Diversity of Higher Education Institutions in Networked Knowledge Societies: A Comparative Examination

Brennan, John; Papatsiba, Vassiliki; Sousa, Sofia Branco and Hoffman, David M. (2016). Diversity of Higher Education Institutions in Networked Knowledge Societies: A Comparative Examination. In: Hoffman, David M. and Välimaa, Jussi eds. Re-Becoming Universities? Higher Education Institutions in Networked Knowledge Societies. Springer, pp. 115–139.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-017-7369-0_5


Within and across many expanded and diversified higher education systems, the recognition and understanding of differences between institutions becomes especially challenging. Forms of both ‘vertical’ and ‘horizontal’ differentiation frequently exist alongside each other, though with increasing attention given to the former. Institutional boundaries become more porous within intra-sector and cross-sector collaborations, as networks become increasingly important in both. Do the ways in which different kinds of higher education institutions interact within networks, as well as the nature of those networks, differ? To what extent do network configurations become platforms for distinct knowledge trajectories to develop? It is possible to detect trends of both convergence and differentiation in these developments within and across higher education systems, reflecting global, national, regional and local influences? In order to capture these trends empirically, the CINHEKS research team developed and applied a form of comparative grid analysis with which to construct profiles of 28 higher education institutions drawn from five countries: Finland, Germany, Portugal, the UK and the USA. Based largely on public information from institutional websites, profile grids were constructed to capture institutional characteristics in terms of context/mission, knowledge organisation, knowledge production, knowledge transmission and knowledge transfer. Within each grid, institutions were compared in respect of dimensions such as local/global, teaching/research, disciplinary/inter-disciplinary, considerable or little networking, inter-sectoral/cross-sectoral orientation, intellectual/entrepreneurial rationales, collaborative/individual approaches etc. The profiles revealed most institutions to be explicitly active in partnerships and networks. Most were active in both intra-sector and cross-sector partnerships. Patterns of difference and convergence emerged though, with the five national systems differentially located across the grids. Two key dimensions reflecting the differences were those of ‘domain’ – intra-sector or cross sector networking – and ‘mission’ – knowledge as a ‘private’ or a ‘public’ good.

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