The Anatomy of Influence: Regional Governance, the Bologna and ASEM Education Secretariats
The Bologna Process (BP) and the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) Education Process are seen as higher education regionalism projects, which has multi-level governance and a regional secretariat. The BP impact on regional and national higher education policies in Europe and beyond is widely recognised. However, little research attention was paid to the role and participation of its secretariat in the policy arena. Using a process tracing method, discourse analysis of policy documents and personal interviews, this paper explains the influence of the Bologna and ASEM education secretariats on regional policies by asking a) How do these secretariats operate across governance levels ranging from extra-regional, intra-regional to national levels? And how do the institutional differences between the two secretariats affect their operation? b) Where does the influence of the secretariats derive from and how do they exert their influence on the EHEA and ASEM policy processes?
The paper examines the governance structures of the Bologna and ASEM Processes and three interwoven roles held by their secretariats, namely ‘Role Prescriptions’, ‘Role Performance’, and ‘Role Conceptions’. Practically, it analyses the explicit and implicit expectations attached to each secretariat by the hosting country and other stakeholders, the actual behaviours and activities of the secretariats, and the staff’s own perception of their position and function in the secretariat signalled through language and actions. Combining the empirical analysis and the theoretical political science literature, this contribution attempts to conceptualise the operation of these secretariats in five functions: 1) Secretary, 2) Facilitator, 3) Policy Entrepreneur, 4) Implementation Agent, and 5) Partisan. In performing these functions and reconciling the conflicting relations between them, the secretariats enhance their knowledge, accumulate institutional memory, increase the legitimacy of decisions, and exert influence on the policy formation.
Taken together, the paper argues that the staff competences, the engagement of key members of the bodies they serve (e.g. Bologna Follow Up Group, ASEM Senior Officials, working groups) and the host country’s support determine the secretariats’ influence. These transnational actors are not only given the political mandate to perform their functions, but they are also capable of creating their own space for actions. The expertise that they hold is an important source of their influence.