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An Engineering View for Social Systems: Agency as an Operational Principle for Designing Higher Education Access Policies

Adriana Díaz () and Camilo Olaya ()
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Adriana Díaz: Universidad de los Andes
Camilo Olaya: Universidad de los Andes

Systemic Practice and Action Research, 2017, vol. 30, issue 6, No 4, 627-649

Abstract: Abstract Access to higher education (HE) has been a persistent concern for governments, practitioners and researchers. Access to HE has been widely studied from scientific perspectives that have focussed on the factors that contribute to the problem; however, authors have highlighted the need for systemic and design perspectives on education systems. The need to connect research with policy remains one of the most challenging issues for education researchers. In view of this gap, this paper argues that engineering thinking and methods represent an opportunity for the design of HE access policies because engineering rationality (distinct from scientific rationalities) matches the concerns and goals of any policymaking attempt. Engineers design artefacts to meet particular goals. These artefacts are artificial systems, tangible or intangible, such as hammers, bridges or whole organizations, which are designed in particular contexts to meet precise goals. Policies for access to HE are good examples of artefacts that seek to fulfil specific needs under concrete constraints inherent to a country or region. More specifically, HE systems are social systems; in other words, they are created and recreated by the interactions and decisions of diverse actors. Hence, to change, redesign or improve such types of systems involves engineering their very interactions that are the outcomes of institutional and human actions. In particular, engineering design requires operational principles. Thus, we propose agency as a fundamental design concept for the improvement of HE systems, which opens new possibilities for a distinct type of policy-making that takes excellent advantage of what engineering can offer, while at the same time expanding on traditional expectations for engineering.

Keywords: Access to higher education; Agency; Design; Engineering; Social systems; Policymaking (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2017
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