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Policy Process in Higher Education

Authors:
P
Policy Process in Higher Education
Peter Scott
UCL Institute of Education, University of
London, London, UK
Introduction
There are several labels used to describe policy
making. The rst is policy formationwhich has
often been used as a synonym for the policy
process as a whole. In fact the concept of the
policy process goes much wider. It is a label that
embraces all aspects and phases of policy from
the initial identication of problems, through the
selection of policy options and the legitimation of
these policy choices to policy implementation and
the evaluation of policy outcomes and then to new
(and improved) policies. Another label is the pol-
icy cycle,which has sometimes been preferred to
that of policy processbecause the journey from
preliminary identication of problems all the way
to the evaluation of policy outcomes appears to
resemble a feedback loop. However, there are
objections to the concept of a policy cycle. It
suggests that the making of policy is characterised
by a process of continuous improvement, and
offers no explanation of the frequent disconnec-
tions between these different phases of the policy
process nor of the regressive, even perverse,
nature of some policies. Sometimes these various
labels have been combined for example, the
policy formation processor the policy process
life-cycle,which has added to the confusion (see
also chapter Policy Cycle in Higher Educa-
tion, Theories of).
Models of Policy Process and Their
Limitations
There is a variety of models of the policy process
and an abundance of theories (Birkland 2011;
Dunn 2016; Sabatier and Weible 2014). But they
perhaps differ in detail more than substance. Some
are simple, and focus on four simple stages prob-
lem identication, policy formulation, policy
implementation and policy evaluation. Others are
more elaborate. For example, seven stages are
identied starting once again with problem iden-
tication and then moving through the establish-
ment of evaluation criteria, the identication of
policy options, the selection of policies, the imple-
mentation of the chosen policies, the evaluation of
their outcomes and, nally, the revision of these
policies (or their replacement by new policies).
Others models again apply an additional level of
sophistication and separate these stages into differ-
ent phases for example, the pre-decisional phase
when problems are identied and policy options
developed; a decisional phase when policies are
adopted (and legitimated); and a post-decisional
phase comprising implementation, evaluation and
revision (or termination). Some models focus in
addition on policy actors decision makers,
#Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2018
J.C. Shin, P. Teixeira (eds.), Encyclopedia of International Higher Education Systems and Institutions,
https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-017-9553-1_151-1
whether politicians or bureaucrats; decision
inuencers such as interest and pressure groups
and wider public opinion; and implementers and
evaluators with their specialist skills.
However, many of these models of the policy
process share similar limitations:
Often they tend to minimise the role of politics,
values and ideology, and present an essentially
technocratic account of the policy process.
They also tend to downplay the impact of the
unequal distribution of power at every stage of
the policy process. Although it is now common
to talk about evidence basedpolicy, and to
stress the role of research in policy making
(and, in particular, the evaluation of policy out-
comes), this does not mean that all options are
on the table. The commissioning of research,
and choice of evaluators, are determined by
prior choices about desirable policies and
wished-for outcomes. Similar issues arise
with the legitimation of policy. Although it
has become increasingly common to engage
in formal consultation with (recognised, and
therefore pre-selected) stake-holders,at
both policy selection and policy evaluation
stages, the dominant choice criteria remain
political and ideological. These gritty realities
are not always adequately captured in stan-
dards models of the policy process (see also
chapter Politics, Power and Ideology);
A second limitation, closely related to the rst,
is that most models focus on the formal and
explicit stages of the policy process. Their
theoretical formulation may tend to obscure
key underlying processes that are informal,
and even tacit. As a result these models may
not adequately capture either the turbulence,
even chaos, that are characteristic of real-time
policy making, implementation and evaluation
but, more crucially, the resistances,
silencesand absencesin the policy pro-
cess. They tend to impose a regularity, and
objectivity, that seldom exist in practice. Typ-
ically models are theoretically rather histori-
cally, or empirically, grounded, although there
are exceptions (Shattock 2012). Even when
they focus on the whoand how,they do
not always adequately explain the why(Gale
2007);
A third limitation is that these models ignore
that policy options are also constrained by
existing administrative structures and institu-
tional patterns, as well as historically deter-
mined values and political and ideological
preferences (and prejudices). It is almost
never possible to start with a clean sheet. For
example, the kind of health service reform that
in Europe might appear routine would be
regarded as radical, or even impossible, in the
United States. Even the boldest initiatives,
such as the California master plan in the
1960s, are rooted in these political, bureau-
cratic and normative structures. They start as
tidying-up exercises designed to bring order to
existing arrangements and relationships,
although the boldest acquire a creative momen-
tum that can approximate to starting fresh;
A fourth limitation of these models of the policy
process is that they are generally context spe-
cic, despite implied claims of near-universal
applicability. Most have been developed in rela-
tion to public policy making (by the State and
other public agencies) and, to a lesser extent, to
strategy development and options appraisals in
large corporate bureaucracies. However, these
standard models have been undermined by
recent shifts in State and corporate behaviour,
and as a result may be out-of-date. The suppos-
edly hollowed-outStates of the twenty-rst
century now place less emphasis on traditional
policy-related activities such as planning, prior-
ities and funding choices, and greater emphasis
on regulation and more general strategic over-
sight. Large corporate bureaucracies have also
adjusted their strategy development processes to
take greater account of the more uncertain and
volatile environments characteristic of twenty-
rst-century markets.
The Policy Process in Higher Education
In higher education these standard models of the
policy process, although adopted in outline,
encounter a further limitation: they have been
2 Policy Process in Higher Education
imported into higher education rather than been
developed with the particular characteristics of
higher education in mind. This is apparent at
both systemic and institutional levels:
Although most higher education systems were
established by deliberate State action, they
vary greatly. A (very) few resemble topdown
command-and-control systems. But these are
the exceptions. Most are better described as
more-or-less loosely articulated aggregations
of institutions subject to the same, or similar,
legal and administrative rules, and funding and
regulatory regimes. A few systemsare little
more than convenient labels used by scholars
to embrace the totality of higher education
institutions, which may imply an exaggerated
or even spurious coherence (see also chapter
Higher Education Systems, Types of). The
policy process is clearly different in these dif-
ferent types of system;
In institutions themselves these standard
models may also be unsatisfactory. Within tra-
ditional universities, in particular, which typi-
cally form the apex of higher education
systems, policysometimes enjoys only a
precarious legitimacy. The identication of
problems, the implementation of policies and,
most of, the evaluation of outcomes may
appear to run counter to inuential traditions
of autonomy, and cherished values of academic
freedom, and even be actively contested by
powerful interest groups. The translation of
institutional missions, described in terms of
values and aspirations, into strategies with
more detailed (and measurable) objectives has
been only grudgingly conceded. The policy
process as a whole has sometimes been asso-
ciated with the development of more robust
management systems within institutions.
However, despite these limitations, the empha-
sis on explicit policy making in higher education
has increased as mass-access systems have devel-
oped and institutions have increased in scale and
complexity (Hillman et al. 2015). But the policy
process continues to be shaped both from inside
by the special characteristics of higher education,
and in particular its elite component, and from
outsideby new practices reecting wider polit-
ical and ideological shifts and structural changes.
The policy process in higher education
operates at multiple levels and also in different
modes:
International
The rst is at the international level, although less
attention has been focused on this level. Interna-
tional agencies, such as the World Bank and the
Organisation for Economic Cooperation and
Development (OECD), are fertile sources of pol-
icy.Although this policydoes not take directly
legislative, bureaucratic or managerial forms, it is
highly inuential in terms of policy borrowing
and plays a particularly important role in the legit-
imation of national policies (see also chapter
Policy Learning and Borrowing, Higher Edu-
cation). In some cases it acquires a quasi-
mandatory form for example, when Govern-
ments come under signicant pressure to accept
the adviceoffered by the World Bank as a
condition of access to loans for restructuring, or
when Governments invite the OECD to evaluate
the effectiveness of their higher education poli-
cies. Within Europe the inter-governmental Bolo-
gna process has had a similar effect. Although the
degree of compliance with the policies, structures
and instruments associated with that process has
varied, Bologna has increasingly offered a frame-
work within which the detailed reform of
European higher education systems has been
undertaken.
National
The second is the national level. The most familiar
forms of national policy are: (1) legislation, which
determine the legal framework in which higher
education institutions operate; (2) regulatory
regimes, which not only enforce these legal
frameworks but play an extended role in terms
of assessment, evaluation and improvement; and
(3) funding regimes, which determine how
(public) resources are allocated. Coordination,
and certainly coherence, of policies at national
level is usually difcult to achieve. The scope of
Policy Process in Higher Education 3
these policies is very wide policies that deter-
mine access to higher education and the institu-
tional taxonomy of national systems; policies that
focus on research and innovation; policies that
determine the conditions on which foreign stu-
dents can be admitted. Typically these policies
are the responsibility of different Ministries. In
addition there is a range of other policies that
impact on higher education for example, on
employment rights, health and safety, research
ethics (in areas such as stem cell research or
genetically modied materials). There is also a
variety of policy groupings political (although
political parties typically only focus on headline
policies) and bureaucratic (because civil servants
tend to focus on practicability and continuity
rather than novelty). Outside the policy process
as such there are numerous interest groups,
including the universities themselves, which
have become increasingly at lobbying, student
organisations and trade unions.
Systems
The third is the intermediate level between States
and institutions. This can take a number of forms.
The most obvious are public agencies responsible
for distributing funding to individual institutions
(in jurisdictions where Ministries do not provide
direct funding) and for assuring, and improving,
the quality of higher education (and in some cases
providing adequate consumerinformation for
potential students). Although the model of a
buffer bodybetween universities and the State,
designed to secure the de-politicisation of higher
education development, has fallen out of fashion,
these agencies often still retain a high degree of
discretion. For example, the drive to assess the
quality of research and develop differential
funding systems in the UK (through the Research
Assessment Exercises and now the Research
Excellence Framework), which has followed in
several other countries, came from the intermedi-
ate agency not from the Government. In addition
to funding and quality agencies, and research
councils, there are many other types of intermedi-
ate bodies. For example, state-wide higher educa-
tion systems and multi-campus universities in the
US are typically governed by boards, of which a
good example is the Regents of the University of
California. A more recent development is the
emergence of groupings of institutions designed
to engage in collective lobbying but also to
encourage collaboration between these institu-
tions. This intermediate level of policy making is
exceptionally diverse, but also an important
source of both creative thinking and policy
innovation.
Institutions
The fourth is the institutional level. The policy
process within institutions has traditionally taken
two main forms academic policy, focused on
teaching programmes, the student experience and
research priorities; and administrative policy,
focused on the supporting resources and infra-
structure (nancial, human and physical). These
two forms of policy have tended to be more
strongly coordinated, or combined within over-
arching policy (in terms both of goals and imple-
mentation). Institutions have now been obliged to
focus more on policy and to develop more robust
management systems. One reason for this is the
growing scale and complexity of institutions,
which mean that priorities can no longer be deter-
mined in relation to shared but often tacit collegial
norms but rather by more explicit processes and
structures including a greatly strengthened pol-
icy process. Within the contemporary university a
wide range of disparate activities is now bundled
up. It is even difcult to divide these activities into
an academic core and entrepreneurial periphery.
In this respect the university is merely reecting
the opening-up of knowledge, in terms of sub-
jects, methodologies, actors, modes of dissemina-
tion and validation. A second reason is that, in
many jurisdictions, greater administrative respon-
sibilities have been deliberately devolved by State
agencies to universities. At the same time the State
has made new demands on institutions in terms of
accountability for the quality and relevance of
education, for their contribution to the achieve-
ment of national goals and for their organisational
competence. This is one aspect of the wider drift
towards an audit society(Power 1997). This has
required institutions to develop policy compe-
tence in areas previously the responsibility of the
4 Policy Process in Higher Education
State and also the capacity of address its new
demands for accountability (for example, by
developing elaborate information and reporting
systems). An additional factor is the growing
emphasis on institutions as strong actors as efforts
to steer higher education systems at national level
have been eroded by the enthusiasm for quasi-
market policies.
Policy Process in Context
A number of major policy themes can be observed
in many countries, although their operational
details vary and also the political enthusiasm for
their adoption. They include what is often labelled
modernisation,measures designed to promote
greater efciency and responsiveness (and often
linked to the devolution of administrative compe-
tences from the State and its agencies to individual
institutions; a drive to differentiation, to promote a
greater pluralism of institutional missions (and, in
some countries, institutional types); the develop-
ment of new instruments to measure performance,
and demonstrate accountability; and different
forms of what is labelled, perhaps misleadingly,
marketisation,whether by creating more com-
petitive regimes for State funding, introducing
(or increasing) so-called user paymentsor open-
ing up the marketto alternative providers (Scott
2016; Slaughter and Rhoades 2004)). The wide-
spread adoption of these themes has produced
important changes in the nature of the policy
process at both national/system and institutional
levels.
At national and system levels the focus of the
policy process has tended to shift away from
detailed bureaucratic controls and funding meth-
odologies to (i) more general strategic oversight,
in particular of the role played by higher education
institutions and research organisations in promot-
ing innovation and economic growth, and there-
fore national competitiveness within a global
economy; (ii) the assessment, and measurement,
of outputs (in terms of quality but also, increas-
ingly, efciency; (iii) measures to enhance perfor-
mance (through initiatives such as the REF in the
UK or the Excellenz initiative in Germany, but
also by encouraging quasi-market instruments
including league tables and other rankings that
seek to measure student satisfaction or employer
perceptions); (iv) the management of quasi-
contractual relationships with institutions, in
place of traditional funding patterns, or frame-
works to determine student access to nancial
support where tuition fees are charged; and
(v) structural reforms designed to stimulate
greater differentiation (in some countries, by
encouraging the development of private for-prot
providers alongside public institutions. These
shifts from determining inputs to measuring out-
puts, and from bureaucratic control to strategic
oversight, have led to signicant changes in the
nature of the policy process at this level, leading
some to question the continuing use of the label
systems(Enders 2016). Where once grand
master plans,or higher education framework
laws, reigned supreme, now the emphasis is on
world-classdiscourses and, in some cases, the
development of quasi-markets (Marginson 2016).
In contrast institutions, which previously pos-
sessed only a limited capacity to generate distinc-
tive strategies (and the policies necessary to
implement these strategies), are now expected to
become much stronger actors in the policy process
(Huisman 2016). Not only do they now have to
have the organisational capacity to identify policy
options, manage their implementation and evalu-
ate their outcomes, in order to address the increas-
ing scale and complexity (and heterogeneity) of
their own operations; they also require the equiv-
alent capacity to manage quasi-contractual rela-
tionships with the State or quasi-consumer
relationships with their students, to generate data
to demonstrate their performance and protect and
to promote their competitive position nationally
and certainly globally. These requirements have
been reected in the increasing managerial resil-
ience of institutions, which has complemented
although not replaced older (and looser) patterns
of academic and collegial government. As the
nature of higher education systemshas been
transformed, and ambitions (and capacity) to
engage in detailed steeringat national and sys-
tem levels have been constrained, institutions
themselves have had to take up the slack.
Policy Process in Higher Education 5
The rebalancing of the relationship between
systems and institutions has had important impli-
cations for the nature of the policy process in both.
At the national and system level the emphasis is
now more on the rst and last stages the identi-
cation of problems, including the selection of
high-level policy options, and the evaluation of
policies and less on policy implementation,
much of which has been devolved to institutions.
As a result the emphasis in institutions may also
have shifted, from narrower and more traditional
forms of academic policy making to corporate
policy making in a wider sense. This explains
not only the growth of managerialistdiscourse
within universities but also the development of
more distinctive cadres of senior academic man-
agers and also the more extensive recruitment of
professional staff with new skills in strategy
development, management information, market-
ing and other activities (potentially at the expense
of teachers and researchers).
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6 Policy Process in Higher Education
... "The policy process in higher education operates at multiple levels and also in different modes" (Scott, 2018, p.3). In the broadest context, higher education policies exist in global and international fields. ...
... In this way, similar higher education reforms are carried out in many countries (Peters, 2002). As stated by Scott (2018, p.3), "Although this policies do not take directly legislative, bureaucratic or managerial forms, it is highly influential in terms of policy borrowing -and plays a particularly important role in the legitimation of national policies". ...
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