Between Social-democratic Concerns and Neo-liberal Reali-ties: What Type of Higher Education Model Does the EU Promote?
Since the end of the 1990s the European Union (EU) pursues a growth strategy based on targeted social investment, which oscillates between neo-liberal and social-democratic ideals. In the Lis-bon Strategy higher education (HE) is a prioritized policy domain. Therefore, it is important to examine what higher educational vision the EU stands for. What are the key messages and policy measures that the EU advocates? In order to characterize the HE model promoted by the EU, this paper adopts ten indicators or “higher education variables” which constitute the coding scheme for a qualitative content analysis of 74 official policy documents of the Commission and the Eu-ropean Parliament. The analysis reveals that overall the EU displays the rhetoric of a liberal social investment state model. However, social-democratic values are still very much present in EU discourse when it comes to the standardization of diplomas. Also, in the discourse on the financing of HE, espe-cially the European Parliament argues along a social-democratic line despite the general neo-liberal turn and climate of budgetary austerity. Yet, the EU advocates for an increased individual share in the costs for higher education. Moreover, a key ambition for the EU is opening higher education for private businesses and making it more responsive to the needs of the economy, es-pecially in the fields of tracks and curricula. This goal, however, is not coupled with a concern about nor a vision how to counteract the threat to academic autonomy. Especially this last finding charts clearly the predominance of neo-liberal ideas and respectively the marketization character of the EU policy discourse in the field of higher education.
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