The double shuffle of University Reform - The OECD/Denmark policy
interface
Susan Wright and Jakob Williams Ørberg
Introduction
At the ministerial meeting of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s
(OECD) Education Committee in Athens in 2006, the Danish Minister of Education, Bertel
Haarder, a member of Denmark’s Liberal Party, caused a commotion. He went out on a limb as
the only one of the assembled ministers who thought total marketisation was not only the most
likely but also the most desirable future for university research and education. Among those
present was the leader of Denmark’s largest association for university employees (Dansk
Magisterforening) who later reported to the Danish media that people around her were
whispering about the ‘Danish disease’ during the session (Stage 2006). What they meant was
that the Danish government predictably opts for the most extreme versions of current
international agendas for university reform. What we would like to show in this chapter is that
the commotion created by the Danish Minister was also about something else. The disquiet was
caused by his disregarding the style through which the agenda for university reform had been
moving forward in Europe. Following Hall (2003) we call this style the double-shuffle: a
continuous dance between a vision of the university modelled on the corporate world and one
based on the sector’s traditional organisation.
We were studying what went on at this Ministerial Meeting as part of a research project on
university reform in Denmark.i The project started in 2004 when universities were preparing
themselves for the implementation of the 2003 University Law that changed:
1 The legal status of universities – to become ‘self-owning’ institutions
2 Their governance – the establishment of Governing Boards
3 Their management – the appointment of leaders at all levels
4 The way government steers universities – increasingly through contracts and outputbased payments.
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Since that law was passed, there has been a further torrent of reforms including the merger of
government research institutes and single faculty universities with multi-faculty universities.
Debates continue about methods to measure and grade research outputs as a basis for allocating
research funding. The research project has studied the debates in Denmark and the international
context that surrounded these reforms. Our aim is to see whether and how, from the multiple
perspectives of a wide range of actors, the reforms have transformed the identity of university
leaders, academics, students and even the university itself.
The Danish reform follows a trend to loosen the grip of central government planning on
institutions on the one side, while moving away from collegial rule on the other. Still only
implemented in a few European countries, international policy communities are nevertheless
almost all focusing on the twin projects of making universities autonomous and accountable. By
autonomous, the reformers mean turning the university into a coherent organisation with a
unified leadership which is capable of orienting the institution strategically and competitively in
the global situation. By accountable, they mean that universities should not only show they are
spending public money legitimately, but that they are delivering on the performance objectives
which central government sets up as a precondition for funding or even builds into outputfunding mechanisms.
This new university policy, however, does not function in a vacuum, and it is wrong to
imagine old or welfare-state universities simply disappearing as new managerial universities
enter the stage. As we shall see, the older images of the universities and their ethics and logics
are still present and, in important ways, these underpin the new vision of market-driven and
strategically-organised universities. Indeed, the very success of the new vision for universities
seems to depend on and deploy widely held images of the ways universities used to work. The
appointed leaders who head these changes present themselves through images of the old collegial
and elected positions, whose nomenclature they still carry. In exploring the complicated
interweaving of new and old in the transformation of universities in Denmark, we traced this
strategy to the OECD, the international agency which has made one of the most significant
forays into university policy development in the past two decades. In this chapter we will see,
first, how through OECD’s development of the policy background for the changes brought
forward in Denmark, as well as in other countries, the new and the old went hand in hand and
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seemed to constantly incorporate each other. We explore the way this works as a political
strategy. Second, we show how one of the newly appointed leaders further incorporated this
strategy into the projection of his new role. His vision of how he would steer his university into
the new era became deeply dependant on images of the previous purposes and forms of
leadership of the old institution.
In order to capture this double-vision of reform we deploy the concept of the ‘double
shuffle’ used by Stuart Hall (2003) to describe the means by which, in the UK, Blair’s Third
Way carried forward an agenda inherited from Thatcher while supporting itself on images of the
comprehensive welfare state. We suggest that today’s universities are changing into marketdriven organisations while conjuring up images of traditional collegial academia in portraying
themselves and where they are going. Whereas Hall emphasised the crucial role of discourse in
Blair’s political project, we suggest that the double shuffle of university reform in Denmark and
elsewhere also takes place on three other planes, in terms of policy, symbols, and material or
technological processes. Inspired by Saskia Sassen’s (2006) notion of old institutional
capabilities being deployed for new purposes and to serve new organising logics, we suggest that
university reform not only moves with the rhythm of the double shuffle when OECD describes
new public management universities as consistent with Humboldtian visions of the universities.
We argue that the strategy of the double shuffle is also used when leaders, charged with the task
of steering their institutions through the reforms, employ symbols of the collegial university in
their self representation, and even when technologies from the old order are put to use in the
new, as when peer review is employed by managers in evaluation systems.
When the Danish Minister of Education exposed his unalloyed support for only the most
radical vision of the reformed university, we argue that he deserted the dance being played by his
colleagues in the OECD. Their double shuffle promoted more radical visions of the university by
keeping more traditional versions also in play. University leaders, similarly, are enacting a new
kind of university by re-working images of the old university. The Minister disregarded the
language, symbolism and mechanisms through which reforms have been moving forward in the
university sector.
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OECD’s Agendas for University Reform
Denmark’s university reforms have been informed and inspired, above all, by agendas emanating
from the OECD over the last decades. Denmark has participated in many of the surveys and
reports, meetings and discussions that have shaped the OECD’s thinking on university reform.
Indeed, when we asked an official in the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation if the
OECD had influenced Danish university reform, he replied, no, we shaped OECD policy. In the
1990s the OECD emerged from a very negative period, in which the OECD’s main ‘policy
product,’ National Innovation Systems, ceased to grasp governments’ attention. Universities
were beleaguered by governments’ loss of confidence in their role and constraints on public
expenditure. This negative phase ended in the 1990s when the OECD formulated the notion of a
global knowledge economy and assembled statistics to project its growth (Godin n.d.). Now, for
the first time, education, as an OECD activity, gained a high profile and strong legitimacy
(Henry et al. 2001: 132). In 1991 a reorganisation brought CERI, the Education Committee and
the two specialist programmes on university management (IMHE) and education buildings
(PEB) together in a ‘Directorate for Education, Employment, Labour and Social Affairs’. In
1994 the development of education indicators became a major activity, in a new Unit for
Education Statistics and Indicators (Henry et al. 2001: 10, 12). In the mid 1990s, the OECD put
forward a standard definition and a scoreboard of indicators for its new policy concept, the
‘knowledge-based economy’. By the late 1990s, the reform of universities had become a major
concern for the OECD, as they were important both as sites of knowledge production and
management and as providers of higher education, the human resource base of the knowledge
economy.
The OECD has no access to legal or regulatory mechanisms to enforce its prescriptions.
Unlike the European Union, it cannot pass directives; unlike UNESCO its members cannot make
Declarations; and unlike GATS it has no legal machinery to enforce compliance once members
enter into agreements. The OECD’s system of governance is much ‘softer’. It has to put forward
concepts, such as ‘the global knowledge economy’, which gain the attention (and continuing
financial support) if its 30 members. It then engages ministers, university leaders, other
‘stakeholders’ and experts in writing reports and in participating in networks and conferences.
The resulting reports, trend reports, statements of best practice and guidelines are then made
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available for governments and institutions to follow voluntarily. Further mechanisms such as
country reviews, indicators and rankings are used to assess and report publicly on each member
state’s progress in meeting the reform agenda. Some ministers, as in Denmark, generate much
local publicity about their country’s standing in OECD league tables, using them to name and
shame and urge further reform so as to win the race to meet the OECD’s vision of a success in
the global knowledge economy. A combination of moral pressure, shame, and desire to beat the
competition impels countries towards policy convergence. The European Union refers to this
form of governance as ‘the OECD method’ or the ‘open method of coordination’. It has been
adopted more widely, for example it underpins the Bologna Process for reforming higher
education and the Copenhagen Process for reforming vocational education and training.
In the case of OECD’s work on higher education, Henry et al. (2001) analyse how the
organisation has acted on national policy making through thematic reviews, such as that on ‘the
first years of tertiary education’ conducted in ten countries, including Denmark (OECD 1998),
and ‘country reviews’ such as that held into Danish universities (OECD 2004a) and into Danish
education research (OECD 2004b). Information from these sources and from its statistical
sources has been distilled into policy suggestions, best practice, and scenarios for the future,
which have been discussed at meetings, such as that held with Education Ministers in Athens.
Henry et al. identify a particular ‘report genre’ for the OECD, which they call ‘an admixture of
the apparently academic, distanced and disinterested with the normative’ (2001: 139). They show
that OECD reports first take critiques, for example Harvey’s (1990) analysis of postmodernity
and globalisation, and turn them into a factual description, and then into an inevitable process.
They then implore national and institutional policy-makers to gear themselves to this ‘new
reality’ (Henry et al. 2001: 152-3). Henry et al. argue that OECD reports are framed within a
particular normative stance – a particular ideological view of globalisation that urges acceptance
of neo-liberal market reform, managerialist approaches to universities and a theory of human
capital which presses the need to prepare students for work in a global economy. The OECD
report, Redefining Tertiary Education itself proclaims that it is ‘descriptive, analytic and
normative’ (Henry et al. 2001: 18) but, in the main, the OECD remains silent on its role as
advocate of a particular ideological stance. In this way, Henry et al. argue, the OECD occupies
an ‘ambiguous policy zone’ (Henry et al. 2001: 145). It acts not just as an international forum for
the exchange of ideas and information between member countries; it is also managing the
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process of policy production and, by framing these policies normatively, in ways that conform to
a particular ideology, the OECD functions as a policy actor. The OECD sets the way forward for
universities by anticipating a policy convergence and by providing a normative stance with
policy prescriptions that act as an invitation cum pressure for governments to pursue this agenda,
each in its own way (Henry et al. 2001: 129, 139, 107). The process is voluntary: members states
decide for themselves to follow the path of reform that the OECD recommends.
The OECD (1998) report Redefining Tertiary Education was a crucial document in setting
the agenda for the role of universities in the projected knowledge-based economy. The report
drew on two earlier OECD reports and put them in a new context. The first had argued for the
expansion of higher education – the shift from elite to mass, and ultimately universal higher
education (OECD 1974). The second detailed ten current roles of universities in society, and
raised questions about future changes in their functions (Taylor 1987). Now Redefining Tertiary
Education made a comprehensive overview of the implications of ‘tertiary education for all’ for
curriculum design, quality management, university leadership and public and private funding.
The new context for all these issues offered by Redefining Tertiary Education was a shift from
the previous supply-led approach which focused on the needs of universities, to using the
interests of ‘clients’ to challenge ‘many of the orthodoxies and pre-suppositions of institutional
life’ and drive change (OECD 1998: 15-16, 3). Making the ‘client’ the report’s ‘dominant motif’
meant that ‘institutions are approached, not so much from the standpoint of their own self
formations, their traditions, culture and inner workings’ but in terms of meeting the needs of
students, the society and economy (OECD 1998: 15).
Whilst the report sustains this stance throughout, it also gives cognisance from the start that
there are two divergent views of the purposes served by tertiary education, which are found
embedded in institutional practice and policy discourses. The report calls these two models of the
university, and labels the first ‘utility in the market place’ and the second ‘independent or
unconstrained advancement of knowledge’ (OECD 1998: 10). Later it also refers to the second,
variously, as the ‘classical liberal’, ‘critical intellectual’ ‘Humboldtian’ or ‘Newman’ model.
How the two models relate to each other, and how they can both be reconciled with an overriding ‘client perspective’ is never explicitly stated: the report claims that universities can make
these two visions converge, without explaining how. Henry et al. (2001: 128) criticise the report
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because it just ‘sutures’ together these competing discourses, which represent competing
interests, traditions and value orientations. Our analysis takes this argument a step further. By
focusing not just on the substantive content but on the mode of description, we reveal a particular
relation and dynamic between the two models which pushes the OECD agenda forward.
Redefining Higher Education – two co-existing discourses
In Redefining Tertiary Education, the instrumental or market approach is always described first.
In this model the student is a consumer or customer who wants to acquire with minimal effort,
cost and time, marketable competences and qualifications that converge on employment
opportunities in the labour market. A variety of providers (universities, private higher education
companies, corporate universities and commercial ‘edutainment’ corporations) make bids to the
funding agency or government to provide such programmes. For not-for-profit providers, the
return is recognition and prestige and opportunities for expansion and growth. Denmark is
quoted as ‘a particularly good example’ of a country moving steadily in this entrepreneurial
direction. For-profit institutions expect trading returns like any other business enterprise.
Education becomes an internationally tradable commodity, in which fee-paying overseas
students are a significant export earner, and long programmes are a disadvantage. For the tertiary
education market to function effectively, there need to be consumers who can make informed
choices about services and switch allegiance if need be, and a range of competing service
providers who will tailor services to clients’ wants and market them vigorously. The
management of universities and other providers, including the training divisions of large
corporations, needs to become flexible and speedy, so as to maximise sales. In sum, this model
of ‘utility in the market place’ has the following characteristics:
Primary values include customer satisfaction, a good match between the labour
market and courses and qualifications on offer, and efficient and cost-effective
delivery of service (OECD 1998: 45).
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When the report turns to the second model, the ‘classical liberal position’, the description starts
negatively, making contrasts with the ‘instrumental’ approach, which thereby is promoted to the
level of a norm. The ‘classical liberal’ model’s ‘starting point is neither economic or social
utility, nor the student as consumer, nor the institution as service provider; it is, rather, the
academic community’s mission of knowledge creating and disseminating’ (1998: 45). The report
continues to make negative contrasts with the normative instrumental approach:
Scholars and students – not suppliers and customers – make up the academic
community…The conceptual framework and language are not that of clients, serviceproviders, contractual obligations, management, efficiency, competence and skills
and so forth but the qualities of the educated person, the self-governing or collegiate
body of scholars, academic discourse and interchange, and the endless quest for
knowledge and understanding (1998: 45).
In this quest for knowledge, the academic community acts with a ‘civic conscience with moral
obligations’:
Detachment from, rather than intimate engagement with, the world of commerce,
industry, the professions, the schools and the government service is necessary to
provide the right conditions for reflective, analytical, objective research, study and
learning and, indeed, to provide a deeper level of service than meeting immediate
wants and needs (OECD 1998: 45).
Detachment does not, however, mean separation or isolation: active relations are maintained with
other social sectors and institutions, but they are on the basis of ‘mutual respect’. Funding,
whether from government or private sponsors, contracts and regulations are in forms that respect
and protect ‘the rights and freedom of the academics and preserve institutional autonomy’
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(OECD 1998: 46). Even though the account ends with positive language, the negative contrast to
the instrumental model has by now been so firmly entrenched, that ‘mutual respect’, ‘freedom of
academics’ and ‘institutional autonomy’ sound like a far cry.
The report implies a clear hierarchy between the two models but does not attempt to
reconcile the two. Even a debate between their respective merits would ‘all too easily give rise to
false or misleading dichotomies’ (1998: 46). The section entitled ‘Towards convergence?’
prescribes a list of changes which both reinforce the privileged position of the ‘instrumental,
market model’ and tuck in references to the ‘classical liberal position’ without attempting to
reconcile the contradictions:
1 tertiary education has to expand and ‘change comprehensively’ to address the
expectations of its clients, achieve efficiency and attain high standards
2 in first degree courses, incentives, strategic steering and built-in accountability
procedures should be used to make education responsive to student needs and public
priorities, without eschewing the values and principles of free inquiry and curiositydriven intellectual interests
3 definite competences that will assist students’ employment need to be specified in course
design, teaching, learning, assessment and accreditation
4 flexible learning opportunities
5 ‘the collegial concept of decision-making’, which includes students, academic and nonacademic staff and external representatives, and that ensures decisions are academically
and professionally informed, and responsibility for them is shared, is still ‘relevant’ but
‘inefficiencies and opaqueness of decision making’ need to be addressed
6 A wide range of modern management and evaluation practices need to be introduced,
including financial management, strategic institutional profiling and quality assurance,
because of the scale and complexity of decision making and the damaging consequences
of errors and inefficiencies.
The list is rounded off with a final statement which again claims that convergence between the
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utilitarian market model and the ‘classic liberal’ or ‘critical knowledge’ model, and their two
associated managerial and collegial styles of governance (above points 6 and 5 respectively) is
possible, but gives the problem to others to resolve:
there need be no fundamental conflict between either so-called general/cultural
education and vocational/professional education or between “collegial” and
“managerial” styles of governance but considerable effort is required to develop new
system-wide and institutional cultures that embody and interrelate these orientations
(1998: 48)
Thereafter, the report mainly focuses on the instrumental, market model, but there are
periodic reminders that the traditional model is also present. They jog alongside each other with
no attempt to make clear how they can co-exist or how they relate to each other. Henry et al.
(2001: 140) call this a ‘greedy report’ because it embraces an ‘and/also’ rather than an ‘either/or’
approach, wanting teaching and research to be informed by both the rationalities of market utility
and the advancement of knowledge for its own sake, and expecting universities to be run by both
managerial and collegial approaches. In a sign of frustration, they call this obtuse refusal to
decide between two models and this denial of the reality of their contradictions ‘purblindness’
(Henry et al. 2001: 140). A study by Hall (2003) points to an alternative interpretation of a
political strategy at work here.
OECD’s double shuffle
Hall examines how New Labour in Britain adapted to the neo-liberal terrain it inherited from
Thatcherism. He argues that New Labour had a double strategy, one strand aiming at the
introduction of a neo-liberal market state, the other addressing the concerns of social democracy.
The significant aspect of this double strategy was the way the two strands were combined (Hall
2003: 11). Hall identifies a dominant or leading neo-liberal strategy which aligns government
with the logic and values of corporate capital and which, with every move, installs marketisation
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in further spheres of government. A subordinate social democratic programme (the minimum
wage, family tax credits, and concern over delivery of public services) appeals to New Labour’s
working class and public-sector middle class supporters, who invoke this programme to insist
that New Labour is not neo-liberal or to persuade themselves that old Labour values will
eventually reassert themselves. This bears comparison with the OECD’s dominant market model
for higher education and research, and its subordination of a traditional academic discourse about
collegiality and the pursuit of critical understanding, whose acknowledgement appeals to
academics and gives them hope that old values can still be asserted.
It is how New Labour’s two strands move together that is important in Hall’s analysis.
They do not converge and are not reconciled. In what Hall calls New Labour’s two step or
double shuffle, moves to ‘modernise’ or ‘reform’ public services by opening the door for private
investment or blurring the public/private distinction are accompanied by a matching step to make
the public think the aim is better service delivery. The two are held in formation by a process
Gramsci called ‘transformism’: the social-democratic strand always remains subordinate to and
dependent on the dominant, neo-liberal programme, and is constantly being ‘transformed’ into
the dominant one (Hall 2003: 19)
The essence of this ‘transformism’ game depends on pulling selectively, and in an
ordered hierarchy, from opposing political repertoires, maintaining a double-address
to their different ‘publics’, so that you can advance a ‘radical’ (sic) overall strategy of
governance, on the one hand, while maintaining electoral support…on the other (Hall
2003: 22 italics in the original).
The double mode of address has the crucial function of re-presenting a broadly neo-liberal
project, favourable to the interests of corporate capital, in such a way that it can mobilise the
popular consent of Labour voters. This linguistic strategy depends on using words with a wide
range of associations so that a concept’s positive charge can be mobilised and transferred to a
very different, usually contrary, idea (Hall 2003: 23). This is seen, for example, when the shift
from universal public services to selectivity and private provision is described as ‘choice’ and
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represented as part of a strategy to combat inequality. Similarly, in the field of university
reform, the subordinate discourse is replete with words (e.g. autonomy, freedom) which contain
multiple meanings, and can be shifted in step with the dominant neo-liberal discourse about
marketisation.
Through this double shuffle, according to Hall, New Labour is delivering the market state
via social democracy. Mrs Thatcher’s full blown neo-liberal drive to the market state was too
obvious and brutal. Its original supporters abandoned Mrs Thatcher for reasons of electoral
calculation. Hall points out that moving to a market state via subordinated social democracy is a
hegemonic strategy, winning enough consent as it goes and building subordinate demands into
its dominant logic. This double headed strategy sows confusion in its own ranks, obscures the
long-term objective and prevents a coherent and organised opposition from emerging (Hall 2003:
20). It seems that the OECD is engaged in a similar double shuffle. There is no attempt to
reconcile the two discourses about university futures. The discourses of the market and of
traditional academia derive from different political repertoires and ‘weasel words’ii like
‘autonomy’ and ‘freedom’ make a double address to these different publics. Yet the discourses
are in an ordered hierarchy and the subordinated ‘traditional’ discourse keeps in step with the
dominant market discourse. It is the subordinated discourse that is essential to appeal to and
mobilise the engagement of academics and students, without whose consent the reform of the
sector could not take place. The OECD invites governments and especially university leaders to
take up the challenge of learning how to use this double discourse and dance the double shuffle.
Bertel Haarder, the Danish education minister, caused shock and mutterings about the Danish
disease because he would not join the dance. He alone among the ministers strides openly
towards a marketised future without any reliance on Humboldt as a partner or any need for spin.
OECD’s scenarios for university futures
Central to Hall’s double shuffle is the idea of continual movement: the subordinate discourse is
continually appealed to, and modified, in order to support the projection of an ever-more radical
version of the dominant discourse. The successive moves of the OECD’s double shuffle can be
shown by following how the simultaneous appeal to two unreconciled university models in
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Redefining Tertiary Education was developed further in the OECD’s subsequent scenariobuilding project, to lead towards increasingly radical visions of future universities. At first, six
scenarios were developed (Vincent-Lancrin 2004) and presented to a series of OECD meetings
(e.g. World Bank, Washington, January 2005). In the light of feedback from these meetings, they
were revised and presented to a meeting of stakeholders at Istanbul in June 2006. For the 2006
meeting of Education Ministers in Athens (described in the introduction) the scenarios were
reduced to four and based on substantially revised premises. In each manifestation, the
supporting ‘traditional’ image of a university is changed, in step with an ever-more extreme
version of the market model.
In the initial six scenarios for the future of universities, Scenario 1 is no longer called the
‘classic liberal’ model, but is labelled ‘Tradition’ and gives a brief caricature of universities ‘like
they are today’ (Vincent-Lancrin 2004: 259). That is, governments continue to play a prominent
role in funding, regulating and managing universities, with a focus on public accountability and
equity, and consequently ‘little scope for profit generating activities’ (ibid). Universities teach a
small share of the youth population ‘for the purposes of job selection credentials’ and they
pursue research ‘without excessive dependence or involvement with the private sector’. Scenario
1 noticeably lacks several features that are more usually associated with a ‘traditional’ discourse
about universities. There is no mention of the pursuit of knowledge, either for its own sake or to
provide a critique of the present and envisage alternative futures. There is no articulation or
synergy between teaching and research, and no mention of university autonomy.
The instrumental market-based discourse pervades four of the other scenarios. Scenario 3 is
called ‘free market’ but in fact describes two separate markets for teaching and research. Tertiary
education is privatised, driven by market forces, and funded through market mechanisms in
which ‘tuition revenue comes to represent a more important share of overall income’, along with
the proceeds from patenting curricula and teaching methods. The global tertiary education
market is regulated by private companies for quality assurance and accreditation. The market is
highly differentiated: a range of providers, including corporations which train their own staff,
will form a steep hierarchy dominated by a global super-elite, staff status will be polarised, and
institutions will specialise in terms of the subjects they teach and the audiences they address.
Teaching and research are entirely disarticulated: ‘And, since the majority of students and their
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parents are not interested in research, refusing to bear the costs, research moves out to public
research centres and corporate research and development divisions’ (Vincent-Lancrin 2004:
260). Research too becomes demand driven and secures important returns through ‘intellectual
property rights’.
Scenario 6 takes the market model to such an extreme that it is entitled ‘the disappearance
of universities’. This scenario has a very positive – brave new world – tone in which the
activities of the university have dissipated into different commercial markets for teaching and for
research and there is no mention of the state. Two other scenarios focus mainly on future markets
in higher education. In Scenario 4 universities still provide tertiary education but it is demandoriented and consists predominantly of recurrent skill-upgrading for those of employment age
and recreation for the retired. In Scenario 5, universities network with IT, media and
entertainment corporations to provide market-driven, life-long ‘edutainment’. In this market,
learners define their own degrees for themselves from a global network of provision and teaching
materials and methods give ‘high returns to their owners’.
In between the caricature of ‘universities as they are now’ and the different market models
lies Scenario 2, entitled ‘entrepreneurial universities’. This scenario is clearly trying to combine
the ‘traditional’ with the ‘free market’. This is the only scenario to mention three missions for
universities – teaching, research and community service. Universities are given greater autonomy
to respond to a variety of mixed public and private funding sources. Research is not only highly
lucrative but also prestigious. In teaching, because of commercial approaches to international
markets and e-learning, the prestige and wages of staff improve, but the sector is differentiated
between elitist teaching in research universities and lifelong learning in lower status, teachingonly institutions. Whereas the other scenarios list external systems of control over public
accountability, quality and accreditation, it is not clear what combination of drivers and controls
is envisaged for ‘entrepreneurial universities’. Nor is it clear how, within these controls,
universities can exercise the autonomy that will enable them to balance their three missions and
achieve a market-oriented approach that is still in keeping with their critical traditions. By saying
that ‘universities take a market-oriented approach to operations without losing basic academic
values’ (Vincent-Lancrin 2004: 259), the scenario deploys a strategy of ‘pragmatic
presupposition’ to state a vision as if it is already enacted, and is silent on the means for its
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achievement.iii
In sum, only in Scenario 2, the entrepreneurial university, do the market and traditional
discourses dance alongside each other, with the market discourse clearly in the lead position and
the traditional discourse shuffling along in support. A very brief and bowdlerised version of
‘tradition’ is sketched in the first scenario and, by emphasising shortcomings and omitting to
mention strengths, invites dismissal. The four versions of the market discourse have been
elaborated into such a strong normative position that they only need to make very occasional
negative contrasts to the traditional discourse to reinforce their superiority.
By the time the scenarios about the future of universities were presented to Education
Ministers at Athens, they had been reduced to four: the traditional model no longer existed in its
own right; one scenario, called ‘new public management’, represented the double shuffle
between the traditional and the market models; and for the first time a model based entirely on
the free market appeared, unsupported by any reference to tradition. These four scenarios, more
clearly than the previous six, are based on different ideas about the knowledge economy. The
first scenario, ‘Open networking’ is based on free and open access to knowledge. On the grounds
that research is largely funded by taxpayers, the latest results are freely available for students,
academics and civil society world-wide. Relations between higher education institutions in the
first and third worlds are marked by cooperation and trust rather than competition, so their
education systems can be harmonised and students have the autonomy to choose their courses
from a global network. Many people at the Ministerial Meeting thought this was the most
desirable future, but not the most likely. The second scenario is based on the premise that all but
a small elite of universities engage in a backlash against globalisation and focus on servicing
their local community. Participants felt that all universities should ‘serve local communities’
regardless of whether or not countries turned isolationalist.
The third scenario, ‘New Public Management’ is based on a mixed economy. Universities
still depend on public funding, but most of their income is from student fees, supplemented by
commercial activities in foreign education markets and arising from research patents,
competitive research grants and other sources like businesses and private foundations.
Universities are autonomous or private institutions, stratified and specialising in different
research and teaching missions. They are steered by market forces and financial incentives and
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the ‘golden standards of good public governance’ - accountability, transparency, efficiency,
effectiveness, responsiveness and forward vision. This scenario resembles the one called ‘free
market’ in the previous version, but now a fourth scenario called ‘Higher Education Inc.’ is
based on the establishment of free trade in higher education under the General Agreement on
Trade in Services (GATS). While the most prestigious institutions continue to be supply-driven
and managed through peer assessment, the majority are demand-driven, specialising in a segment
of the research or teaching markets, and engaging in a fierce and world-wide competition for
students and for research funding. Run with business-like methods, their fortunes depend heavily
on international rankings. In other words, the market discourse has split in two, between the
fourth scenario which depends on free trade and commercial imperatives to both fund and steer
universities, and the third scenario where markets are important for funding universities, but
governments still steer them, and institutions are given the autonomy (off-loaded responsibility)
to reconcile those two imperatives with their traditional academic values of the free pursuit of
knowledge.
Hall and other analysts of recent political transformations have argued that new
managerialism, with its apparently neutral technologies of simulated markets, contracting out
services, performance indicators and performance payments, is the vehicle through which neoliberal ideology informs institutional and professional practices. OECD’s four scenarios signal a
step change. The ‘Higher Education Inc’ model (Scenario 4) that the Danish Minister supported
would be governed and managed through actual markets and commitments to free trade,
shedding the pretence of traditional academic values, and removing government funding, social
agendas (such as widening opportunities, equity or the public good) and any brakes on market
steering. ‘New Public Management’ (Scenario 3) becomes a model in its own right and appears
to be a much more moderate alternative, based on a mixed economy and combining
responsiveness to markets with government steering and university autonomy – it even assumes
the garb of tradition to which it was previously opposed.
The double shuffle continues. An ordered hierarchy of partner discourses is still drawn
from opposing political discourses and used to maintain a double appeal to different publics, but
the partners have changed. Initially a market discourse was in the lead position, supported by a
‘traditional’ model of the university. Now an entirely free market discourse is taking the radical
16
position, and new public management steps into the reassuring support position, leaving the
traditional model of the university ridiculed on the side-lines. What we have witnessed is the
shift of subordinate discourses as they are constantly transformed to support the growing
ideological dominance of the free market discourse.
A challenge for university leaders
The evolving descriptions of new futures for the university, as we have followed them through
policy documents from the OECD, persistently claim that the two sides of the double shuffle, the
ever-more market orientated vision, and the collegial governance and critical values, can be
reconciled. But rarely do the documents say who has this responsibility and how it can be done.
Mostly the documents deploy the linguistic strategy of turning a future scenario into a present
claim, as if their reconciliation is already the case. The report, Redefining Tertiary Education,
clearly passes the ball out of OECD’s court:
The challenge to countries, not just governments, is to formulate and implement
policies that at best produce a resolution of these complex issues, including a new
forward-looking synthesis, drawing constructively on the diverse interests (OECD
1998: 46).
More precisely, the report hands the responsibility down to university leaders, claiming that if
they are sufficiently ‘insightful, knowledgeable and imaginative’ the difficulties of reconciling
the two models ‘can be overcome’ (OECD 1998: 83).
Other OECD documents provide guidance to leaders about how to introduce the new forms
of management and achieve the changes associated with the market vision of universities. An
example is On the Edge: Securing a Sustainable Future for Higher Education (OECD 2004c)
which shares best practice on financial management and governance of higher education
institutions. The publication calls on leaders to manage their universities in a way that takes
17
account of the changing context of university activities drawn up in the OECD policy work
referred to above. The report does not sustain the double shuffle: indeed it starts with a quotation
that bluntly negates the validity of the supporting discourse about the traditional university:
The University is no longer a quiet place to teach and do scholarly work at a
measured pace and contemplate the universe as in centuries past. It is a big, complex,
demanding, competitive business requiring large-scale ongoing investment (OECD
2004c: Foreword p. 3).
The foreword further states that:
The challenge for governments is to ensure that increasingly autonomous and marketdriven institutions respond to public interest agendas, at national and regional levels,
while also taking a greater responsibility for their own financial sustainability. The
challenge for institutions is to manage a more complex portfolio of aims and funding;
to differentiate themselves in an increasingly competitive environment; and to protect
and maintain academic quality and their ability to deliver over the long term (ibid.).
The new broader agenda of demands put on universities in the knowledge economy is
summarised in the report as: 1. Up-skilling the population and Life-long learning, 2. Social
inclusion, widening participation, citizenship skills, 3. Economic development, 4. Regional
policy, 4. Cultural development and regeneration, 5. Knowledge-based developments and 6.
Research and development, especially in science, technology and medicine (OECD 2004c: 13).
It is the role of university leaders to ensure their institutions deliver on all these expectations, as
well as securing their institutions’ sustainability in new systems for funding and accountability.
The report suggests university managers ask themselves:
 Have we developed an integrated management team in which the academic and
non-academic managers respect each others’ contribution and share a common set
of values and objectives?
18
 Are our academic strategies informed and supported by the most professional
management skills in the financial, estates, personnel and systems areas?
 Do our strategies enable us to develop and grow our position in the market, playing
to our strengths rather than maintaining under-performing or historic activities?
 Are we taking greater responsibility for our own future, or are we still too
dependent on decisions made outside the institution?
 Are we strong enough to deal with risks and contingencies which may threaten our
sustainability?
 Are we developing our staff to become the strategic institutional managers of the
future?” (OECD 2004c: 67).
The most important aspect of this checklist is the 'we', the repeated subject of the sentences.
Saarinen (2008: 185-6) points out that the use of ‘we’ in such documents suggest complex
relationships of inclusion and exclusion, authority and commonality. Here the OECD is
ventriloquising a ‘we’ of the university speaking as its management, which, as it is stated in the
report, is no longer ‘administering’, but now ‘managing’. The enactment of this ‘we’ is the
challenge, accompanied by guidelines and examples of best practice, which is handed down by
the OECD report to the national level and to individual universities.
This challenge, as Henry et al. (2001: 153) also point out, for managers to enact OECD’s
vision of a future university responsive to market conditions and managerial demands, with
attendant changes to curricula, new learning practices, and new skills and attitudes among
students and academics, cannot be achieved either by edict or by following checklists at the
national or the institution levels. Rather, it can only be achieved ‘through the creative utilisation
of the imagination of all those who make up a university’ (Henry et al. 2001: 153) so that
managers, academics and students own the process. But when the OECD or managers make such
appeals to a common sense of ownership and commitment to their project, they invoke another
‘we’ of the university as a community of students and scholars with a will and a capacity to act.
19
As will be shown below, the inclusive ‘we’ and the exclusive ‘we’ can be in play
simultaneously when the university as ‘we’ - the academic community - is urged to act passively
within parameters set by the ‘we’ of those with new authority to speak for the university. This
switching between ‘we’s’ softens the message. Similarly, rather than bluntly presenting the
vision of the university as a ‘competitive business’ which has no truck with a ridiculed image of
the university as a ‘quiet place’, this is where the double shuffle comes back in to play: a
mobilisation of what sounds like traditional academic values and university missions in support
of moves towards the market model. As we shall see in the example below, what university
leaders require in their attempts to meet this new challenge for management is not always a
brand new management, but, in Sassen’s terms, a repurposing of the capabilities of the ‘old’
management to the ‘new’ context.
The double-shuffle of the new university “we”
If the OECD, and national governments, continually push responsibility for dancing the double
shuffle down to the universities themselves, this in practice means the university leadership has
to find a way of articulating the vision of the free market university with its ‘traditional’ values.
As mentioned in the introduction, the Danish university reform of 2003 ended a system of
collegially or democratically elected leaders and brought in a system of appointed leaders who
are accountable to a new governing board, which has a majority of members from outside of the
institution. But not all was new. The new appointed leaders used the same titles (Rector, Dean,
Department Head) as before, and the units (university, faculty, department) in the organisational
structure remained unchanged. It is also typical that at most Danish universities the newly
appointed rectors were native to the institution.
At the University of Copenhagen the newly appointed Rector, who had been Dean of the
medical faculty under the previous governing structure, gave his version of the jump from
administration to management in a speech to the 2006 Annual University Celebration. This is an
important event in the annual calendar, when leaders, academics and students gather in the great
hall and become visible as a university both to themselves, and to the Queen, government
ministers and other dignitaries who are present. The event is the occasion for the Rector to assess
20
the situation of his institution and present it both to members of the university and to the wider
society. On this occasion, the Rector presented his vision for the university under the new
governance regime that he was heading. The Rector’s speech exemplifies very well the challenge
to the new leadership to maintain a double appeal to both the government’s (and OECD’s) new
vision for the university, whilst also drawing on the many traditions of the University of
Copenhagen, which are especially associated with that day.iv Saskia Sassen has shown how when
old orders are breaking up and transforming into new organising logics, the working elements of
the old orders - symbolic, organisational or technological – are re-appropriated to serve a new
logic and create new meanings. The Annual University Celebration and the Rector’s speech
illustrate how this leader drew all these three elements into his version of the double shuffle and
demonstrate well how the push for reform is dependant on support from invoking the traditional
meaning of symbolic, organisational and technological elements of the old order.
In the front row at this event traditionally sit the academic leaders of the university, deans,
pro-rector and rector, wearing their ceremonial gowns. The front row in the 2006 Ceremony
looked just the same as in previous years, under the old University Law. Only, under the old
law, the university leaders sat there as the elected representatives of a community. They sat in
front of those who, arrayed in rows behind them, had chosen them to lead. Now, even while
wearing the same symbols and sitting in the same place, they sat as appointed leaders, not
representing or responsible to the university community but accountable to the university’s
governing board, which is now the institution’s highest authority.
The Rector also wore the same chain of office as always, but if its appearance remained the
same, the ceremony at which it was bestowed on him, and by implication, its meaning, had
changed. Under the former regime, the new Rector went from sitting among her peers, and,
witnessed by the university deans, the previous Rector put the chain on the new Rector, and the
new Rector took up her new position at the Rector’s desk. Meanwhile the previous Rector went
to sit among his peers as a normal member of the academic community. In contrast, pictures of
the 2006 annual university celebration show the Rector’s public relations assistant helping him
arrange the chain and in a blog entry afterwards, the Rector described how the act of adorning
himself with the chain of office prior to the celebration felt like putting on a costume which
belonged to a former era. However, as we point out below, the continued use of the traditional
21
symbols of the university community serves a crucial role in the promotion of the Rector’s new
vision for the university. As was the case in the above analysis of policy documents, the image
and symbols of the traditional university serve as key steps in the double shuffle of old and new
models for the university, which the Rector engages in to push the reform of the University of
Copenhagen forward.
In the speech, the Rector announced that the University of Copenhagen was going to
deliver on the high expectations put forward by government in a recent new plan for allocating
extra funds to the university sector. Copenhagen University would deliver top-end graduates,
original research, compete for state funding on quality, compete world wide on quality, transfer
knowledge back into secondary and primary education, deliver life long learning, and be an
innovation hub. As he said, the university would, although their funding lagged behind Japanese
and US competitors, aim to be among the world’s elite. ‘We’ he said - invoking not just the
strategic capacity of his newly installed management, but also the broader ‘we’ of the academic
community, which his garb signified - are going to achieve this. To conjure up an image of the
inordinate effort and innovation required to find the new ways of doing things that this challenge
required, he equated it to the revolutionary invention of the ‘back flop’ which changed forever
the way to do competitive high jumping. The Rector was announcing a transformative moment
in the management of the university, as well as a transformative moment for the meaning of the
university community.
The Rector emphasised that, first and foremost, he wanted to succeed by making
fundamental research the brand of the university. In order to achieve this he introduced in his
speech a bottom-up strategy process to identify the future potential of the university and a plan to
use international quality indicators to steer funds to high-performing academic employees in both
research and education. Further, to stop its top students and graduates from running off to Ivy
League schools, he would raise educational standards and introduce elite programs. The
University of Copenhagen had to attract and keep more star professors and recruit more students
and teachers on the global market, he said, and he joked that a sign saying ‘trespassers will be
recruited’ should be hung up in Copenhagen - perhaps even in Hindi.
These promises from the Rector have since been rolled out as a “Programme of
Excellence”, which reallocates funding from the university budget to support management22
prioritised star-research projects. These are selected by the management on the basis of
recommendations from a panel of international top researchers which reviews the projects.
Further, a strategy unifying the whole of the university's activities in a ‘Roadmap to 2012’ has
been set up, as well as elite education programs accredited by the Danish Accreditation Agency
and awarded a special higher level of funding from the Government. Meanwhile the overall
objectives for the university's performance have been organised in indicators agreed with the
Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation, and passed down the university organisation in
a hierarchy of performance contracts between rector and deans, and between deans and heads of
departments. These management initiatives have been paralleled by a great communication effort
to establish the University of Copenhagen as a perceived organisational whole and as an elite
university with global impact. Researchers are now instructed to present themselves as coming
from the University of Copenhagen and not the local unit with which they have usually been
identified. The university also takes out advertisements in newspapers and has posters in the city
which equate it with global elite institutions and academic lighthouses such as Yale, Oxford and
Cambridge.
In this way, the Rector, dressed in the traditional way and invoking traditional academic
values of fundamental research, set out to enact a strategic leadership for his university that
would fulfil the government’s policy priorities through introducing new managing technologies
that would make the University of Copenhagen succeed in the global knowledge economy.
Indeed the managing technologies themselves were reinterpretations of traditional university
technologies. Most significantly peer review, which through the excellence programme has been
removed from its roots in academics’ own self-guarding of research quality and has been
engaged as a tool for management prioritisation. Whilst presenting these visions of the new
university, the traditional dress of the Rector lent its power to the unifying ‘we’ of the university
that he invoked in his speech – as if his gown and chain still signified his representativeness of
the voice of the academic community.
The Rector’s enactment of the double-shuffle that we found in the OECD documents, the
strategy for mobilising and transmogrifying a subordinate, traditional discourse, in support of a
dominant one, moving in an ever-more radical direction, was underlined when the Rector quoted
Kant at the end of his speech. Aiming to summon up all the resources and energy of the
23
university community in a concerted creation of the University of Copenhagen as a strategically
acting organisation, the Rector ended his speech by stating that the university’s success in
achieving its aims, and thereby living up to the government’s ambitions for it, was dependant on
its ability to shape powerful visions for its future and actively define its own purpose in the light
of outside forces. He went on to quote Kant so as to suggest the basis for the university’s jump
into its own future:
Enlightenment is man’s emergence from his self-incurred immaturity. Immaturity is
man’s inability to use one’s own understanding without guidance of another. This
immaturity is self-incurred if its cause is not lack of understanding, but lack of
resolution and courage to use it without the guidance of another. The motto of
enlightenment is therefore: Sapera Aude! Have courage to use your own
understanding!
The use of Kant’s words may seem a little misplaced as an attempt to rally the university
community behind the Rector’s project. But in the light of the discussion in this chapter, they
make their own kind of sense. Instead of it being the single citizen, academic or student of the
enlightenment who is rising to autonomy and attaining self rule, the Rector is using Kant’s words
to refer to the collective effort of the university in jumping into the global knowledge economy.
The rebirth of the university at the time of the enlightenment is invoked by the Rector, but it is
no longer for the individual to go to the university in the pursuit of freedom and knowledge. Here
the subject rising from immaturity is the “we” of the university, meaning the collective effort
orchestrated by management through planning and steering mechanisms that are to result in
Copenhagen University’s leap into the global elite. So in this reference back to Kant’s project of
enlightenment, the Copenhagen Rector manages not only to evoke the ideals of an imagined
classic university and equate that with the present efforts of Copenhagen University. He also
equates the present effort of the university management to construct a coherent organisation of
Copenhagen University, and align the work of its employees with its strategic effort, with the
enlightenment project of attaining self governance and autonomy (Ørberg 2007, Wright and
Ørberg 2009). The transformation the Rector was announcing was one of organising and
directing the capabilities of the university towards a new purpose, not one of leaving those
capabilities behind. He was directing the university towards its competitive role in the global
24
knowledge economy, as described by the OECD, but was also thereby inscribing its capabilities
in a new competitive logic dominated by the OECD’s new public management checklist.
Conclusion
We have analysed the movement of the OECD’s agenda for reforming universities, both through
time, as we followed the sequence of documents it produced, and through levels, as the OECD
passed its agenda down to national governments, and on to university leaders. We have found
parallel discourses, which are not sutured together or even reconciled: the one envisages a
radical, strategically managed, economic utility or market model of the university; the other
appeals to collegial management and the pursuit of critical analysis and knowledge for its own
sake. In the OECD documents we have seen a double shuffle being danced, where at each step
that the lead discourse takes in the direction of the market-driven university, it mobilises support
through an appeal to traditional aspects of the university. As the lead discourse advances, the
supporting discourse is gradually transformed in the same direction, but always looks more
traditional than its lead partner. Thus the description of a ‘classic liberal’ university becomes a
caricature of ‘universities as they are now’, and eventually disappears from the scenarios, so that
the new public management university assumes the robe of tradition in relation to Higher
Education Inc. This transformism generates the dynamic for ever more radical reform.
If the OECD conducts this double shuffle in terms of discourse, when the challenge of
simultaneously enacting the two versions of the university is passed down to university leaders,
they use an additional range of resources - symbols, organisational forms, and technologies. But
in the example explored here, there is a similar strategy in terms of all these resources to the
OECD’s double shuffle. While the lead step is always taking the direction of the strategically
managed, market-driven university, the image which is conjured up though its supporting
symbols and technologies is a modified version of the very traditional institutions that the step is
meant as a departure from. The new management at the University of Copenhagen not only uses
the language of the traditional university to deliver the new, it also lets the new present itself
through the symbols of the old, and redeploys the steering technologies of the traditional
university to serve the purpose and logic of the new managerial university.
25
Returning to the situation which introduced this chapter, perhaps the narration above makes
it more understandable that the Danish Minister of Education’s embrace of the free market future
as the most beneficial for universities could cause such furore. What the Minister did was bluntly
accept a radical departure from the contemporary western university – thereby refusing the game
of the slow adjustment of the existing institutions- the double-shuffle dance through which
reform moves. The politically self-assured Minister in a sense stepped outside the rules of the
game; but perhaps his minority vote set in motion a whole new series of steps in the double
shuffle aimed at advancing in the direction of his radical vision by finding new accommodations
with the mainstream reform agenda.
26
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Notes
The project ‘New Management, New Identities? Danish University Reform in an International Perspective’ ran
from 2004 to 2008, funded by the Danish Research Council. Other team members were Gritt B. Nielsen and John B.
Krejsler of the Danish School of Education, Aarhus University and Stephen Carney of Roskilde University.
i
‘"Why, weasel words are words that suck the life out of the words next to them, just as a weasel sucks the egg and leaves the
shell." Thus, weasel words suck the meaning out of a statement while seeming to keep the idea intact, and are particularly
associated with political pronouncements. Weasel words are used euphemistically. The term invokes the image of a weasel being
sneaky and well able to wiggle out of a tight spot.’ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Weasel_words
ii
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iii
I am very grateful to Signe Pildal Hansen and Taina Saarinen for clarification of the concept of presupposition and
to Taina Saarinen for very helpful comments and suggestions on the whole text.
iv
This event is associated, not least, with challenges to systems of university governance. It was at the Annual University
Celebration in 1968 that a student managed to grab control of the rostrum during the Rector’s speech, and famously declared the
students’ rebellion against professorial rule. This set in motion events that led to the 1970 University Law, which brought in an
elected or collegial governance structure. It was this elected system that was finally replaced by the 2003 University Law.
29
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The double shuffle of University Reform