Insights in EU Higher Education Policy




Name: Alina Jasmin Felder
Political Science
Research Interests: Policy Analysis, European Integration, Europeanization, Regionalization, Governance, Qualitative Research Methods





After her successfully completed dissertation, BAGSS conducted an interview with Alina talking about her thesis and her experiences during her time at the Graduate School.


// What drew you to your dissertation topic and what interests you most about it?

Alina Felder: It was a combination of professional experience and prior research that drew me to my dissertation topic. During my studies, I worked in the field of EU funded cross-border cooperation and more particularly at a foundation that implements cross-border cooperation projects in the field of education. This professional interest also guided the focus of my master thesis where I analyzed the role of the EU Strategy for the Danube Region in matters of vocational training. From my professional experience in this field and from the research I accomplished in my master thesis, a variety of open questions arose that I thought were worth investigating further in the dissertation context. Based on these open questions, I decided to investigate how EU regional policy influences EU higher education policy through higher education institutions.

What interests me the most about my topic is the complexity and thus collision of actors and interests that shape European cooperation in a transition process which is very timely. There are several different EU policies that ought to solve the transition towards the knowledge economy. Next to demographic change and the twin-transitions towards a more digital and green society, it is also issues of knowledge production that will continue to have a major impact on economic growth. The policies supporting the production and dissemination of knowledge do not necessarily share the same stakeholders and even if they do, they will not always engage with each other also because the EU does not have the competences for certain policies such as higher education policy. Nevertheless, European cooperation takes place, and it intrigues me to find out why and how this is the case.

// Can you give us a small sneak peek about the findings of your thesis?

Alina Felder: By setting my dissertation project at the intersection of different knowledge policies, I was able to gain new insights into EU public policy. There are four main takeaways from my thesis, which aimed to answer the question of how EU regional policy, as a traditional EU policy with substantial funding, influences the comparatively weak EU higher education policy. First, my analysis shows that EU policy to strengthen the knowledge economy have fostered links between different EU policies addressed to higher education institutions. My second analytical step on the use of EU funds for cross-border cooperation indicates that higher education institutions in border regions enter into cooperative relationships both as a result of EU funding and independently of it. Third, I show that the use of EU funding influences not only the means but also the objectives of cross-border cooperation between higher education institutions. Finally, my dissertation shows that cross-border cooperating universities that have used EU funding not only seek to benefit again from EU funds from regional policy, but also to shape other EU policies relevant for higher education institutions.

The results of my research at the intersection of EU regional and higher education policies imply that the role of the EU in higher education is continuously being strengthened. My analysis confirms that all policies addressing higher education institutions should jointly contribute to the EU's competitiveness. While there is ad hoc exchange at the EU level between the EU policies addressing higher education institutions, the EU funding instruments pursue different objectives - mobility of teachers and learners, research and cross-border cooperation. As applicants for these funds, higher education institutions tend to act opportunistically. As different EU policies impact and are used by higher education institutions, the role of the EU in fulfilling the different tasks of higher education institutions, such as research and teaching, is increasingly strengthened. In addition to the creation of regional higher education spaces, the different roles of higher education institutions in various EU policies are becoming more and more differentiated.

// What did you enjoy most about your time at the Graduate School?

Alina Felder: There is only one right answer to this – the people at BAGSS. Not only have I met many wonderful scientists at and through the Graduate School, but I have also enjoyed working along with the Graduate School team members, such as at Student Council events. As a first-generation student and nowfirst generation of the doctorate, I could not have found a better place, financial support, and colleagues to embark on the doctoral journey. I would like to acknowledge how supportive and wonderful the team at the Bamberg Graduate School of Social Sciences and the members of my cohort (Levan Kakhishvili, Sonya Park, Laura Löwe, Yamila Martin-Ferlaino, Monika Bozhinoska Lazarova) have been. You are the best and I miss making and sharing memories with you every day! I am also very much indebted to Lara Panning, who is also a BAGSS fellow, for her constant feedback and inspiration for rocking academia as a female researcher. I would also like to thank former doctoral fellow and later BAGSS employee Dr. Isabel Winnwa, who always provided me with academic and professional advise.

// What is the next step in your career?

Alina Felder: During the final stages of my doctoral journey with BAGSS I have already embarked on the next step of my career. For roughly a year now, I have been a postdoctoral researcher at the University of St. Gallen, Switzerland. In St. Gallen, I do not only continue research on my own projects on EU higher education, regional and foreign policy, but mainly contribute to the research we do at the GOVPET Leading House. The GOVPET Leading House researches how dual systems of vocational education and training are governed. In a team of twelve researchers (professors, postdocs and doctoral students), we aim to broaden and deepen our understanding of the strengths, weaknesses and success factors of decentralized collaboration, adaptability and social inclusion in VET systems. During my time as a postdoctoral researcher, I aim to turn my dissertation into a book, publish articles and expand my teaching experiences. By expanding my scientific expertise and skills for an academic career, I hope to obtain an assistant professorship in the not too distant future.