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Non-university Higher Education

Non-university Higher Education
Marco Seeber
CHEGG, Centre for Higher Education
Governance Ghent, Department of Sociology,
Ghent, Belgium
Community colleges;Fachhochschulen;Institutes
of technology;Polytechnics;Short-cycle higher
education;University colleges;Universities of
applied science
Organizations formally recognized as higher edu-
cation institutions, whose main activity is to pro-
vide tertiary education with a focus on
professional and vocational education, possibly
research active but no right to award doctoral
Introduction: Conceptual Clarity
Non-university higher education institutions are
named in several ways in different countries, such
as universities of applied science, colleges, insti-
tutes of technology, and polytechnics. Such vari-
ety of labels is partly indicative of the
heterogeneity of institutions that are, in different
places, considered as part of the non-university
higher education sector. On the one hand, like
universities, these institutions are entities nation-
ally recognized as higher education institutions
(HEIs) e.g., recognized in national law, of-
cially accredited by a specic body, named in an
ofcial list of recognized HEIs and whose main
activity is to provide education at the tertiary
level. Research and development activities might
be present, but are not a necessary condition nor
should be the only institutional activity (Lepori
et al. 2016). On the other hand, universities are
oriented to academic activities and award doctoral
degrees, while the non-university sector compre-
hends so-called universities of applied science,
which focus on professional and vocational edu-
cation and that in most cases do not have the right
to award a doctorate, as well as other types of
HEIs like art academies, military schools, and
technological and professional schools in coun-
tries without a binary system (like the UK or
France) (Lepori et al. 2016).
In Europe, the importance of the
non-university sector is variable across countries,
as well as the importance respectively of univer-
sities of applied sciences and other types of HEIs.
In Germanic countries, for instance, the
Fachhochschulen attract more students than uni-
versity colleges of teacher education; in France
there are no universities of applied science,
whereas the Ecoles are widely diffused. Table 1
displays the number of institutions and
#Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016
J.C. Shin, P. Teixeira (eds.), Encyclopedia of International Higher Education Systems and Institutions,
DOI 10.1007/978-94-017-9553-1_26-1
undergraduate students enrolled in the three broad
typologies of HEIs in the ten largest European
higher education systems.
Outside Europe, the existence of
non-university HEIs and their types is to some
extent inuenced by the academic tradition of
the country of colonial background. Latin Amer-
ican and Francophone countries in Africa do not
have a college type of HEI, alike the Spanish and
French systems, whereas the distinction between
research universities and colleges does exist in
former British colonies. In the USA, the
non-university sector includes community col-
leges providing 2-year degrees and liberal arts
colleges providing 4-year bachelor degree. In
China, junior and vocational colleges are also
widely diffused.
Historical Background
Non-university sectors rst emerged in the most
economically advanced countries in the 1960s
(Kyvik 2004; Taylor et al. 2008). At that time,
studentsenrolment to higher education was
expanding, and contextually, scholars in econom-
ics of education supported that that an increase in
higher education enrolment and graduation was a
precondition to economic growth. Different pol-
icy options were considered in order to meet the
growing demand of tertiary education.
Establishing new universities was deemed expen-
sive, while it was feared that leaving to existing
universities the duty to absorb the growing num-
ber of students could harm their quality. Instead,
experts and policymakers agreed that the diversi-
cation of the higher education system could bet-
ter cater for the growth in student numbers and
meet the variety of studentsneeds (Teichler
2008). Therefore, in most countries the
non-university sector emerged by upgrading
existing colleges and vocational institutions,
namely, institutions specialized in a given disci-
pline or professional eld, to the status of
non-university higher education institutions.
While this solution granted a relatively fast tran-
sition, it was debated whether non-university
HEIs were truly needed and better than existing
vocational institutions in providing profession
oriented education. As a matter of fact, rather
than empirical evidence, it was the argument that
other countries had a non-university HE sector
that played an important role for the establishment
of non-university sectors (Teichler 2008; Lepori
and Kyvik 2010).
For recently established non-university sec-
tors, other objectives have been relevant as well,
in particular, the recognition of diplomas from
upper secondary school within the emerging
European System of Accreditation, the
Non-university Higher Education, Table 1 Number of institutions and undergraduate students enrolled in universi-
ties and non-university type of HEIs, ten largest European HE systems
Number of HEIs Students isced 57
University UAS
Other HEIs
Total students isced
DE 109 190 91 63 34 4 2,502,081
UK 129 0 21 98 0 2 2,170,980
IT 96 0 80 98 0 2 1,803,120
FR 77 0 239 82 0 18 1,668,866
PL 111 102 67 77 17 7 1,618,629
ES 80 0 0 100 0 0 1,539,709
NL 19 37 0 36 64 0 692,618
SE 29 0 11 97 0 3 446,603
CZ 29 0 41 91 0 9 352,822
PT 40 50 4 55 45 0 338,227
Source: Elaboration on ETER dataset (year 2013)
2 Non-university Higher Education
development of programs better aligned with the
needs of the market and the economy, and the
need to increase completion rates and reduce
time to degree (Pausits and Huisman 2016).
Differentiation and Isomorphism
in Respect to the University Sector
Depending on the system considered, the univer-
sity and non-university sectors may differ in terms
of entry requirements, the characteristics and
lengths of the study programs, the career tracks,
salaries, and status of the academic staff (Teichler
1998,2008). The strength of the divide between
the two sectors also relates to whether universities
have a monopoly in PhD certicates, a separate
core funding, and public research funding pro-
grams, whether non-university HEIsstudents
can move to universities, and whether
non-university HEIs can become a university.
The divide between the two sectors is neat, for
instance, in Switzerland, where universities and
UAS are clearly regarded equal but different,
therefore subjected to a different law and ministry,
distinct funding, and career systems (Lepori
2008). Instead in Norway, university colleges
have a specic mission but share the same career
system of universities; they are regulated by the
same act, subjected to the same incentive-based
funding system; and colleges can even ask for the
right to hold PhD programs and to be accredited as
universities (Kyvik 2009; Lepori and Kyvik
While universities of applied science were
originally assigned a different mission from uni-
versities, namely, to provide professional and
vocational education at bachelor level, over time
it has been observed a phenomenon of academic
drift,namely, the tendency of non-universities to
imitate universities in order to increase their status
(Neave 1979). Beyond the academic drift, it has
been argued that also the Bologna Process may
gradually blur the boundaries between the two
sectors, by increasing permeability between cur-
ricula in the two sectors and by placing more
emphasis on stage of education and type of degree
rather than the type of higher education institution
(Witte et al. 2008). According to Teichler (2008),
the combined effects of the academic drift and the
Bologna process may ultimately lead to the dis-
appearance of a distinct non-university sector, as it
happened in the UK where polytechnics have
been upgraded to the university status (Teichler
2008). Nevertheless, while sectors are becoming
more similar in some countries (Huisman and
Kaiser 2001), in others the divide appears rela-
tively stable (Lepori and Kyvik 2010), and so far
the merge of the two sectors has only occurred in
the UK and in Australia (Meek 1991; Fulton
1996). A longitudinal study on the Swiss system
has found that between 2000 and 2008, the divide
has become neater along dimensions that are core
to each type, namely, for which the policy clearly
prescribes the two sectors to be different or for
which key audiences expect universities and uni-
versities of applied science to be different,
whereas blending has occurred as to non-core
dimensions (Lepori et al. 2014). In Dutch part of
Belgium, Flanders, in 2003, the government
launched a reform aimed to promote associations
between universities and hogescholen in order to
ease the implementation of the Bologna process,
by transforming two-cycle degree programs into
academic-oriented masters programs and
strengthening the research-teaching nexus. While
this reform could have narrowed the distance
between the two sectors, instead the research
active parts of the hogescholen were in a second
stage co-opted and absorbed into universities,
thus reafrming the distinction (File et al. 2016).
In sum, it appears that the stability and evolu-
tion of the non-university higher education sector
are heavily dependent on contextual conditions of
each country system, like its legislation and power
dynamics between groups of institutions.
Research Activity, Knowledge Transfer,
and Internationalization
In recent decades, the universitiesmissions have
extended beyond the traditional teaching and
research activities, toward including transfer and
exchange of knowledge with the society and the
economic sector the so-called third mission as
Non-university Higher Education 3
well as to add an international dimension to their
activities (Knight 2004; Scott 2006). In a similar
vein, the mission and activities performed by
non-university HEIs have also evolved.
In most countries, non-university HEIs were
initially not expected to do research, whereas
throughout time this function has become more
common (OECD 1998; Kyvik and Skodvin
2003). In most cases, the research function has
emerged bottom-up,through the initiative of
individuals and individual institutions, and has
been gradually integrated into the mission of uni-
versities of applied science. In other cases, like
Switzerland, one of the main motivations for
upgrading professional schools into universities
of applied science was precisely the need to
develop HEIs focused on applied and practice-
oriented research, with a role of regional knowl-
edge providers that could complement the univer-
sitiesorientation to fundamental research (Lepori
2008). At present, research still constitutes a
minor part of non-university HEIsbudgets. Its
importance varies greatly across systems, and it
tends to be concentrated only in some institutions,
disciplines, and individuals, rather than being a
general function. Moreover, in some countries,
there is no difference in the research mission of
universities and non-universities, so that they
mostly differentiate in terms of research intensity.
On the other hand, the volume of research activity
is growing, and in some countries the universities
of applied science have a well-dened and distinct
research mission than the universities that pre-
serve a specic area of expertise (Heggen
et al. 2010; Jongbloed 2010; Lepori and Kyvik
2010). In the future, the research function of the
non-university sector may be further spurred as
new generations of researchers can be more keen
than their older peers to engage in knowledge
production and exchange (Lepori and Kywik
Non-universities also aim to internationalize
their activities (Wächter 1999). Yet the rationales
for increasing their level of internationalization
are to some extent different from those of univer-
sities. More emphasis is placed on increasing the
international awareness and deeper engagement
with global issues by students, namely, to train
opened-minded and dynamic citizens that are able
to work in foreign and culturally diverse environ-
ments, while less relevant is the rationale to
strengthen research and knowledge production
capacity (Seeber et al. 2016).
In turn, in some cases, the emergence of a
research function and the adoption of given prac-
tices from universities have resulted from norma-
tive and mimetic forms of institutional
isomorphism as well as the pursuit of status
(Di Maggio and Powell 1983; Neave 1979). How-
ever, this has not always been the case. National
legislation can carve specic areas of expertise for
non-university HEIs and their own strategic inter-
ests may also lead them to diversify their practices
rather than imitate those of universities. These two
trajectories may well both guarantee organiza-
tional survival, although future research can
explore which one more conducive to the growth
of the non-university sector and which one is more
benecial for the interests and needs of HEIs
Diversity and Higher Education
Institutional Diversity, Horizontal and Vertical
Types and Classications of Higher Education
Types of Higher Education Systems
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