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ECPR Virtual General Conference 2020

Conceptualizing Major Institutional Change in Higher Education

Higher Education
Emma Sabzalieva
Centre for European, Russian, & Eurasian Studies
Emma Sabzalieva
Centre for European, Russian, & Eurasian Studies

Whilst new institutionalism offers valuable insights into stability and incremental change, far less consideration has been given to the transformative potential of social institutions such as higher education (Enders 2004) both to effect and be transmitters of change in dramatically changing contexts accompanying periods of major political, social and economic (i.e. institutional) change (Brennan, King, and Lebeau 2004; Polyzoi and Dneprov 2010).
I am supporting the development of new institutional theory by examining what happens in higher education after a specific instance of major institutional change: the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. This change opened vast ideological and physical spaces in the newly (re-)independent states for the introduction of alternative ideas into existing social institutions. My study thus also interrogates the validity of new institutional theory outside of the Western context it was developed in. Further, it responds to a gap in understanding how theories of change are applied to specific policy spheres (Cerna 2013), in this case higher education.
This paper focusses on how this change has been conceptualized by a range of academic authors writing about higher education across the former Soviet space over a temporal period ranging from 1991 to the present. My study innovatively combines analysis of both English and Russian language sources, enabling a reflection on the extent to which authors writing in these languages converge or diverge in their conceptualizations of change in higher education
A framework from Streeck and Thelen (2005) is used to analyse the types of institutional change employed to understand varying representations of change. This delineates both the process of change (as incremental or abrupt) and the result of change (as continuity or discontinuity). Social cartography techniques are used to map the findings. Mapping is a non-homogenizing method of visually representing different constructions of change and their intersections (Paulston 1996; de Oliveira Andreotti et al. 2016).
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