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Higher Education and Research: Organization, Market Interaction and Overall Impact in the Knowledge-Based Era

Research project P6/09 (Research action P6)


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Our previous project, entitled “Universities and Firms: A Comparative analysis of the interaction between Market Processes, Organizational Strategies and Governance”, stressed the analysis of individual institutions and of the individual markets for higher education and research. These segments of the economy and of society are ever more crucial today, in the “Lisbon era” of the knowledge-based society. Indeed, in Europe today, there is a consensus to stress the importance of higher education and research for overall well-being, in a world where competition comes not only from North America but increasingly also from Asia. Understanding the link between the organization of higher education and research – including European policies like the Bologna process or the creation of the European Research Council and of other dimensions of the European Research Area – and the overall economy is consequently more crucial than ever. Moreover, in an era of growing scarcity of public-sector funds, the question of access to higher education also represents a key challenge in terms of overall “equality of opportunities”.

The previous project has allowed us to start developing a Belgian expertise in this strategic area of research. The goal of this project is to build upon the work accomplished in the previous project and to extend it in particular to: (i) focus on the aggregate impact of higher education and research on the economy as a whole (e.g. on growth, trade flows, migration, innovation, public finances and societal equity); and (ii) to come up with policy recommendations that would result from both the micro- and macroanalyses. This prescriptive perspective, suggested by the evaluators of the previous project, will be achieved in particular through comparisons between national experiences, another recommendation of these evaluators.

The previous project included six Belgian teams (ULB, KUL, UA, FUCAM, FUSL and UMH), which are all enthusiastic participants in the new project. It can moreover count on the continuing expertise of the Toulouse-based IDEI (Institut d’Economie Industrielle), a world leader in economics, as well as the addition of a second European partner, MERIT (Maastricht European Research Institute of Technology), a European centre of excellence in areas closely connected to our project. While, beyond the addition of MERIT, the set of teams is similar to that of the previous project, new individuals are joining existing teams, in particular to analyze the economy-wide impact of higher education and research.

Beyond this, the project will keep relying on several previous strengths: (i) its combination of theoretical (industrial economics, contract theory, public economics, …) as well as empirical (econometric but also survey-oriented) perspectives; (ii) its interdisciplinary nature, since we can rely on expertise from economics but also management studies (from various angles: organizational, sociological and psychological, as well as from the perspective of operations-research), which is present in particular in the teams from ULB, UA, FUCAM and UMH; and (iii) the academic management expertise in the team (from the university-wide level to the European level).

The research will distinguish five research themes (thereby combining a bottom-up scientific approach which is typical in social sciences with a consistent general structure with a lot of links between the individual partners):

1. Higher education funding, student choices, participation and performance, with emphasis on topics like: (i) the determinants of student success rates; (ii) the role of social interactions as influence of student choices; (iii) the use of information and communication technologies by students; (iv) the multidimensional nature of competition between universities; (v) the pros and cons of input versus output financing of universities.

2. The governance and strategies of higher education and research (HER) institutions in a global world, with emphasis on topics like: (i) the role of multi-level governance (European, national and regional) on education funding and performance; (ii) the strategies of universities as “knowledge platforms” bringing together the two sides of the market, i.e. students and teachers; (iii) the role of university associations in restructuring the supply of educational programmes; (iv) the interaction between quality assurance programmes and university governance.

3. Managing quality in HER institutions (evaluation, rankings, career paths, optimization methods, …), with emphasis on topics like: (i) team governance, intrinsic motivation and careers in HER institutions; (ii) experience, stress and human resource management in HER institutions; (iii) the quantitative management of quality in universities and university hospitals.

4. The organization of basic and applied research and innovation, with emphasis on topics like: (i) the link between funding methods and research productivity; (ii) the role of collaborations, and networks in particular, in raising research productivity; (iii) the dynamics of research cycles between basic research, applied research and innovation.

5. HER, overall economic growth and trade and migratory flows, with emphasis on topics like: (i) the international market for HER workers; (ii) the brain drain question, both from an EU-US perspective and an intra-EU perspective; (iii) the link between the international competition for talent and research productivity; (iv) the link between individual preferences, the organization of the HER sector, innovation and aggregate growth.

For each theme, the analysis will have as aim to lead to recommendations for both individual HER institutions and for policymakers.


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