Master and Bachelor thesis subjects at CHEPS

Subjects for writing your bachelor and master thesis at CHEPS

General information: The Center for Higher Education Policy Studies is a world renowned research institute of the University of Twente (www.utwente.nl/cheps). Most CHEPS researchers have a professional background in public administration (or cognate disciplines), are closely connected to public and business administration and have successfully supervised many theses in the past. Below you will find a number of options for writing your bachelor and master theses at CHEPS. This list is not exhaustive and the exact definition of your thesis subject will take place in close consultation with the potential supervisors. If you wish further information on the bachelor and master thesis subjects listed below please contact CHEPS’ teaching coordinator dr. Harry de Boer (h.f.deboer@utwente.nl, 053 – 4893263).

The bureaucratisation of universities

Universities are frequently described as professional bureaucracies. Because of changes in the governance systems in the public sector in casu higher education universities are changing. One of the concerns is that the administrative component of universities has become too large (compared to their main tasks of teaching and research). Administrative positions tend to grow faster than others at universities, and faculty spend an increasing part of their item on administrative matters (administrative and academic bureaucratisation). In this research project you will be asked to investigate if this tendency is real. Have universities increasingly become bureaucratised and what are the potential effects of such a tendency?

It is possible to focus on (Dutch) universities only or to make a cross-sectional comparison. For example, to compare the assumed bureaucratisation of universities with public sector organisations that have also changed over the last decade.

If you are interested in this topic and would like to get further information please contact CHEPS’ teaching coordinator dr. Harry de Boer (h.f.deboer@utwente.nl, 053 – 4893263).

The link between national agendas and strategic organisational profiling: strong or missing?

In the world of higher education most governments try to avoid to micro manage their higher education institutions and to give them significant leeway to set their own strategic directions. Universities increasingly seize the opportunity to profile themselves strategically; strategic management has gained importance at many universities. At the same time however ultimately governments remain responsible for the performances of public higher education systems. The goals of the national government for higher education are laid down in a national agenda. The universities publish their goals in strategic plans. The first research question would be to what extent the strategic plans reflect the national agenda of the government. The follow-up question is what the government can do if there is no strong link between the national agenda and the universities’ strategic plans. In broader terms, what are the possibilities for a national government to steer higher education institutions if they have significant autonomy?

This research project entails a description of the (changing) relationship between the government and the higher education institutions, an analysis of the strategic plans of the government and the institutions and recommendations for improving the relationship between government and institutions.

If you are interested in this topic and would like to get further information please contact CHEPS’ teaching coordinator dr. Harry de Boer (h.f.deboer@utwente.nl, 053 – 4893263).

Science cafes and the global marketplace of ideas

There is increasing emphasis for universities on the direct benefits that they bring to the host societies who fund their activities. The knowledge that is generated and circulated by universities can create direct benefits through its application by businesses, but also contribute indirectly to society by helping to strengthen societies’ capacities to deal with changing situations. Universities have developed many new ways to reach out to diverse social groups and to help spread their knowledge into society. But it is also increasingly seen important that society has the opportunity to influence what universities do in these areas, and as well as reaching out, universities are also inviting citizens into their research activities.

One such increasingly common approach is the so-called “science café”, where scientists and researchers present their findings in an informal atmosphere to a generalist audience who have the opportunity to question and challenge those scientists on their research. In this research, you will be asked to investigate how real the opportunity that citizens have in a science café arrangement to participate in a real dialogue with scientists. What opportunity do citizens have to shape the direction of university research and to influence the way that university research brings value to its host society?

If you are interested in this topic and would like to get further information please contact CHEPS’ teaching coordinator dr. Harry de Boer (h.f.deboer@utwente.nl) or dr. Paul Benneworth (p.benneworth@utwente.nl) both T: 053 – 4893263.

Universities as local gateways to the global innovation systems

There is increasing emphasis for universities on the direct benefits that they bring to the host societies who fund their activities, the so-called “third mission” for universities alongside teaching and research. Because of the increasing importance of knowledge to contemporary economy activity, and the fact that knowledge is produced in social networks which depend on proximity for their functioning, regions have become acknowledged as an increasingly important geographical scale for knowledge production. This has been paralleled by the increasing rise of the ‘regional’ mission for universities, exploiting their knowledge, working with local partners and helping to drive economic growth through innovation.

But universities are quintessentially global institutions, creating knowledge in international disciplinary dialogues with other researchers with similar interests active in other institutional settings. It has recently been hypothesised that universities act as “connectors” between local actors and these international disciplinary communities, helping businesses to access a wide array of knowledge for their own innovation activities. In this research, you will be asked to investigate how whether the university does indeed function as a ‘global-local connector’, and how this impacts on universities’ capacities to profile themselves internationally as well as to benefit their local communities.

If you are interested in this topic and would like to get further information please contact CHEPS’ teaching coordinator dr. Harry de Boer (h.f.deboer@utwente.nl) or dr. Paul Benneworth (p.benneworth@utwente.nl) both T: 053 – 4893263.

Universities in an age of ‘grand social challenges’

There is increasing emphasis for universities on the direct benefits that they bring to the host societies who fund their activities, the so-called “third mission” for universities alongside teaching and research. This is not a new mission: universities have always thrived when they are in step with social priorities, and where they are not, then other institutions such as learned societies and academies fill those roles. It is now widely accepted that society faces a number of grand challenges for the 21st century: climate change, resource scarcity, demographic ageing, urban sustainability. It is likely that the continued willingness of governments and societies to fund universities in coming years will become increasingly dependent on the extent to which they can help to create solutions to these grand challenges.

In this research project, you will be asked to analyse how universities are responding to these challenges, and how it is changing the nature of the institution of university. The grand challenges are large, multi‑disciplinary issues which require new combinations of knowledge across traditional institutional boundaries drawing on many forms of expert and public knowledge.

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How are universities responding at a strategic level to ensure that they are well-positioned to respond to these challenges?

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How are their key knowledge workers – researchers – reacting to these changes?

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How are these changes themselves interacting with the reform processes to which universities have been subjected for the preceding quarter-century?

If you are interested in this topic and would like to get further information please contact CHEPS’ teaching coordinator dr. Harry de Boer (h.f.deboer@utwente.nl) or dr. Paul Benneworth (p.benneworth@utwente.nl) both T: 053 – 4893263.

Accreditation: quality control and enhancement in higher education

Each study programme in Dutch higher education must acquire accreditation to continue to exist. This system has been in operation since 2003 and builds on previous quality assurance processes. The introduction of accreditation implied several changes to the previous situation, each of which can be taken as point of departure for master thesis research projects. For instance:

Option a1: Students are no longer part of the external evaluation committees. Did this affect the attention to student-oriented issues in the evaluation? Did it affect student interest in (internal) evaluation of study programmes?

Option a2: Since 2005, the European Standards and Guidelines for quality assurance in higher education emphasise involvement of students: is Dutch practice at odds with European practices and trends? What is the influence of ‘Europe’ on Dutch accreditation; through which channels is it transmitted and/or who are exerting influence (e.g. is there a role for student unions, for civil servants, public opinion)?

Options a1 and a2 require descriptive studies, with possibly additional explanatory questions. Option a1 focuses on literature in higher education studies; it can be researched through content analysis (comparison of attention to student affairs in evaluation reports before/after 2003) and by interviews (e.g. expert interviews with quality assessment agencies, student unions, student representatives in higher education institutions).

Option a2 focuses on competencies of European Union actors and influence of European-level policy making on national policies. It can be researched mainly through comparison of policies across European countries (often documents are available only in national languages, though summary statements in English are part of the Bologna process documentation).

Option b: How do higher education institutions cope with the external requirements? Have they become more adept over time in responding efficiently to accreditation needs? Is that efficiency a matter of ‘positive’ learning (increased quality management, increased quality of educational), or rather of ‘window-dressing’ (giving false impressions to external evaluation committees without affecting the ‘inner life’ of higher education institutions)?

This option is linked to theories from public administration: policy development, life cycles, organisational learning, implementation theory, etc.

The empirical research can include document studies but also interviews at selected higher education institutions and with quality assessment agencies.

Regarding recommendations, this study could be influential in the current debate on a new accreditation system in the Netherlands after 2009.

Option c1: Will the change of accreditation system from programme accreditation (until 2010) to more institutional level approaches (planned from 2010/2011) changed the balance between quality control and quality improvement of the process? How strong was the actual emphasis on quality improvement before 2010 and how strong is it now? Are there lessons that the Dutch accreditation agency can learn from similar changes in German accreditation (or other countries)?

In this option, quality management literature plays an important role (what is quality improvement/enhancement?) besides public administration (e.g. on [power] relations between internal and external actors).

Empirically, the project probably needs mostly interviews in higher education institutions and/or accreditation agencies (in the Netherlands and e.g. Germany), though content analysis of documents on quality management arrangements or evaluation reports may play an important role as well.

Option c2: How do higher education institutions use the accreditation results in their institutional management: is it a tool for central level control of faculties and programmes, or is it mainly a tool for faculties and programmes to put pressure on the central level management to get a larger share of the attention (and money)?

In this option, theories will be mainly taken from business administration and public administration (management models, professional bureaucracies, centralisation vs. decentralisation) and higher education studies (management models in higher education institutions, e.g. the cybernetic college model).

The empirical study may include (confidential?) document study in higher education institutions as well as interviews with deans, rectors and their staff.

Note: many more issues may be thought of with regard to the change from quality assurance to accreditation, e.g.

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Comparative studies of accreditation arrangements and their (different?) effects across European countries

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To what extent are quality assurance and accreditation models from the developed world applicable to developing countries?

If you are interested in this topic and would like to get further information please contact CHEPS’ teaching coordinator dr. Harry de Boer (h.f.deboer@utwente.nl), dr. Don Westerheijden (d.f.westerheijden@utwente.nl) or drs. Leon Cremonini (l.cremonini@utwente.nl), all T: 053 – 4893263.

Higher Education at the European level: the Bologna process

“Europe” is an important issue for many private and public sectors. It is “hot”, also in the world of higher education. An important aspect is to create more comparable, compatible and coherent systems of higher education across Europe: a European Higher Education Area (EHEA).

Option a) One of the main aims of establishing a single European Higher Education Area is to increase mobility, especially for degree mobility (as opposed to mobility within study programmes as in Erasmus) and for graduates, both within Europe and at a global level. Do we see increased mobility? What type(s) and at which levels? For what reasons and what are obstacles to mobility?

Emphasis in such a study would be on measurement issues: which statistics are available in international agencies (UNESCO) and in different countries (Nuffic in the Netherlands), are they valid, reliable and comparable? Alternatively, empirical work might include interviews with mobile students and graduates.

Option b) The Bologna Process can be seen as an example of intergovernmental policy-making. How does it compare with EU policy-making: are there differences regarding decision-making speed, influence of certain (groups of) countries on the decisions, implementation and slippage, or access of stakeholders/interest groups to the agenda-setting or implementation stages? What are differences regarding the legal status and legal protection between EU processes and the Bologna Process?

If you are interested in this topic and would like to get further information please contact CHEPS’ teaching coordinator dr. Harry de Boer (h.f.deboer@utwente.nl), dr. Don Westerheijden (d.f.westerheijden@utwente.nl) or dr. Liudvika Leysite (l.leisyte@utwente.nl), all T: 053 – 4893263.

Trends in higher education: Report cards / rankings

The performances of universities increasingly get attention. Publishing rankings of higher education institutions or of study programmes is a ‘hot’ topic in higher education. Why and for what?

Option a: Which factors determine choice for a certain higher education institution among students? Further options might include: Do general, available models apply to students at the UT? Are students in hogescholen different (e.g. in Saxion)? Are students different across country borders (e.g. in Germany)? Are students from different backgrounds different (e.g. Dutch vs. foreign students in Dutch higher education institutions)?

There is a body of literature on college choice, partly from (behavioural) economics, partly form higher education studies. Some of the possible questions are connected with cultural studies (countries, cultural/ethnic backgrounds).

This study would need in-depth interviews with students, and thorough qualitative analysis.

Option b: What do higher education institutions do to influence their positions in rankings? Do they increase their quality (of education, of research) or do they ‘game the rankings’? To what extent? Which types of rankings or indicators invite one or the other type of behaviour?

There is some literature on these questions specifically, but little empirical research. Additional theories might be found in management theories (how do management information indicators affect behaviour inside the company?) and in public administration (implementation theories).

Empirically, multi-media study of higher education institutions’ internal processes and PR materials might play an important role, next to interviews with actors in higher education institutions.

Option c: What do higher education institutions do with ranking results? Which rankings do they use, which not? Does information from higher education institutions to potential clients (students, research contractors) faithfully reflect the intentions and results of rankings, or are they drawing (too) rosy pictures of outcomes?

This is a study in applied communication and should be linked to literature from that area. The empirical work in it would consist of content analysis (documents, websites, etc.).

If you are interested in this topic and would like to get further information please contact CHEPS’ teaching coordinator dr. Harry de Boer (h.f.deboer@utwente.nl), drs. Frans Kaiser (f.kaiser@utwente.nl), dr. Maarja Beerkens-Soo (m.beerkens@utwente.nl), drs. Leon Cremonini (l.cremonini@utwente.nl) or dr. Ben Jongbloed (b.w.a.jongbloed@utwente.nl), all T: 053 – 4893263.

Professional autonomy at Dutch universities

It is believed that changes in the governance of the public sector affect the position of the professional workers. Their autonomy seems to be under pressure. This appears also to be the case in the field of higher education. Studies reveal that because of the changes in the governance in higher education and research, the professional autonomy of university academics has been challenged. This is especially visible in academic departments that increasingly depend on external funding. In particular, the roles of the university management as well as external funding agencies are of interest here. One of the key questions would be how university management influences the professional autonomy of academics?

The thesis should involve a document and literature review as well as some fieldwork. The theoretical framework can be based on organizational sociology, public administration and higher education studies literature. The fieldwork may include interviews/survey of external funding agencies, university managers and academics at (Dutch) universities.

If you are interested in this topic and would like to get further information please contact CHEPS’ teaching coordinator dr. Harry de Boer (h.f.deboer@utwente.nl) or dr. Liudvika Leysite (l.leisyte@utwente.nl), all T: 053 – 4893263.

Academic entrepreneurship at universities

In the context of increased salience of knowledge, and the increasing competitiveness of national economies, the knowledge transfer function, sometimes called “the third mission” of universities has been a hot topic in recent discussions. University collaboration with industry is often regarded as an important mechanism in fulfilling the third mission of universities. Despite the growing interest among academics and policymakers in understanding such collaborations, there is a gap in the understanding of the micro-processes involved in university-industry linkages. In particular, we do not know much about individual entrepreneurial academics, their motivations and practices and the extent to which their activities are facilitated by university incentive structures and processes for technology transfer. The thesis should involve a document and literature review as well as some fieldwork. The conceptual framework can be based on public administration and higher education studies literature. The fieldwork may include interviewing university managers, technology transfer officers and academics at (Dutch) universities.

Some research questions related to this topic are:

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What science and higher education policies promote knowledge commercialization in the Netherlands? Which policy instruments are used at the national and university level? And what can be said about the intended and unintended effects of the policies and the instruments used?

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How has the ‘third mission’ of universities been institutionalized in Dutch universities?

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What types of university-industry collaborations can be found at Dutch universities? Are these collaborations successful? What are obstructing factors for university-industry collaborations?

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How and why do university academics (not) commercialize their knowledge? How do academics combine traditional academic roles with more entrepreneurial ones in their work?

If you are interested in this topic and would like to get further information please contact CHEPS’ teaching coordinator dr. Harry de Boer (h.f.deboer@utwente.nl) or dr. Liudvika Leysite (l.leisyte@utwente.nl), all T: 053 – 4893263.

The funding of higher education

The topics listed below basically refer to two overarching subjects. The first one deals with the changes in the way universities are funded and how they allocate their funding within the universities. Increasingly, as in many other public sectors, funding is in one way or another (directly) linked to performances. Related to this subject is the funding of students (students grant systems, vouchers, tuition fees). The second subject deals with the idea of opening up the higher education system. In many countries, including the Netherlands, higher education is seen as a public or collective good. This is however challenged; what are the consequences of opening up a public sector, i.e. lowering the entry barriers of private suppliers?

Potential subjects:

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Performance-based funding of teaching. In their internal budgeting systems, what output-indicators do Dutch universities use as the funding basis for the allocation of teaching budgets to faculties? Why, how and to what effect?

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Evolution of private funding of Dutch universities. In their financial accounts, the universities’ income from grants and contracts is often recorded in a very aggregate way. To show the extent to which universities rely on industry funding (for their research) it is interesting to learn more about the composition of the universities’ external income sources and how these have developed over time.

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The rationale for setting fees for non-EU students. What are the levels of the tuition fees charged by individual universities (and individual programmes)? What was the underlying rationale for the fees set by the Board of the university? How do those fees compare to fees charged in other countries?

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Performance-based pay in Dutch academia. What human resources policies are in place in Dutch universities to reward high-performing academics? (either in kind or in financial terms)

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Maximizing the universities’ income from licences, royalties and patents: what mechanisms are in place in the different Dutch universities?

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Opening up the public sector: Private higher education in the Netherlands: clients, programmes and quality.

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The funding of student life on campus. The universities’ policies w.r.t. charging, subsidizing and contracting out of sports facilities/cultural services/health/housing.

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The pros and cons of free higher education. Should students pay for their education or should society pay? The discourse in the debate between student unions, political parties and national policy-makers.

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The university: more like a firm, or more like a hospital? Lessons from the funding, regulation and management of hospitals.

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Vouchers in higher education? What lessons can we learn from experiments held abroad with vouchers in primary education?

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Fees for master’s students: should they be higher than for bachelors? What are the equity (or social inclusion) and efficiency (or ‘making best use of resources’) implications of having more differentiated fees compared to a single uniform fee?

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Sponsored chairs in universities? How may of the professors in Dutch universities are in one way or another, sponsored by private industry, private not-profit organisations and private foundations & charities? What are the implications of the presence of a large number of these so-called endowed chairs? Do they harm scientific integrity and the freedom enquiry or does this produce a stimulus of academic research and teaching?

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The functioning of science parks. Many universities participate in the exploitation of science parks, where high tech industry is located in the vicinity of the university. The idea is that industry (such as newly created, young start-up companies and knowledge –intensive firms) in such science parks will profit from the presence of a university that can supply knowledge, and qualified personnel. But what actually does a science park bring to the university in terms of benefits?

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The costs and benefits of honours programmes and university colleges. Many universities nowadays have so-called honours tracks or university colleges where the brightest students (once selected) receive a high-level set of programmes. What do these initiatives bring in terms of costs and benefits to the university and the students in such programmes?

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Why are there so few students in Dutch higher education? Compared to other countries, the Netherlands has only few part-time students in part-time higher education programmes. What are the underlying reasons?

If you are interested in one of these topics and would like to get further information please contact CHEPS’ teaching coordinator dr. Harry de Boer (h.f.deboer@utwente.nl) or dr. Ben Jongbloed (b.w.a.jongbloed@utwente.nl), both T; 053 - 4893263