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The Future of Higher Education in Europe: The Case for a Stronger Base in EU Law

Sacha Garben

Europe in Question Discussion Paper Series of the London School of Economics (LEQs) from London School of Economics / European Institute

Abstract: Under the budgetary strain of the economic crisis, many European governments have introduced spending cuts in higher education. As a consequence, universities increasingly have to rely on tuition fees and private sources of funding to sustain themselves. This development fits in with a broader tendency of treating higher education increasingly as an economic resource and commodity, which is fostered by European-level processes such as most notably the Bologna Process and the Lisbon Strategy. Considering the fundamental importance of these issues, touching upon the core of our views on what an equitable and egalitarian society entails, it is imperative that the decisions that are being taken are democratically legitimate and that the policy makers are accountable for the measures they enact. Therefore, it is worrying that many of the most crucial and influential decisions are taken in intergovernmental contexts and implemented by means of soft law - of which the democratic legitimacy is doubtful. The Bologna Process is an intergovernmental policy forum, participation in which is voluntary and whose decisions are non-binding, suffering from all the accountability defects inherent in international policy making - magnified by its soft law character. The Lisbon/Europe 2020 Strategy does take place within the EU's institutional framework, but is an area where the EU's democratic deficit is particularly worrisome. Therefore, as this contribution shall argue, we need to consider a stronger and more democratic basis for these important policies, if we decide to pursue them. That basis is to be found in EU law.

Date: 2012-07-10
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