The Review of Higher Education 26.4 (2003) 521-522
Higher education is everywhere under increasing pressure to expand its historic teaching function (in the vocabulary of the day, to supply the human resource infrastructure for the new "knowledge-based" economy) in addition to advancing technological and economic development through its traditional research and development functions. At the same time that these economic development expectations are rising, actual resource commitments to the enterprise are falling. Higher education, in short, is increasingly pressured to deliver more public goods with less public support. To use an old-time manufacturing analogy, the operative challenge has become how to adapt a gas-guzzling engine designed for small-scale production so that it can be efficiently mass produced in an increasingly demanding environment. What sorts of changes are required in the assembly line, the technology, and the workers?
The model that arose in Western Europe over the past centuries, at least on the Continent, is one of higher education as a state function, financed and controlled either by the central government (France and Italy) or by some combination of federal and local government (Germany and Spain), leavened by national or regional labor unions (Scandinavia). Britain, of course, provides the obvious exception here with its historic tradition of corporate faculty control supplemented by strong public finance, at least until the Thatcher reforms of the 1980s. How have the European countries adapted their national systems to the pressures/challenges we have identified? With what success? And with what impact on the academic professions and the infrastructure of the higher education enterprise? Are common themes/experiences emerging? How have the Humboltian systems, modeled on a unity of teaching and research, adapted compared to the Napoleonic systems, which separate research and teaching? What can we learn from the early experience?
These are intriguing and important questions, especially as Europe seeks to transform itself from a polyglot of nations, faiths, and languages to a functioning economic, if not quite political, unit. And these are precisely the kinds of questions addressed by Jürgen Enders and eighteen of his colleagues in their review of academic changes sweeping through fourteen countries. As Enders suggests in his panoramic and instructive introduction, virtually every European nation has, over the past two decades, "reformed" the governance of its system of higher education from boutique to mass production; and virtually all such reform efforts have the same three characteristics: (a) a movement from a common legal homogeneity of the higher education system toward greater heterogenization of the system (greater institutional division of labor); (b) from centralized, bureaucratic state control to more empowered institutional management within broad state parameters; and (c) from state control to greater responsiveness to market mechanisms by developing competition between and within institutions of higher education, introducing competitive resource allocation, and tying performance funding mechanisms to outcomes evaluation. These three themes are amply illustrated in these reports on the fourteen focus countries.
The great danger, of course, in casting so wide a net is that the individual stories will bear little relationship to the central themes, let alone to each other, with the result that, however informative, the resulting motley mix of self-contained tales will be essentially unrelated and not mutually enriching. Enders and his colleagues have clearly made an extraordinary effort to avoid that outcome. Each of the country chapters was obviously written from a shared outline, describes recent developments, provides basic data on the academic profession (numbers, working conditions, compensation, etc.), and identifies the most salient current issues.
While a common outline assures some common content, it does not ensure that authors make connections explicitly either with the common themes identified by the editor or with similar developments in other country chapters. And here, the book, like many edited volumes, falls short. While there is an occasional reference to the basic analytic framework Enders sets in the introduction, his concepts do not serve as a common point of departure for all of the chapters. While hardly surprising, this effect might have been offset...