New Reports on Structural Reforms in Higher Education for DG EAC

CHEPS together with CHEGG have completed an international comparative study on “Structural Higher Education Reform: Design and Evaluation”. This research was conducted for DG EAC of the European Commission and is presented in 14 reports:

Structural Reforms in Higher Education

CHEPS and CHEGG were contracted by the European Commission (DG EAC) to analyse system-level (or ‘landscape’) structural reforms in higher education, in particular in relation to the policy process through which reforms were designed, implemented and evaluated and factors affecting success or failure. The overall objective was to provide policy makers at the European, national and institutional levels with policy relevant conclusions concerning the design, implementation and evaluation of structural reforms. Structural reforms were defined by DG EAC as government initiated or supported reforms aimed at affecting a significant part of the system and its structure. It was further specified that the reforms studied needed to be explicitly concerned with structural aspects of higher education at the system level (the institutional landscape).

We investigated structural reforms from an international comparative public policy analysis perspective using the policy stages model, in which policy processes are broken down into different stages: policy rationale and goals, policy design, policy implementation and policy evaluation.

Based on a large-scale inventory and an extensive literature review, we distinguished three basic types of structural reforms:


Structural reforms aiming at horizontal differentiation, i.e. transformations of the functions of different types of higher education institutions. Examples include the establishment of a new sector of higher education institutions or changing the functions of a sector of higher education institutions.


Structural reforms aiming at vertical differentiation, i.e. increasing or decreasing positional or status differences between higher education institutions. Examples include reforms aimed at concentrating research in a limited number of universities.


Structural reforms aiming at affecting institutional interrelationships between higher education institutions. Examples include university mergers or the formation of associations of institutions.

Case studies were undertaken in Austria, Croatia, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland (horizontal differentiation), Denmark, France, Spain (vertical differentiation), Belgium (Flanders), Canada (Alberta), Finland and the United Kingdom (Wales) (institutional interrelationships). These 12 case studies have published individually together with a synthesis report and an executive summary.

We identified five critical factors affecting the success of structural reform processes: stakeholder involvement and consensus; adequate funding and funding instruments; a “win-win” reform design; a realistic timeframe for implementation and evaluation; and systematic monitoring and evaluation. We also reflect on a number of key questions for ‘structural reformers’ that need to be considered in each of the three phases of the policy process (design, implementation and evaluation) and in the use of different policy instruments. The questions are presented as considerations for governments and policy makers contemplating embarking on a structural reform process.

The study was conducted by:


Jon File

Harry de Boer

Don Westerheijden

Paul Benneworth

Jeroen Huisman

Marco Seeber

Martina Vukasovic