Dorota Dakowska and Robert Harmsen
Why are Central and Eastern European countries said to be particularly exposed to European and international organizations? How did the Bologna Process become a central reference in many domestic reform projects in the region? This special issue of the European Journal of Higher Education (Volume 5, Issue 1, 2015) aims to refine our understanding of higher education (HE) transformations in a post-authoritarian context. It further contributes to debates on Europeanization and policy transfer in the field.
This special issue brings together an international and interdisciplinary team of contributors. Particular attention is focused on the different actors, who appropriate international norms in the cause of domestic reform, or conversely develop strategies of resistance. The range of national and thematic case studies included, spanning both EU member states and the wider post-Soviet area, allows for the drawing of a comparatively broad-based portrait of both the ‘uses’ and the ‘users’ of international norms in domestic debates.
Central and Eastern European countries may adopt different positions facing European HE policies. Some of them eagerly adopt European policy prescriptions, while others prefer a more selective approach. In any case, the Bologna Process and the European Higher Education Area are noticed, debated or even integrated in domestic political games. This being said, Europe is neither the only nor necessarily the main external reference in these countries. The interplay between the different external factors and actors is also highlighted in this issue.
The special issue derives from an international research collaboration, launched with a conference organised at the University of Luxembourg in November 2010 and continued with a two-year research and training project funded by the Interdisciplinary Centre for Studies and Research on Germany (CIERA): ‘Rebuilding Academia: The Transformations of Central-East European Universities since 1989’ (2011-2013). The current issue derives from a workshop held in Strasbourg in 2013 (‘Bologna and Beyond: Experts, Entrepreneurs, Users and the Internationalisation of Higher Education Institutions’). Further collaborative work was made possible owing to the funding secured through the Strasbourg School of European Studies ‘Excellence project’ and the University of Luxembourg’s ‘Global-Uni’ project (2013-16).
Inside the Central European Academic Laboratory
In the introductory article Dorota Dakowska and Robert Harmsen deal with higher education (HE) transformations in Central and Eastern Europe in the context of democratization and globalization. The authors briefly survey the wider canvas of reform since 1989, probing the extent to which the countries of the region may be treated as a distinctive or a cohesive group. Diverging experiences with communism, international organizations and the European Union are highlighted, while attention is also focused on the differing degrees of marketization exhibited by academic systems across the countries of region. Notwithstanding their differences, the latter emerge as distinctive ‘laboratories of reform’, privileged sites for understanding the interplay of external and domestic influences in the reshaping of the HE sector. The introduction then turns to understanding the domestic mediation of the processes of Europeanization and internationalization, identifying a series of key factors broadly discussed in terms of structures, norms and actors.
In the first article that follows, Michael Dobbins analyses developments in Polish public higher education (HE) based on historical institutionalism and organizational isomorphism. The author argues that Polish public HE has been characterized by fragmentary state-driven attempts to inject more competition into the system and altogether relative policy inertia, despite an internal and external environment which is highly conducive to policy change and in particular marketization.
The second contribution, by Ligia Deca, focuses on the uses of international norms in the Romanian higher education reforms. By focusing on three phases of policy change, the author observes when, why and by whom the international influences were strategically used in Romanian public discourse on higher education reform. She draws a balance sheet across the two decades of higher education reforms in Romania to provide insights into wider problematics of reform, Europeanization and internationalization in a context of transition and peripherality.
In the third article, Liudvika Leisyte, Rimantas Zelvys and Lina Zenkieneexplore the implementation of selected Bologna action lines in Lithuanian higher education institutions (HEIs) from an organizational perspective. Although the Bologna process is likely to be normatively accepted by institutions in the context of high uncertainty, a phenomenon of national re-contextualization can be observed depending on the type of HEIs and the competitive horizons of academic disciplines.
In the fourth contribution Renáta Králiková sheds light on the domestic translation of international models basing on the Romanian and Lithuanian case of university governing boards. First, she stresses the importance of path dependent logics that go back to the transition period in the early 1990s. Second, she confirms that actors’ perceptions of institutions influence policy translation.
The fifth article written by Olga Gille-Belova, deals with the case of Belarus, which challenges the limits of the European Higher Education Area as the country is the only one that had at the time of writing not been accepted to join the Bologna Process. The contribution examines the strategic uses of the Bologna Process. The initial refusal of the Belarusian application reveals a complex interplay between the increasing importance of ‘technical’ criteria inside the EHEA and EU external policy considerations.
In her concluding comments Martina Vukasovic identifies a number of transversal themes and highlights the interplay between international, European and domestic influences on national policy changes. She then sketches a research agenda, outlines a theoretical framework and suggests topics for further research.
Dorota Dakowska is Professor of Political Science at the University of Lyon 2. She has published on EU Eastern Enlargement, German and European political foundations and the Europeanization of Polish Higher Education. Her current research project deals with the international dimension of academic reforms in Central and Eastern Europe.
Robert Harmsen is Professor of Political Science at the University of Luxembourg, where he directs the Master in European Governance. He has published extensively in the areas of European Politics and Public Policy, and is an editor of the Brill/Rodopi European Studies series. His publications include Debating Europe (Nomos, 2011; co-edited with Joachim Schild).