Comparative Higher Education Politics ꟷ Policymaking in North America and Western Europe
In most countries around the world, the political importance of higher education has increased over the last decades. In this, higher education policy became more relevant for different actors including politicians and citizens but also interest groups. This development has been fostered by various factors that interacted and made higher education policy central for the development of modern states and societies. Overall one can state that, while higher education became politically more relevant for contemporary societies, the scholarly attention on the politics of higher education policy only recently started to catch up with this development (see e.g. Busemeyer & Trampusch, 2011; Gift & Wibbels, 2014). Additionally, this process happened mainly in scholarly communities that operated within their regional context, sometimes lacking awareness of one another, and rarely embarking on inter-regional comparisons. This paper is part of a larger book project, which aims to fill this gap and create a bridge by bringing together the state of the art of scholarship on the politics of higher education policy in Western Europe, the USA and Canada.
To this end, this paper presents the comparative research design underlying the overall volume as well as empirical examples from selected chapters to highlight the overarching theme. The paper will use examples from the different sections of the volume, including the following topics: the politics of higher education finance, the politics of higher education governance, policy diffusion, interest groups, and framing of higher education policy.
In the comparisons between the USA, Canada and Western Europe, the focus will be on the question in how far one can observe general word-wide rationalization trends in higher education (see: Bromley & Meyer, 2015; Ramirez & Meyer, 2013). If the assumptions behind the rationalization argument are valid then one would expect that the politics of higher education policy also become more similar in the three contexts as world-wide rationalization trends call for convergence of policies. However, there are also authors (e.g. Christensen, Gornitzka & Maassen, 2014) who argue that global rationalization trends are actually not directly copied from one context to another but rather undergo local translation. In this, factors such as national or regional cultures, higher education systems, political actors, or policy legacies act as filters for global rationalization trends. These filters would lead to persisting differences with regard to both higher education policies and politics between the three contexts. Finally, as political actors are increasingly linked to one another through network-like structures (see e.g. Paradeise, 2012; Paradeise, Bleiklie, et al., 2009), and since there is a growing number of processes of both vertical and horizontal policy exchange, the transfer of policy between jurisdictions becomes more frequent (Ravinet, 2008; Vögtle et al., 2011; Vukasovic, 2013). While in the European context these processes are often identified to take place vertically between the European Higher Education Area (EHEA) and the national policy-making arena, in Canada and the US they happen more horizontally between states or provinces and territories (Hearn, McLendon & Linthicum, 2017).