Academic journal article Higher Education Studies

Conceptualizing Harmonization of Higher Education Systems: The Application of Regional Integration Theories on Higher Education Studies

Academic journal article Higher Education Studies

Conceptualizing Harmonization of Higher Education Systems: The Application of Regional Integration Theories on Higher Education Studies

Article excerpt


There have been various higher education policy reforms at regional level to overcome the challenges and impacts of globalization in the current knowledge based global economy. Universities have already been involved in various internationalization processes establishing both bilateral and multilateral cooperations across borders. Through various integration schemes, regional organizations like the European Union (EU) and its Commission, the African Union (AU) and its Commission are engaging in policy harmonization processes to foster more integration and provide regional remedies for the common challenges of globalization in their respective regions. Researchers also engaged in academic debates and analyze various higher education system integration discourses at professional level. Most of the theories used in higher education discourses however are borrowed from other disciplines and when terms and concepts from other disciplines migrate to the higher education sector and vice versa there is fertile ground for confusion and misunderstanding unless they are conceptually framed and analyzed. This particular article focuses on theories of regional integration and higher education harmonization discourses. It discusses the process of policy harmonization in higher education and interprets the notions of regional integration theories in the interpretive paradigms of informal/formal, top-down/bottom- up, proactive/reactive, gradual/ quantum leap and internally driven/ externally driven relationships in policy formulations. These interpretive paradigms provide a theoretical perspective on conceptual framework of higher education harmonization and integration schemes form the neo-functionalist and intergovernmentalist point of view.

Keywords: higher education, regional integration, harmonization, neo-functionalism, intergovernmentalist

1. Introduction

Higher education study is a multi-disciplinary subject which borrows concepts and theories from various disciplines including political science, economics, sociology, management and leadership. Explaining state society relationships in higher education, regional integration and policy harmonization, the division of sovereignty between nation-states and supranational institutions, we hardly can escape theories of Political Science. The issue of higher education finance, knowledge economy, the public and private goods discourse of higher education and issues of privatization logically take theories and concepts from economics. If we talk about academic culture and ideology, academic oligarchy, the notion of academic 'elite', and the discourse of access in terms of gender, race and class then conceptualizing them from sociological point of view may not be inevitable. In the same talk Management as a discipline also play a decisive role in sub-disciplinary issues of higher education management and leadership. This shows that higher education as a field of study is a multidisciplinary subject.

The focus of this article is not however to deal with all theoretical and conceptual disciplinary issues of higher education, rather it focuses on the application of regional integration theories in explaining the process of higher education harmonization or integration efforts, for example, like the Bologna Process of Europe which started in 1999 and the recent higher education harmonization strategy of the AU - Commission. Policy harmonization and issues of regional integration have been the core domains of political science especially international relations since the end of the Second World War (Cini, 2003). The crisis of the post war order led to the emergence of a new global political structure. This new global political structure questions the notion of the classical Westphalia concept of state sovereignty where states are assumed to have an absolute dominion over domestic policy formulations and implementations. The growth of multinational corporations, the free flow of capital, the growing power of unaccountable market forces and international organizations has been challenging state sovereignty. …

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