Examining the Effectiveness of Inter-regional Policy Dialogues in Higher Education: What does it Mean?
A lot has been written about the importance of transnational policy circulation. It is now commonly accepted that in order to understand the transformations of public policies, as well as the impact and relative effectiveness of the diffused model or approach, it is crucial to study the role of transnational policy networks, international organizations, and policy professionals in these processes. Yet be-yond this acceptance and the publication of several excellent studies on transna-tional actors, more in depth empirical studies are still needed to improve our knowledge of how to better conceptualise these processes, specifically, what ex-actly is being circulated, by which types of actors (what are the hats they wear? Do they wear multiple hats?), through which types of mechanisms (learning, co-ercion, mimicry, and so on), and to what effects (and are these effects intended or unexpected?).
More particularly, literature on circulation generally assumes that transnational networks’ objectives to shape national and local policies are reached –that they are effective-. We argue in this paper that it is essential to unpack and re-conceptualise the notion of effectiveness in the policy design of global initiatives. Empirically, the higher education sector is a good example of where more empir-ically grounded research on transnational circulation would assist in improving our collective knowledge of the vast transformation that has taken place in this sector around the world. Many have acknowledged that global and transnational initiatives, projects, arenas, networks dealing with higher education are prolifer-ating in the last years, but more research is wanting to illuminate higher educa-tion transnational policy circulation and fertilisation within these venues, as well as the resistance emanating from these exchanges
In this Paper, we first unpack the meaning of policy effectiveness in a globalized public policy environment. We derive two definitions—effectiveness as achiev-ing policy success, and effectiveness as exerting and effect—and apply them to studying a case of inter-regional higher education policy cooperation. Specifical-ly, we examine the inter-regional higher education policy cooperation between the EU and ASEAN: European Union Support to Higher Education in the ASEAN Region (EU SHARE). SHARE is a four-year programme (2015-2019) funded by the EU, seeking to strengthen regional cooperation in ASEAN across different areas within the higher education sector. The programme is divided into three result areas: (1) Policy Dialogues, (2a) ASEAN Qualifications Reference Frameworks, (2b) ASEAN Quality Assurance, (3a) ASEAN Credit Transfer Sys-tem, (3b) ASEAN-EU Credit Transfer Systems, and (3c) Student Mobility with Scholarships. This paper will focus on result area (1) Policy Dialogues. Using publicly available policy documents, participant observation of two sessions of policy dialogues (February 2016 in Bangkok, Thailand and October 2016 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), as well as more than 55 in-depth interviews with par-ticipating actors, we will address the question: Are inter-regional policy dia-logues effective? If so, what are the effects?