Building the European Higher Education Area: Reflexivity as a Policy Tool in University Quality Assurance

Adrienn Nyircsak

The paper explores the concept of reflexivity as a defining characteristic of European higher education governance from a sociological perspective. In particular, reflexivity is conceptualized in practical and instrumental terms as manifesting in organizational practices which require systematic consideration against one own social context and rely on techniques of knowledge management. Higher education is a prominent terrain for "new" and "experimental" governance in Europe. The emergence of European Higher Education Area (EHEA) has relied extensively on learning-based instruments, such as benchmarking, good practice sharing and expert deliberation. Quality assurance techniques developed at the European level urge universities to assume ownership and control over the quality of their services and at the same time they empower them to become self-governing. Unlike conventional accounts of Europeanization focusing on learning as a decontextualized process; this paper offers a fresh take on instruments of new governance by examining tools which prompt stakeholders to engage in learning not only from each other, but also about their own roles and identities.The paper uses the analytical framework of "public policy instrumentation" as understood by political sociologists, to study the role of policy instruments in the empowerment of universities as both subjects and actors of governance. The management of the learning experience at the level of the policy network implies the mobilization and the development of reflexive capacities of the actors involved. Reflexivity is conceptualized as a constitutive element in the design of mutual learning exercises; and eventually, in the construction of the EHEA as a nascent domain of European governance. Multi-method qualitative analysis of policy documents will be used to map reflexive (institutional and organizational) practices at the level of the European quality assurance network.

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