University of Bologna

Bologna-Process and German Federalism – A Framing Analysis

This is an abstract of my (German) Political Science master thesis Bologna-Prozess und deutscher Föderalismus: Eine Framing-Analyse (pdf) from 2012.

1 Beginning and Implementation of the Bologna process in Germany

In the last decades of the 20th century a congestion of problems in the German higher education area became apparent (Turner2001). Although the issues were obvious, German institutions were not able to solve problems such as shortage of study places, long durations of study, and increasing costs. Martens and Wolf (2006) and Toens (2009) describe how the federal government tries to overcome obstructions in the federalism of higher education by exerting pressure through inter-governmental treaties. They call this mechanism New Raison d’État. According to this line of argumentation, the Bologna process was supposed to urge the Länder (German federal states) to implement long overdue reforms.

The Sorbonne declaration is seen as the beginning of the Bologna process. One year later Germany signed the Bologna declaration. The goal of the process started by this declaration was to establish a common European higher education area. 42 additional member states joined the process and implemented great changes in their higher education systems until 2010.

Although the Bologna declaration initiated great changes, it does not entail any binding obligations. Instead the signers committed themselves to mere declarations of intent, common standards, and vague objectives (Toens2009). It is debatable whether the German federal government was able to exert pressure on the – in regards to higher education policy – mostly autonomous federal states utilizing these non-binding agreements. Even binding commitments are not implemented by German institutions in many cases (Börzel and Sprungk2002). Therefore it is questionable if a declaration of intent such as the Bologna declaration is able to coerce reforms on German Länder.

A fact supporting this doubt is that Belgium and Germany are the only member states from which two actors signed the Bologna declaration. In Belgium these represent the Flemish and the French part and thus the same level of governance. However in Germany a member of the federal government and a representative of the federal states – which are accountable for the implementation of any education reforms – signed the treaty. One year earlier only the federal minister Jürgen Rüttgers signed the Sorbonne declaration. Hence the federal government was not able to force the Bologna reforms onto the federal states. The federal states rather consented to the declaration from the very beginning. Therefore the state governments apparently were aware of the necessity of the Bologna reforms before the Bologna declaration was signed.

2 Deliberative Governance

From this the question arises when and how the state governments had been convinced to approve the Bologna declaration and to implement reforms. One possible way to study this is by looking at deliberative processes. Cécile Hoareau (2012) analyses whether the integration theory Deliberative Governance is able to explain the formation and translation of the Bologna process on a European and national level.

Paul Teague (2001) lists deliberation, agenda-setting, learning, flexible policy packages, and incremental changes as the dimensions of Deliberative Governance.

Deliberative Governance is based on Jürgen Habermas’ (1981199119831997) concept of discourse and deliberation. In this theory the European Union is a multi-level system in which public and private actors reach decisions on various levels in a deliberative manner (Teague2001). Actors resort to several mechanisms to shape discourse. One of these mechanisms is framing. Frames are “individual cognitive maps, schemes to make sense of experiences of the world” (Hoareau2012). Framing helps to change the cognitive frames of participants of the discourse in such a way that the decisions are compatible with their believes (Goffman1974). Agenda-setting is one way of framing since it makes participants of the discourse aware of certain issues and shapes their frames in such a way (Teague2001).

3 Research Question and Hypotheses

This paper uses Deliberative Governance and framing as a starting point for further investigations. It argues that the Bologna process was not coerced by mechanisms of the New Raison d’Etat but rather that deliberative processes laid the ground for an agreement of the German Länder to the Bologna reforms.

Hoareau finds that Deliberative Governance influenced the formation of the Bologna process on a European and the French national level. This thesis broadens the question and asks whether this is also true on the German national and state level.

This leads to the research question whether the federal government was able to convince the state governments to sign the Bologna declaration by framing their higher education policies.

The Hypothesis consists of three sub-hypotheses:

  1. The frames in favour of a European higher education reform were not pronounced on a state level before the start of the Bologna process.
  2. The federal government used frames supporting a joint European reform of higher education in their speeches to set reform on the agenda.
  3. Frames promoting the idea of a European reform process increased in speeches of ministers of the federal states after the Bologna declaration was signed.

4 Methodology

The independent variable of the design of this study is the composition of frames on the federal level. In order to find these frames, speeches of the federal minister for education Jürgen Rüttgers to the Bundestag and to the Bundesrat are manually coded. These frames are measured between 1994 and 1998, shortly before the Bologna declaration was signed.

As a dependent variable the composition of frames on the state level is used. This variable is measured in a period clearly before the Bologna process (1990 to 1993) and a period after the declaration was signed (1998 to 2001).

A sample of two states is used to represent the frames on the level of the 16 Länder. The sample consists of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) and Bavaria. In order to exclude as many other reasons for change of policy as possible, all but influences through framing have to be minimised. Thus two states who were governed by members of the same party for all periods are chosen. In NRW the Social Democrats (SPD) formed the government during the whole period of study. In Bavaria this were the Christian Democrats (CSU).

The framing analysis is based on the methodology presented by Ferree et al. (2002). The units of analysis are (a) speeches to the federal and state parliaments. These speeches are held by (b) speakers which consist of (c) utterances. These in turn have (d) ideas as traits.

5 Frames

Based on the literature (Maeße2010Rhoades and Sporn2002Keeling2006) and frames found in a sample of the source documents used in this thesis a list of frames was assembled:

  • Controlling and regulation of higher education
  • Internationalisation and Europeanisation
  • Reform of programs
  • Idiosyncrasies of higher education
  • Federalism
  • Access to higher education
  • Other ideas/frames

The codebook consists of several ideas for each of these frames.

6 Findings/Conclusion

The hypotheses were mostly confirmed. First, the lack of frames supporting a joint European reform in speeches of the federal ministers prohibited reforms in the early 1990’s. Second, speeches of the federal education minister contained frames that harmonised with the idea of the Bologna reform. Third, the move towards more frames in concordance with the Bologna ideas in speeches from state governments suggests that the emphasis on frames supporting reforms by Jürgen Rüttgers affected the decisions on the state level. Therefore framing is confirmed.

As a conclusion it can be assessed that aspects of Deliberative Governance can be found in governance of German higher education.


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Title image “Bologna-vista02” by GaspaFlickr. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Commons.