06 November 2009 | Report

University Autonomy in Europe I - Exploratory Study 

Thomas Estermann and Terhi Nokkala

Changing expectations of universities’ contributions to a knowledge-based economy and society over the last decade have transformed the relationship between the state and higher education institutions. University governance and the degree of control exerted by the state have become the subject of much debate.


Perceptions and terminology related to institutional autonomy vary greatly in Europe, however, and to compare systems reliably, more systematic mapping of universities’ autonomy and accountability is necessary. Debate needs to be underpinned by reliable data to enable valuable examination of the correlation of autonomy with institutional performance, excellence, quality and efficiency.

EUA has thus designed a multi-stage, interactive process aimed at enabling university practitioners and regulatory authorities to compare systems across Europe in a fruitful fashion. 

The aim of this study, which began at the end of 2007, is to provide a foundation for a Europe-wide comparable database through analysis of certain crucial aspects of autonomy. It also aims to bring the institutional perspective (i.e. what autonomy really means in practice) into the debate on autonomy and governance reforms on policy level. In view of the wide range of definitions of autonomy, this study used as a starting point the basic four dimensions set out in EUA’s Lisbon declaration (2007), which are academic, financial, organisational and staffing autonomy.

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