The Bologna Process as a Multidimensional Architecture of Policy Diffusion in Western Europe

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2023
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Martens, Kerstin
Niemann, Dennis
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JUNGBLUT, Jens, ed., Martin MALTAIS, ed., Erik C. NESS, ed. and others. Comparative Higher Education Politics : Policymaking in North America and Western Europe. 1st edition. Cham: Springer, 2023, pp. 427-453. Higher Education Dynamics (HEDY). 60. ISBN 978-3-031-25866-4. Available under: doi: 10.1007/978-3-031-25867-1_18
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We look at the Bologna Process as a process of policy diffusion and regional convergence across Western Europe. We focus in particular on the issue of quality assurance in HE because it not only affects the core competence of national decision-making and is a hard case for the impact of soft governance through policy diffusion, but also remains under-researched in the literature. The Bologna Process created a multidimensional architecture of policy diffusion, as its contents need to be translated into subnational levels (e.g. in federal systems) and into individual institutions.

First, we review the policy diffusion literature and point out current trends, before defining and exploring other concepts closely linked to diffusion research, which may also help to understand the Bologna Process. We then scope the literature on the Bologna Process and the EHEA and show how both bodies of literature (policy diffusion and Bologna Process research) increasingly relate to each other. Second, we explore how transnational communication can serve as a theoretical framework for examining cross-national vertical as well as horizontal HE policy diffusion in the absence of legally binding agreements. In the empirical section, we outline some basic features of the Bologna Process as a process of policy diffusion before focusing on quality assurance and its diffusion across different countries. To illustrate our arguments, we explore the cases of Germany, France, and Italy, three of the four founding countries of the Bologna Process if counting the 1998 Sorbonne declaration as a pre-condition for the ensuing Bologna Process and the EHEA. In view of the European Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance, which have further evolved over the past 15 years, we then show how the multidimensional architecture of HE systems across Europe has led to the transnational diffusion of new quality assurance policies into entirely different historical contexts.

Our analysis shows that the foundations for quality assurance were set in the 1990s in all three countries, driven largely by domestic problem pressure and a shift towards New Public Management. The Bologna Process then provided the thrust for the further institutionalization and systematization of all three systems. It appears that international policy promotion initially served as the main diffusion mechanism, as the objectives of all systems were largely based on Bologna guidelines. Yet critical differences still exist in the institutional configurations of the systems, which can be explained by both pre-existing institutional peculiarities as well as “differential policy emulation” in the more recent phase. Specifically, we show that diffusion of a primarily bilateral nature is taking place between countries, trigging the transfer of policies and institutions which are not necessarily of Anglo-American inspiration.

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ISO 690DOBBINS, Michael, Kerstin MARTENS, Dennis NIEMANN, Eva Maria VÖGTLE, 2023. The Bologna Process as a Multidimensional Architecture of Policy Diffusion in Western Europe. In: JUNGBLUT, Jens, ed., Martin MALTAIS, ed., Erik C. NESS, ed. and others. Comparative Higher Education Politics : Policymaking in North America and Western Europe. 1st edition. Cham: Springer, 2023, pp. 427-453. Higher Education Dynamics (HEDY). 60. ISBN 978-3-031-25866-4. Available under: doi: 10.1007/978-3-031-25867-1_18
BibTex
@incollection{Dobbins2023Bolog-67024,
  year={2023},
  doi={10.1007/978-3-031-25867-1_18},
  title={The Bologna Process as a Multidimensional Architecture of Policy Diffusion in Western Europe},
  edition={1st edition},
  number={60},
  isbn={978-3-031-25866-4},
  publisher={Springer},
  address={Cham},
  series={Higher Education Dynamics (HEDY)},
  booktitle={Comparative Higher Education Politics : Policymaking in North America and Western Europe},
  pages={427--453},
  editor={Jungblut, Jens and Maltais, Martin and Ness, Erik C.},
  author={Dobbins, Michael and Martens, Kerstin and Niemann, Dennis and Vögtle, Eva Maria}
}
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First, we review the policy diffusion literature and point out current trends, before defining and exploring other concepts closely linked to diffusion research, which may also help to understand the Bologna Process. We then scope the literature on the Bologna Process and the EHEA and show how both bodies of literature (policy diffusion and Bologna Process research) increasingly relate to each other. Second, we explore how transnational communication can serve as a theoretical framework for examining cross-national vertical as well as horizontal HE policy diffusion in the absence of legally binding agreements. In the empirical section, we outline some basic features of the Bologna Process as a process of policy diffusion before focusing on quality assurance and its diffusion across different countries. To illustrate our arguments, we explore the cases of Germany, France, and Italy, three of the four founding countries of the Bologna Process if counting the 1998 Sorbonne declaration as a pre-condition for the ensuing Bologna Process and the EHEA. In view of the European Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance, which have further evolved over the past 15 years, we then show how the multidimensional architecture of HE systems across Europe has led to the transnational diffusion of new quality assurance policies into entirely different historical contexts.

Our analysis shows that the foundations for quality assurance were set in the 1990s in all three countries, driven largely by domestic problem pressure and a shift towards New Public Management. The Bologna Process then provided the thrust for the further institutionalization and systematization of all three systems. It appears that international policy promotion initially served as the main diffusion mechanism, as the objectives of all systems were largely based on Bologna guidelines. Yet critical differences still exist in the institutional configurations of the systems, which can be explained by both pre-existing institutional peculiarities as well as “differential policy emulation” in the more recent phase. Specifically, we show that diffusion of a primarily bilateral nature is taking place between countries, trigging the transfer of policies and institutions which are not necessarily of Anglo-American inspiration.</dcterms:abstract>
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