Comparing Higher Education Institutions/Systems

Factors, Issues, Methodologies, Tools

Scientific Essay, 2009
22 Pages, Grade: A


Table of Content

1 Introduction

2 Actors & Factors
2.1 Government
2.1.1 State Regulation
2.1.2 Management
2.1.3 Efficiency
2.2 Academic Institutions
2.2.1 Self-governance
2.2.2 Quality of Teaching
2.2.3 Research
2.2.4 Costs
2.2.5 Infrastructure
2.3 Under / - Graduates
2.3.1 Entry Requirements
2.3.2 Economic Value Added

3 Conclusion

4 Bibliography

1 Introduction

Higher Education is a vital aspect of everyday life, not only for students or professors, but also for external observers, since education is the most discussed factor throughout this economic crisis. Considering the importance of this topic, it is hard to believe that there are indeed several papers published on the issue of comparing the variety of countries with reference to their individual higher education systems and their ranking scores, while there is not one universal concept/ model within academic ranks that is applied when conducting comparative country studies, with special attention to higher education systems.

Conducting this research, certain assumptions were certainly surprising, such as thoughts on relationships between individual actors. While some say that e.g. state regulation and flexibility express a negative relationship i.e. when one increases, the other one decreases, scientific data begs the difference. These sorts of assumptions will be analyzed and rightfully interpreted, applicable to any university, regardless of its location.

This paper gives an outline of all factors that need to be applied, when dealing with certain issues regarding the comparison of higher education systems, by incorporating various data and models used throughout a collection of other articles and publications. In order to accomplish this goal, various models and approaches are used, so that a certain overview can be given of those factors that have the greatest impact on any country-wide comparison of higher education systems.

2 Actors & Factors

This sub-chapter considers all major actors and factors that need to be considered when conducting comparative higher education system research.

In total, there are three main actors listed with various sub-sections, which will deal with details, such as aspects coping with the individual components of each main actor, e.g. state regulation.

The three main actors are listed below:

1. Government
2. Academic Institutions
3. Under / - Graduates

Each individual actor somehow contributes to the success/ failure of one university and the change in its stand against its (inter)national competition.

A more detailed description of each part follows below.

2.1 Government

Looking at higher education systems in any country, the role of the government must not be overlooked. The government executes a variety of important roles regarding higher education systems, such as budget limitations (public universities), policies adaptations, structural framework design etc.

The government sub-section analyzes three sub-components:

1. State regulation
2. Management
3. Efficiency

State regulation refers to degree of control a government/ politics has on academic institutions, such as universities. Management refers to the way the government is handling the management aspect of controlling a higher education system. Efficiency copes with the fundamental basis that each higher education institution, which is public, therefore funded and regulated by the government, is operating the most efficient way possible, since the government has the initiative to spend the minimum amount of each tax payer, and to see that money was spend well. (M. Harrison, 2005)

Each individual point will be dealt with below.

2.1.1 State Regulation

State regulation most likely is the most crucial point of government control, since it incorporates the fundaments of any kind of control, which are of course rules, regulations and policies.

There are many different opinions about how far governmental control or the imposition of state regulations should go, while maintaining effectiveness and efficiency. On the one hand, some researchers agree on the fact that state regulation should be minimal and ‘not require detailed oversight of how schools operate’ (M. Harrison, 2005). On the other hand, there are those who point out that regulation and state control within the higher education system is of vital importance for the maintenance of efficiency and management.

As long as an institution meets national objectives provided by the government, state regulation will be minimized. The issue regarding this aspect though is the degree of how much an institution is indeed meeting national objectives, within the framework set out by the government. State regulation ensures that this is dealt with, by imposing multiple rules and regulations on public higher education institutions on how to deal with certain problems and/ or situations. Efficiency is the key here; effectiveness is undermined by the fact that the government could maximize both efficiency and effectiveness by simply distancing itself from the administrator position it has undertaken and rather just play the role of the provider of education. If e.g. the government would design some sort of voucher plan and leave it up to parents/ students individually to decide which school to attend, rather than forcing the poorer population to attend public schools, while the richer parents could send their kids to private institutions, leading to higher scores on test, literacy rates and eventually higher entry- earnings when leaving university and starting a career.

The fact that governments are designing budget plans, accountability systems and requiring detailed financial and administrative reporting (Hurley, 2003) leads to a restricted working environment of not only university board officials and representatives, but also professors and students, since regulations will make sure that the minimum amount of money is spent on each student, while having to lay off professors and PhD-doctorates that might have contributed much to the individual higher education institution by providing new research for the academic body and therefore raising academics awareness of that particular university.

In conclusion, it is essential for any researcher, interested in analyzing and comparing higher education systems, to assess the role of the government in the very begin of his/ her research. This might be stated in the beginning of the future published article/ paper or could form an entire chapter, since its role must not be diminished. Higher education systems (public) dependent on the government for funding and other activities, so in order to establish a conclusion about a particular higher education institution’s score on any of the world-wide rankings, or just the mere analysis of post-graduates earnings, state regulations should be taken into calculation and not be underestimated.

2.1.2 Management

The management of a higher education institution is not an easy task to undergo, neither by an organization, nor by the government. But certain differences can be observed, when having a look at governmental management practices and techniques.

As it will become clearer in the sub-section below (efficiency), the government most likely treats every higher education institution as a business. Therefore, it will also impose a business-like manner of dealing with issues and conflicts upon this institution. This can be quite threatening to the administrative board of that institution, being faced with changes that might possibly be very difficult to undertake and implement (Hines, 1997; Newman, 1997), e.g. the government imposes certain regulations upon an institution to cut costs as much as possible and to operate strictly by the rules and not differ from them, the relationship between student and teacher/ professor might be threatened, because the individual student’s interests will not have an opportunity to be put forward and analyzed, since the board has to cut costs. Consequently, contacting hours, where students can discuss certain issues directly with his/ her lecturer, will decrease, leaving teachers with a higher stress level and students with a less direct approach to deal with study-related problems. This, most likely, will lead to a decrease in quality in teaching and research.

Management techniques applied by the government are not as useful as they seem to be initially, since the government and higher education systems have different objectives. The degree to influence of the government on the management level of a higher education system must be taken into consideration, when assessing the qualitative contribution of students can make towards knowledge and practice, while studying and after.


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Comparing Higher Education Institutions/Systems
Factors, Issues, Methodologies, Tools
University of Groningen
Higher Education Systems - Comparative Country Studies
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comparing, higher, education, institutions/systems, factors, issues, methodologies, tools
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Jon Gruda (Author), 2009, Comparing Higher Education Institutions/Systems, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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