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ECPR 50th Anniversary Fund

Governmental Programmatic Success in Reforming Policies and its Determinants. The Case of Governance Reforms in Higher Education in Western European Countries

Public Policy
Qualitative Comparative Analysis
Higher Education
Policy Change
Giliberto Capano
Università di Bologna
Giliberto Capano
Università di Bologna
Andrea Pritoni
Scuola Normale Superiore

Governments can reach programmatic success by adopting, ceteris paribus, the proper mix of policy instruments. We test this assumption by focusing on the case of governance reforms of higher education in Western Europe, where in the last thirty years governments have continuously adjusted their higher education policies to make universities more efficient and more effective (by increasing the percentage of graduates, by reducing the number of university drop-outs). All countries have decided to address these changes by adopting a similar policy design, by following the latest fashionable template: the steering at the distance model. However, despite similar policy patterns being replicated nearly everywhere, indicators of performance still reveal remarkable variation. This leads to our main research questions: 1. How to measure successful policy in higher education in comparative perspective? 2. What are the determinants of performance improvement in higher education? After having reasoned on the best way to measure systemic performance and its relative improvements in higher education, we argue that differences in performance across national HESs depend on the mix of different types of policy instruments. We test this expectation with respect to twelve HESs in Western Europe: Austria, Denmark, England, Finland, France, Greece, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, and Sweden. Utilizing a large, new, dataset containing all the changes in policy instruments undertaken in the last 25 years in every of the analyzed countries, we turn to (QCA) to unravel conjunctural causation. The final results show not only that the common template has been applied through different national combinations of policy instruments but also that only few instruments can be considered sufficient condition regardless the others that are part of the actual policy mix. Thus, governmental success could depend on the strategic use of a few number of policy instruments that can matter more than the others.

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