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Title: Reforming European Universities: The Welfare State as a Missing Context
Authors: Kwiek, Marek
Keywords: welfare state
reforming welfare state
reforming higher education
European universities
global agendas
aging societies
intergenerational conflicts
public funding
welfare attitudes
university attitudes
globalization and higher education
globalization and the state
globalization and welfare
financial pressures
ideological pressures
Issue Date: 2015
Citation: Pavel Zgaga, Ulrich Teichler, Hans G. Schuetze and Andrä Wolter, eds., Higher Education Reform: Looking Back – Looking Forwards. Frankfurt and New York: Peter Lang, 2015.
Abstract: This chapter is focused on the links between reform agendas and their rationales in higher education and in welfare state services across Europe. Lessons learnt from past and ongoing, as well as recently accelerating welfare state reforms following the fiscal crisis, can be useful in understanding ongoing and future higher education reforms. Research on reforming European welfare states is a missing context in research on reforming European universities. We intend to fill this gap and briefly explore possible links between these two largely isolated policy and research areas. European universities and European welfare states are closely linked today because they are heavily dependent on public funding – and the competition for public funding between the different claimants to it is on the rise. Reforms of both sectors are also closely linked to increasing intergenerational conflicts over public resources in aging societies, and pressures on both sectors are linked to the shrinking tax base, the power of the neoliberal ideology, and changing social attitudes to both welfare and universities. Problems of both sectors (which are high-spenders in terms of public funding) and solutions to them are increasingly being defined at a global level through transnational reform discourses. The indirect impact of aging societies on all public sector services will lead, it is argued, to growing pressures on all public expenditures and to the increased competition for all public funding. A new context of university reforms in Europe is therefore welfare state reforms. Thinking about university reforms in isolation from ongoing public sector reforms, from the ongoing fierce competition for public funding caused by the aging of European societies, and from future intergenerational conflicts over public resources, is potentially harmful to the university sector. The myth of exceptionalism of higher education among other public sector institutions and of its immunity from global public-sector reform trends increases the chances that higher education will be reformed mostly from the outside rather than mostly from the inside. We believe that it is important for the academic community to understand reforms in the higher education sector – and their rationales – in a wider social, political and economic context, so that the academic community can steer the changes rather than drift with them. Without such wider understanding of changing social realities, the sector may be more vulnerable to externally-driven instrumental reforms.
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