University Autonomy in Europe I

Changing Paradigms in Higher Education Policy

Duration: 2002

University Autonomy I (pdf)

Sponsors: Magna Charta Observatory (Bologna)

Project collaborators: Ulrike Felt; Michaela Glanz


This project aims at identifying the major lines of change with regard to the autonomy of universities in the selected European countries. When talking about building up a “Europe of Knowledge” and the role of European universities within this process, one has to keep in mind, that the national university systems in Europe have very different histories resulting into rather diverse models of university systems. However, over the last years any of the national systems investigated in our report has been subject to substantial reforms under the heading of “university autonomy” and the need for a new contract between university and its environment. Thus, the main question to be discussed in this report is that of the different national notions of university autonomy and whether one can talk about an increase of universities’ autonomous space or rather about new dependencies. We draw attention to the fact that while some changes will lead to an increased degree of freedom in certain spaces, the same changes may cause reduced freedom of movement at other levels. While we theoretically conceptualise the dynamics of change in the first part of the paper, we explore the history of national higher education reforms as a context for the notion of university autonomy in the eight European countries chosen for analysis. In particular we discuss the national systems and it’s differences or similarities concerning the issues of decision making and of human resources management. We identified some major shifts in the basic philosophy of decision making inside universities and in the relationship between university, politics and society as well, which creates some new dependencies and opens up some space for external control. In our investigation of the human resources issue at universities deals draws attention to the interplay between the rather different perspectives of the individual academic staff, the expectations of various stakeholders and society at large and the strategies universities themselves (have) to develop as more or less autonomous institutions in order to cope with their changing environments as well as with their own visions of human resources management.