POLITICAL METHODS: COMPUTATIONAL eJOURNAL

"With|out a Partner. The Idea of Cooperation in Higher Education Discourses" Free Download

RICHARD NAEGLER, University of Hamburg
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We are guided by ideas - but we do not recognize them. That is why we have to take ideas and discourses seriously for explaining change (Schmidt 2010).

Especially in the 'global university system' (Pfeffer 2013) of a world society (refer to Stichweh 2000, Luhmann 1997), analysing the power of ideas may contribute to a better understanding of change in governance patterns. In the case of my research: why is the idea of cooperation of universities so present in the actual German 'Hochschulreformdiskurs' (discourse of university reform) and how does this idea influence the behaviour and the governance of universities?

First observations and empirical evaluations reveal the focus of cooperation of most universities characterized by the partnership of science and education with the economy. However, this 'structural coupling' may turn out as a 'false friend' for both sides: Neither the real functions of the systems 'science' and 'education' nor of the 'economy' can be achieved.

The thesis assumes that cooperating with actors outside of their functional systems might be perceived as an 'ideological challenge' for universities. Nevertheless this idea of cooperation in the German higher education system is promoted extraordinarily by influential policy actors ('Wissenschaftsrat', 'Stifterverband'), exposing the university actors to a new (economic) behaviour and thus to new elements of governance. The imaginations of the 'entrepreneurial university' are coming true...

Based on the discursive institutionalism, the thesis supposes institutional and policy changes of university governance expressed by a 'realignment' - or a new 'reform' - symbolized by the new term 'regional university cluster'. Out of this two main theses are derived: The first these will show that German universities are overwhelmed by the idea of cooperation (as opposed to universities in the US, UK or Switzerland). The second these will combine the standing of universities in national and international rankings with the intensity of regional cooperation.

In relation to the 'value' of regions, the second thesis opens a gap within the theory of world society: This global theory is based on a top-down-perspective. Within systems theory the understanding of regions turns out to be not sufficiently elaborated for the research intentions. The theoretical construction of 'regional university clusters' helps to clarify the importance of regions in the theory of world society with an empirically grounded 'bottom-up-perspective'.

The dissertation uses the 'Discourse-Network-Analyser' (DNA-Software by Philip Leifeld, 2011) to observe the idea of cooperation in the German 'Hochschulreformdiskurs'. The 'DNA' allows to connect the networks of actors and concepts, representing the idea of cooperation, in an affiliation network. The use of 'DNA' represents an interesting venture because it will be the first application of this method in researches on 'higher education'. It symbolizes the first step and a chance to embed the foci of discursive institutionalism in this research field.

The dissertation reinforces the latest scientific developments in relation to discursive institutionalism by focussing regional moments in the German higher education system. It will help to underline and examine the influencing power of ideas and their dynamics to the multi-level governance of knowledge politics and policies.

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