The Re-Institutionalization of Higher Education in the Western Balkans. The Interplay between European Ideas, Domestic Policies, and Institutional Practices
Edited by: Jelena Branković (Ghent University / Centre for Education Policy), Maja Kovačević (University of Belgrade), Peter Maassen (University of Oslo), Bjørn Stensaker (University of Oslo), Martina Vukasović, (Ghent University / University of Oslo)
Publisher: Peter Lang / Series: Higher Education Research and Policy (HERP) / April 2014
Higher education in the Western Balkans is currently undergoing substantial changes as a result of European reform ideas, new domestic policy initiatives as well as universities and colleges in the region trying to adapt to new expectations and challenges. The book analyzes the changes in both policy and practices in various countries in this region predominantly through a comparative approach. Through a number of empirical studies in which new data was collected and systematized, the book shows how countries in the Western Balkans are struggling to maneuver between adapting to broader European reform ideas while at the same time handling domestic challenges. Hence, the book is a valuable contribution to those interested in studying how various higher education systems are developing in the different European regions.
Change has been a key characteristic of European higher education the last three decades. During this period higher education systems and institutions have witnessed dramatically changing socio-economic, technological and political environments, general public sector reforms aimed at modernizing public sector governance and management, and increasing demands for positive social and economic impacts of their education and research activities. However, as part of this process, one should underline that some countries and regions have been more exposed to change than others. The Western Balkans is one of these regions. Comprising of countries which formerly were part of the Republic of Yugoslavia (with the exception of Albania), the region has during the last couple of decades faced two interrelated sets of challenges: First, each newly independent and democratizing country in the region had to establish its own national higher education system after the breakdown of the nation state they used to be part of. This required the development of new laws and regulations, the establishment of new governance and funding systems, and the adequate handling of problems with respect to the quality, efficiency and relevance of the higher education institutions. Second, to adjust these newly developed systems to European developments, not least the Bologna process and more internationally oriented higher education institutions while maintaining national and regional relevance.
The countries of the Western Balkans form a particularly interesting region to study in that in-depth studies can shed lights on several theoretical and policy related problems in higher education. Theoretically, the Western Balkan countries make up a natural laboratory for comparative studies enabling a testing of a number of theoretical assumptions and hypotheses about policy choices and policy change. Since these countries used to be part of a unified, albeit federal system of higher education it is of interest to understand to what extent such structural path-dependency influenced the formations and developments of the new systems. At the same time, the new countries can be argued to have very different political and socio-economic challenges. Their populations differ in size, and they have different economies and labour markets. Hence, one would expect that such factors may have paved the way for unique national solutions and emphases. As such, comparative analysis may identify the relative importance of factors that have been influential in the formation of the new higher education systems. Theoretically, it is also of interest to study more closely how broader European developments in higher education may impact the further developments of the higher education systems in these countries. The latter dimension is also important in the sense that some of the countries in the Western Balkans are, or are close to becoming, member of the EU, while others are aspiring member candidates. Against this background several research questions arise. Will the higher education systems in the Western Balkan region converge as part of this process, or will European developments have different impacts on the countries? How are European policy initiatives understood and translated in the region? Both regarding the deconstruction and the reconstruction of national systems of higher education, the Western Balkan countries make up quite unique and little studied cases.
Politically, a comparative study on the Western Balkan countries may also have high relevance. First, comparative analysis may provide information about the functioning and effects of different political initiatives and measures, and may provide governments and policy-makers within the region with practical advice and potential good practises across the borders. Second, a study on the Western Balkans would also be highly relevant beyond this region as quite little systematic research has been undertaken on the development of higher education in transition countries. Improved knowledge on the situation in the Western Balkan region may be of value to those that conduct policy making at the European level where new knowledge is acquired as to how European initiatives and measures are received in various regions and settings.