The Faceless Masters of Higher Education. Governing Through Standards: the Bologna Process and the New Realities of Higher Education

Katja Brøgger Jensen

    Publikation: Ph.d. afhandling/ kandidat/ diplomPh.d. afhandlingForskningpeer review


    This dissertation contributes to research on international higher education reform by offering an empirical and theoretical account of the mode of governance that characterizes the Bologna Process and by demonstrating how the reform materializes and is translated in everyday working life, including an empirical and theoretical account of the agency among professors and managers as integral to the understanding of the reform. The dissertation explores the Bologna Process through a multisited policy ethnography that consists of an ethnographic examination and analysis of a) the policy ontology of the Bologna Process: the ‘quality’ or the condition and constitution of the ways in which the Bologna Process works, b) the material-affective infrastructure of the policy ontology: the follow-up mechanisms, including specific tools and instruments through which the Bologna mode of governance is set in motion, and c) professors and managers’ translations of the Bologna Process, including the ways in which the reform processes alter professional working life in higher education organizations.

    The research project employs a combination of qualitative methods and materials, including interviews, observations, logbooks and document analysis. The philosophical and theoretical approach of the dissertation is based on the onto-epistemological turn within poststructuralism. The dissertation traces the philosophical inheritance of this turn back to Martin Heidegger’s subversion of phenomenology into hermeneutics and gains inspiration from Jacques Derrida and Karen Barad’s philosophical sophistications of performativity and the revitalizing of ontology. The dissertation further connects this philosophical approach with a theoretical re-conceptualization of globalization as a dimension of social geography and by exploring practices and enactments in a way that recognizes that material and human agency constitute one another. To further enhance the agentic dimensions of the Bologna Process, the dissertation takes inspiration from the ‘policy borrowing and lending’ approach to policy studies which includes local enactments and translations as part of reform processes.

    The dissertation reveals the close connections between the Bologna Process and the EU regarding regulative and monitoring techniques such as standardizations and comparisons, which are carried out through the so-called ‘Open Method of Coordination’. The dissertation suggests that the Bologna principles were part of an early EU agenda on European growth that pre-dates the Bologna Declaration in 1999 and thus that the Bologna Process works as a subtle means to circumvent the EU’s subsidiarity principle, making it possible to accomplish a European governance of higher education despite the fact that education falls outside EU’s legislative reach.

    The dissertation further argues that the spread and continuous development and production of higher education standards in Europe depends on the infrastructure of the Bologna Process, which consists of an explosion of standardizing devices and monitoring practices. The materiality of the infrastructure, such as multicolored scorecards that compare national performance data, is affectively wired through naming-shaming-faming mechanisms that calibrate and incentivize member states to mimic each other and desire ‘better performance’ and, as such co-opt themselves into peer-pressure. Through these material-affective processes, governance without government is produced. Member states are made to co-opt themselves into the process through the extensive use of benchmarking and best practice exercises and through this process member states – including experts and peers – become efficient standardizers themselves and actively participate in the production and monitoring of standardized performance requirements. However, the dissertation shows that these ‘high-wired’ demands on performance seem to create an unexpected collapse within higher education. In particular, the mid-level managers seem to constitute a material-bodily zone of impact in which this collapse occurs.

    Following the spread of two education standards – the modularization and the outcome-orientation of the curriculum – the dissertation argues that standardization used as a regulative technology designed to govern at a distance reaches deep into the ontological matter of everyday working life in higher education organizations. Based on an onto-epistemological notion on performativity, the dissertation reveals how these standards are involved with the creation, shaping and (re)configuring of the realities of higher education. The dissertation argues that these standards alter that which they seek to govern because they change professors and managers’ social and professional worlds and because they themselves bend and transform when they are bundled up with work practices. Therefore, the dissertation further concludes, that even though a standardizing process has taken place, this does not necessarily entail that such a process has contributed uniformity. The contrasting translations of the standards materialize as ontological and temporal collisions between the professors’ war of academic identities haunted by the past and the managers’ calculation and acceleration of change haunted by the future. However, the infrastructure of the Bologna Process produces, stages and sustains particular versions and impressions of successful implementation of the Bologna objectives. The ontology of the Bologna Process, including its infrastructure, stabilizes itself by glossing over the messy and colliding reals related to the translations within higher education organizations. The demarcations that once framed the social geography of national education are currently being dissolved. The new education standards that transgress nation states and institutions are changing the quality of the social interactions – or, to use a Barad-inspired term, ‘intra-actions’. This makes the Bologna Process emerge as a dimension of the social and professional world of higher education rather than an educational space in its own right. Since the Bologna Process relies on voluntary co-option, once established, the challenge – or perhaps the potential – is that no one person or organization has the power to change it. The standards through which the Bologna Process is governed no longer serve as tools for what were once human organizational, national or international, regulators. The standards become regulators themselves – the faceless masters of higher education.
    StatusUdgivet - maj 2015


    • globalisering
    • politik