Italian Centre for Research on Universities & HE Systems

Exploring the determinants of higher education performance in Western Europe: A qualitative comparative analysis

Giliberto Capano and Andrea Pritoni

Regulation & Governance – Early View

Type: Journal Article
Year: 2019

As a result of domestic pressure or international prescription, many national higher education systems (HESs) in Europe have undergone structural changes over the last 30 years. These changes have been made primarily to enhance the overall performance – defined as students’ access, quality of teaching, and excellence in research – of universities. As such, almost all of these countries have decided to adopt similar policy strategies to foster institutional autonomy and differentiation, and greater managerial steering. However, although similar policy patterns have been replicated, performance indicators are remarkably variable across Western European countries. Thus, many of the proposed explanations may be oversimplifications of reality. This issue leads to our main research question: Which factors are associated with (teaching) performance improvement in HE? This paper focuses on university‐level education to explore the possibility that this association is conjunctural in nature. In other words, when considering the performance of university systems (i.e. teaching), it is important to identify the most effective combination of institutional autonomy, evaluation, internal governance, and public funding. Qualitative comparative analysis was employed to test this expectation on developments (1988–2008) in 12 HESs in Western Europe: Austria, Denmark, England, Finland, France, Greece, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, and Sweden. The results suggest that giving more institutional autonomy to universities is much less important than expected, whereas severe evaluation, generous public funding, and verticalized governance emerge as more relevant.




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