on higher education region-building in Central Asia. Their paper is a comparative analysis of activities in the Russian led Eurasian Economic Union and Chinese led Belt & Road Initiative and how these activities have been received and are being shaped by Central Asian policymakers. Bowen Xu’s (University of Cambridge, UK) paper focussed in on China’s efforts to create an educational community using the Belt & Road Initiative, helpfully bringing policy initiatives to an English language audience.
Huili (Stella) Si presented a co-authored paper with Miguel Lim (both University of Manchester, UK) again centring China but from the perspective of the rise and decline of joint programmes and institutes with other states. Hannah Moscovitz (University of Cambridge, UK) continued the focus on international linkages in her paper on the role of international student recruitment for nation branding in Québec and Canada. These are contexts where nationalisms compete and where sovereignty is shared, underscoring a differentiated process of nation branding in majority and minority nations. Taken together, the papers opened up new approaches at sub-national, national and supra-national levels to explore the changing impacts of geopolitics on higher education. They help to lay the groundwork for new kinds of research on higher education that are grounded not in Eurocentric approaches but explore different framings and geographies.
Participants found exchanges in this panel fruitful. One of them said: “It was my first time to attend ECPR, and it was a great experience for me. Having conversations with like-minded scholars help me to grow both intellectually and socially. I’d love to have this continued and looking forward to next year.” Similarly, another panellist who is a 2nd year PhD student told: “It is very meaningful to meet so many fantastic researchers through ECPR. ECPR provides a brilliant platform for researchers to communicate and share with insights. The comments and feedbacks from my peers are very valuable not only to my research but also to my future development.”
Higher Education Policy
Several panels examined issues of higher education policy. In the panel ‘Competition and Agentification in Funding Research and Innovation’, Ivar Bleiklie (Universitetet i Bergen) presented the co-authored paper ‘Policy Making by Dialogue?’ which introduces a new mode of policymaking that has emerged in Norway’s process of university mergers. It is identified as a ‘managerial’ mode, as it is based on direct dialogue with the leadership of organizations and their strategic positioning. The authorship collective included several other members of the SG, Svein Michelsen (Universitetet i Bergen), Nicoline Frølich (Nordic Institute for Studies in Innovation, Research and Education) and Mari Elken (Nordic Institute for Studies in Innovation, Research and Education). A second paper was presented by Anastasia Steinbrunner (Willy Brandt School of Public Policy, Universität Erfurt) which examined the policy process around tuition fees in France and Germany. The paper, co-written with several other researchers at Willy Brandt School of Public Policy, ‘Agenda Setting and Policy Diffusion: Exploring Higher Education Tuition Fees in France, Germany, and the United States’ applied a multiple streams analysis to the contentious and unstable issue of fees and their rationale.
The final panel in this section ‘The Politics of Higher Education Policy – Lessons from Western Europe, Canada and the USA’ chaired by Jens Jungblut (University of Oslo) brought together four papers that discussed different elements of the politics of higher education policy. All of the contributions are part of an upcoming volume that compares the policy-making dynamics in higher education policy in Western Europe, the U.S. and Canada. In the first contribution, Martina Vukasovic (University of Bergen) presented her work on the role of interest groups and intermediary organizations for higher education policy in Europe. In her paper, she not only provided a concise overview on the literature but also a detailed mapping of the interest group ecology in the higher education sector in multiple European countries. A key finding of her work is that most European countries show corporatist characteristics in their higher education interest group arrangement.
Meng-Hsuan Chou (Nanyang Technological University) presented in her paper an analysis on the use of the concept of policy framing in higher education policy. The results of her detailed literature review showed that the use of the concept of framing became more prominent in the literature especially after the year 2001. Moreover, she identified three clusters in the literature focusing on “The European story”, “When Europe hits home”, and “the national story”. In his contribution, Julian Garritzmann (Goethe University Frankfurt) presented a concise overview of the politics of higher education finance literature, highlighting the differing explanatory approaches that are used in the literature. In addition, he used new public opinion data to show how different factors influence public opinion towards tuition fees. Finally, Jens Jungblut (University of Oslo) presented the literature on the politics of higher education governance reforms. Focusing on the role of political parties for changes in the governance of higher education, he presented an analysis of party manifestos from six West European countries to highlight differences between party families regarding their preferences for the relationship between higher education and the state.
Excellent Paper Prize and future plans
To share official news, future plans and informally discuss how pandemic has affected our work and lives, our Standing Group met for the business meeting and social hour. The key highlight was celebration of the excellent paper award from an emerging scholar which this year was awarded to Justyna Bandola-Gill (University of Edinburgh) for her paper ‘Knowledge exchange repertoires: Producing and translating knowledge for policy’. This was the fourth time that our Standing Group awarded this prize. The new call for applications will be published soon and we will be celebrating the next winner at the 2021 ECPR General Conference which hopefully will take place in Innsbruck (Austria).COMMENT