Center for Public Policy Studies

UNI-MAESTRO – International Comparative Research Program in Higher Education (2012-2017)

MAESTRO – “International Comparative Research Program in Higher Education” – a 2012-2017 research project funded by the National Research Council (NCN – Narodowe Centrum Nauki).

An interdisciplinary, international comparative research program of the institution of the university, with a strong European empirical component and strong reference to public policy in higher education. The methodological background is systematic research on the university as an institution from an institutionalist perspective and in an international comparative context. The long-term goal of the Research Program is an emergence of a Polish school of international comparative and interdisciplinary higher education research. The measurable goal is to permanently introduce results of Polish theoretical higher education research to prestigious international journals and book series. The Program  opens up possibilities of broader understanding of changing dynamics and international underpinning of current and future changes in Polish higher education, as well as, through its public policy dimension, opens up possibilities of co-shaping them.

The Research Program is based on a number of broad premises common to a large part of global and European higher education research:

  1. In the last one-two decades, discussions about the future of the institution of the university have accelerated to an unprecedented degree. The university is becoming one of the most important social institutions in societies in which well-being is increasingly based on the production, transmission, dissemination and application of knowledge (see Stehr 2002, Foray 2006, Kahin and Foray 2006, Bok 2003, Slaughter and Rhoades 2004, Shattock 2008).
  1. In the last three decades in Western Europe there have been permanent renegotiations of the relationships between the state and higher education systems (see Amaral et al. 2009, Amaral et al. 2008, Paradeise et al. 2009, Enders and Fulton 2002, Neave and Van Vught 1994, Neave and Van Vught 1991, Enders and Jongbloed 2007). As economies are becoming more knowledge-intensive, the emphasis on deep reform processes of universities may be even stronger than today. At the same time, knowledge is located in the very center of key economic challenges of modern societies (Geiger 2004, Leydesdorff 2006, St. John 2006, Bonaccorsi and Doraio 2007).
  1. The social, economic, cultural and legal setting of European higher education institutions increasingly forces them to function in the state of permanent adaptation which requires both their financing and governance modes (see Clark 1998, Shattock 1998 and Paradeise et al. 2009, Krücken et al. 2007). Reforming of universities does not lead to their complete reforms, as examples from major European higher education systems show. Reforming, instead, is leading to further waves of reforms (Maassen and Olsen 2007, Clancy and Dill 2009).
  1. Europe is facing a double renegotiation of the postwar social contract related to the welfare state (including education) and the renegotiation of the social contract linking in the last two hundreds years public universities and European nation states (see Jakobi et al. 2010, Rothblatt and Wittrock 1993, Kwiek 2006). The future of the traditional idea of the university in the setting in which public institutions and public services are increasingly based, or forced to be based, on the economic logics and market formulas of functioning is unclear. (see Teixeira et al. 2004, Teixeira et al. 2008, Dill and Van Vught 2010, Geiger 2004, Bok 2003, Weber and Duderstadt 2004, Clancy and Dill 2009).
  1. The scale of operations (and of financing) of universities in biggest European economies remains historically unprecedented. Never before their good functioning was bringing so many explicit social effects. Never in postwar history all aspects of their functioning was compared in such a detailed manner from international perspectives, and indirectly – assessed by international organizations (see Martens et al. 2010, Martens et al. 2007, OECD 2008, Dill and Van Vught 2010, Weber and Duderstadt 2004).
  1. The two major discourses about the missions of the university have been divergent: a global, supranational and EU discourse (reflected often in national debates about systemic reforms of higher education) and a traditional discourse of the academic community, deeply rooted in traditional academic values, norms, and behaviors (see Novoa and Lawn 2002, Ramirez 2006). Struggles between the two discourses (the former supported by the power of the redistribution of resources and legal changes, the latter supported by the power of academic traditions) lead in many systems to conflicts between alternative institutional rules (see March and Olsen 1989, Maassen and Olsen 2007).
  1. The role of discussions about the institution of the university and public goods (apart from private goods), and public and private benefits from higher education has been increasing. Together with the increased emphasis in public policy on private good (and private benefits form higher education), the threat to public subsidization of traditional public institutions may be growing (Marginson 2011, 2007b, McMahon 2009). The processes are significant from the perspective of long-term public perceptions of universities.


The five-years long Research Program  puts forward meeting two conditions: it has to draw attention of the community of scholars in higher education research in Poland and internationally, and it has to propose clearly formulated  propositions within each of the five research areas proposed below. The Program is intended to engage other scholars in research in the form of academic debates and discussions and to overcome limitations which are traditionally formed by a single scientific discipline or a single methodology (see Paul Pierson’s ideas of density and clarity in successful research programs in the social sciences, Pierson 2006: 123-124). The key to success of the present Program is its strong methodological foundations derived from the “new” institutionalism in social sciences and large, so far not utilized in educational research to the degree envisaged here, empirical basis.

Universities, and wider: higher education institutions in general, are viewed in the present Program from highly promising institutionalist perspective. The general question of institutionalism is classical (North 1990): how do institutions of higher education change? Change is one of leading motives of social sciences and higher education research (Clark 1983: 182). The present Program is theoretically grounded in the concepts of change, continuity and differentiation of higher education systems from Burton Clark (Clark 1983: 182-237), and in Johan P. Olsen’s pair of concepts unity and diversity (Olsen 2007b, Olsen 2010: 128-160, Maassen and Olsen 2007, Olsen and Maassen 2007), critically important to the normative type of institutionalism and referred to European integration processes. The premises of the two theoretical approaches are, on the one hand, the endogenous nature of (educational) institutions and, on the other hand, their social construction. Institutions are not merely epiphenomena mirroring preferences of individuals or initial conditions related to resources or initial social conditions (Olsen 2007b: 3-4, Peters 2005).

The Research Program uses in institutional research emergent analytical tools which allow for analyzing gradual institutional evolution in time in a different manner than within the generally dominating model suggesting long periods of institutional stability and short, radical moments of institutional innovation (in the Polish case, the latter model would be focusing in research most of all in the first years of radical postcommunist transformations). What is important in the Program is a cumulated effect of small changes in institutional solutions which are occurring in longer periods of time. The institution retains its fundamental characteristics – and at the same time is undergoing a deep transformation: the model of path dependence, and, broader, models of punctuated equilibrium, seems to have been overlooking the essential role of this type of institutional change.

Furthermore, what is important in the case of transformations in the Polish higher education system, durability and sustainability of institutions are closely linked to such transformations which adapt institutions to changing social, political and economic conditions. The Program takes it as a premise that institutions transform themselves according to a dynamics of change in surrounding institutions, as they are functioning in a “complicated ecology of interrelated rules” and adaptations  occurring in one part of an ecology “may cause adequate adaptations in its other part” (March and Olsen 1989: 170, see North 1990: 92-104).

The project team includes:

Professor Marek Kwiek, team leader

Dr. Dominik Antonowicz, Nicolaus Copernicus University in Toruń, postdoctoral scholar

Dr. Wojciech Reszka, Poznan University of Economics, postdoctoral scholar

Dr. Krystian Szadkowski, Adam Mickiewicz University , doctoral candidate, currently a postdoctoral scholar

Dr. Petya Illieva-Trichkova, Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, Sofia , doctoral candidate, currently a postdoctoral scholar