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Higher education policy coordination in federal systems: A comparative approach to problems of governance

Comparative Politics
Federalism
Education
Jens Jungblut
Universitetet i Oslo
Jens Jungblut
Universitetet i Oslo
Deanna Rexe
Simon Fraser University
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Abstract

A key challenge to successful implementation of national higher education, research, and innovation policies is policy coordination between the different parts of the state as well as public and private sector involved in policy-making. Federal systems that allow for subsidiarity of decision making for (some) knowledge policies face increased policy coordination complexity. In response to this coordination problem, a key feature in federal systems is the emergence of adaptive mechanisms to facilitate a range of coordination activities between the different sub-national units as well as the national and sub-national levels. As educational activities are often regarded as sensitive topics, they are more likely to be within the competences of sub-national governments. Therefore, it is reasonable to expect that federal countries face increased coordination challenges for higher education policy compared to other knowledge policies. However, it is not clear which mechanisms are employed in higher education policy-making, and what distinctive features account for the ability of policy actors to translate their policy preferences into nationally coordinated policy commitments. Within higher education governance broadly conceived, there is a specific function of inter-governmental coordination. These institutions play an un-interrogated role in contributing to higher education governance and policy change on both the national and subnational levels. The research proposed in this contribution focuses on an under-examined area of public policy that is of growing relevance for modern states: undergraduate and graduate education at public universities. As a theoretical starting point, we consider Peter’s (2015) conceptual framework of coordination problems as well as strategies to overcome them. In this we put a special focus on federal systems, as their multi-level policy arrangement creates additional hurdles to coordination that need to be overcome. It is suggested that due to increased politicization and salience of knowledge policies, there are growing needs to coordinate different groups of actors, levels of government, and spheres of policymaking in order to assure policy coherence and successful implementation. Simultaneously, the ongoing differentiation and specialization of the knowledge sector has led to more complexity both on the organizational and epistemic level. As a result, any central coordination of this sector and its dynamics has become increasingly difficult to achieve. Given that the growing societal importance of the knowledge sector and its activities has created the desire for more governmental control and substantial forms of steering as well as increased interest of different actors in knowledge policies, coherent and consistent policies are necessary to assure an effective working of the knowledge sector. Thus, knowledge policies need adequate structures and processes within the political arena that enable the coordination of political activities. This study addresses the following research questions: (1) Whether and to what extent does higher education policy coordination occur between subnational governments within both Canada and Germany? (2) Whether and to what extent does higher policy coordination occur between subnational governments and the federal government within both Canada and Germany? (3) What distinctive features of higher education policy coordination and convergence arise from a result of comparing these dynamics?