European procedures of harmonisation in higher education and shared standards of quality are promoted worldwide as trademarks of excellence. The output-oriented approach represented by both the Bologna process and the EU's Higher Education Modernisation Agenda operates with economically sensible indicators which enhance competitiveness, hence its appeal. The paper analyses the external dimension of European higher education processes relying on the spatial extension of the Europe of Knowledge and the sharing of good practice. The EU's involvement in the higher education reforms of Egypt, Libya and Tunisia has led to the introduction of some fundamental concepts and associated policy instruments of the European model (e.g., lifelong learning, competitiveness or networking) into their higher education infrastructure. By resorting to instruments of rationalisation, authoritative regimes of the past have been able to respond to labour market needs and to simultaneously keep their political influence over higher education institutions. However, incentives to continue modernisation in the "European way" are likely to change in the aftermath of the Arab Spring. The democratization or the radicalization of the public spheres in these countries will necessarily involve the redefinition of the role of higher education institutions. The EU thus must reconsider its strictly market-based approach to norm projection in higher education cooperation projects in order to maintain its role of normative power in the region by advocating quality knowledge as a post-crisis stabilising factor.
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