Reforming Higher Education in Europe: From State Regulation Towards New Managerialism?

Merrien, François X.
May 2000
The present study describes the changes in the traditional European model of higher education, its successes as well as failures. The remarkable expansion of higher education in Europe during the postwar period was the result of a shared belief in the virtue of higher education per se. The traditional model of higher education assumes a stable relationship of fair exchange between the State and the academics: the State gives power to the academics in the belief that in this way it will receive in return the forms of knowledge, basic research, and advanced education that will be of most value to itself. In Europe-as was the case in Latin America-the policy of developing the higher education sector was supported by the elite and by the middle classes, both of whom considered higher education to be a means for training professional workers and a way to enhance economic development and social mobility. The 1980s marked the beginning of some radical changes on the two continents in terms of higher education. This evolution can be associated with a shift from a more interventionist, Keynesian welfare state to a more neoliberal and supervisory State. This shift meant diminution of the belief that bureaucratic institutions could respond correctly to society's needs and increased currency of the belief in the virtues of markets or quasi-markets. The aim of the study is not to compare trends in Europe with those in Latin America. Nevertheless, it is interesting to note that from the beginning of the 1970s radical changes were also introduced into the Latin American systems of higher education, partially for economic and political reasons.