The outline of volume 1

The country reports in chapter 5 and the responses to an extensive questionnaire provide the basis for this book. The editors did not impose undue restrictions or guidelines on the authors of the country reports. Their framework was interpreted in light of the circumstances prevalent in each country, and provided the basic material for an inspiring and original country report. The countries were asked to highlight the following aspects:

  • trends most relevant to recent policy objectives determining "Relations between State and higher education";
  • the current legislative situation in higher education; in particular legal, political, educational, social, cultural and economic developments, as they affect higher education;
  • legislative principles and policy objectives, related to the main features of their implementation and effect;
  • (changes in) the balance of power between the State, intermediary organisations, and institutions of higher education;
  • legal protection of institutions of higher education against state decisions.

Apart from those countries not having a higher education and research system of their own, unfortunately, Austria, Croatia, Cyprus, Iceland, Italy, Ireland, Portugal, the Russian Federation and Sweden have not been able to submit country reports for chapter 5 of this book. Despite this, it has been considered worthwhile, even necessary, to embark on this series which explores the interface between legal comparative studies and classical higher education studies, as this is a field about which we know so little. It is hoped that all European countries will appear in Volume 2.

1.2.1 Perspectives on legislating for higher education and research Common issues

Since 1981, discussions in higher education in western Europe have been and are dominated by three topics: budget cuts, quality assessment and institutional autonomy. The political changes in 1990 in central and eastern Europe gave those discussions a completely new dimension about which we know little. To react to problems of, for example, mass higher education, education and research structures, diversification, curricula development and research programming, an entirely new approach is needed across Europe. Obviously, western Europe may learn much from the deep-cutting reforms taking place in the so-called "new democracies". Nevertheless, the policy- making audience in the west seems not yet to be fully interested in what is really happening in the east .... a lack of information perhaps?

In most of western Europe, the three topics mentioned have to a considerable extent lost their momentum as the frontiers of policy development move onward. Both the LRP and this series are an exercise in looking forward, but there are also other reasons to try to anticipate what are likely to be the issues for the next decade and, if possible, to clarify them.

  • Budget discussions are an annual ceremony, but discussions on funding and allocating models are decisive. Nonetheless, this is often a game played by a small group of experts and political decision-makers. Naturally, this series will look upon financial structures as steering instruments throughout. The focus will be on the political and managerial elements, not on the technicalities of financial models.
  • The new methods of quality assessment are no longer an important development issue as the time has come for fine-tuning and introducing their concepts on a broad scale. Subsequently, all the volumes of the series will touch upon issues of quality assurance, because they are changing the management culture in a national system to a great extent.
  • The issue of autonomy is an underlying theme in every discussion about higher education policy. Periods of stronger state intervention on certain issues are usually followed by a loosening of the ropes and vice versa. The arguments in these discussions, however, are not particularly subject to change. Institutional autonomy is more fruitfully defined in terms of division of responsibilities and guided interaction as this approach would unscramble cacophonic discussions on any topic, avoid stalemate and bring agreements nearer, rather than perpetuate endless academic disputes on academic freedom and institutional autonomy. Legislation is effective if it provides a clear division of labour for the solving of future problems of daily and strategic management, while safeguarding both institutional autonomy and academic freedom, as well as the responsibilities of a democratic government. The rest is co-operation and interaction.

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