Bettina Dahl-Sondergaard

  • Improving university students’ learning through education policy borrowing?

    Bettina Dahl-Søndergaard
    Aarhus University, Denmark

    Session 4e

    Tuesday 4 September 2007, 16.00-17.00

    Conceptual paper

    Themes: Internationalisation of the curriculum, Widening participation

    The paper will begin by referring to past attempts in Denmark to improve university students’ learning. One such example took place in the 1980’s where the universities changed from being elite universities to become more mass universities. Changes in teaching styles and pedagogical views, partly inspired from abroad, led to a situation that, in one way, was more efficient, since the students finished their studies earlier, however it also led to less depth of knowledge in the students as well as a situation where the university students increasingly expected the university professors to simply just give them the information.

    This leads to a discussion of the difference between old elite universities versus modern mass universities, particularly the later development which has meant even more mass oriented universities than 20 years ago. I will, among other things, discuss if the prize of broader access is lack of depth of knowledge.

    This leads up to present day university development in Denmark where the political agenda is to further access to higher education as well as reorganising the management of the universities. This paper will analyse the justification of these two political agendas. The analysis will take place using various theories of policy borrowing.

    Various models of policy borrowing have been developed. One is the work of Steiner-Khamsi who proposes a model based on Luhmann’s theory of self-referential systems. Policy borrowing is here seen as an externalization that is used as a kind of authority, being referred to after self-reference falls short of its objectives. There are two types of externalization: (1) reference to scientific rationality, where policy makers use results from international comparisons to say something about their own education system. (2) reference to so-called effective educational systems. There are furthermore three extreme types of policy reactions that she labels: scandalization (highlighting the weaknesses of one's own educational system), glorification (highlighting the strengths of one's own educational system), and indifference.

    Another model of policy borrowing has been developed by Phillips & Ochs. They state that there are four stages of policy borrowing in education: (1) Cross-National Attraction: What attracts one country to investigate the educational practice and policy in another country? (2) Decision: What is the process by which one country determines the feasibility of ‘borrowing’ practice or policy of another country to implement at home? (3) Implementation: What support or resistance is given to implementation? (4) Internalisation / Indigenisation: How does ‘borrowing’ impact an existing system and how are ‘borrowed’ policies or practices synthesized?

    I will here analyse the Danish development in terms of the above mentioned two theories of educational borrowing. This will lead to partly a greater understanding of the process leading to the policy changes, discussion of the reasons proposed for the changes (changes ‘for what?’) as well as a general discussion of the purpose of university education.