Building the European Higher Education Area: Reflexivity As a Policy Tool in University Quality Assurance

Wednesday, July 12, 2017
Gilbert Scott Conference Room - 251 (University of Glasgow)
Adrienn Nyircsák , School of Public Policy, Central European University
Higher education is a prominent terrain for experimental governance in Europe. The European Higher Education Area (EHEA) has emerged via the creation of self-governing policy networks the existence of which relies extensively on learning-based instruments, such as benchmarking, good practice sharing and expert deliberation.

This paper offers a fresh take on instruments of new governance in Europe by examining tools of stakeholder-driven policy co-ordination which prompt participants to engage in learning from each other, but also about their own roles and identities. The core argument is that the management of the learning experience at the level of the network implies the mobilization and the development of reflexive capacities of the actors involved. Reflexivity as a policy tool is analysed at the level of institutional and organizational practices and is conceptualized as a constitutive element in the design of mutual learning exercises; and eventually, in the construction of the EHEA as a nascent domain of European governance.

The paper uses the notion of “instrumentation” as understood by political sociologists and critical theorists to to study the role of policy instruments in the inclusion of universities in the coordination process as both subjects and actors of governance. The quality assurance discourse and techniques developed and mainstreamed via reflexive co-ordination bestows the responsibility upon universities to assume ownership and control over the quality of their services and at the same time it empowers them to become self-governing.