Doctoral dissertation deals with internationalisation and quality assurance which are considered as trends that guide the development of higher education in the 21st century all over the world. Although they are not entirely contemporary phenomena, their development was intensified in Europe over the last two decades of the past century, when higher education was facing a profound transformation. With the Bologna Process, they have become two key areas of development of European Higher Education Area (EHEA), since signatory countries of the Bologna Declaration (1999) committed themselves to promote mobility as a core activity of internationalisation and develop external and internal quality assurance systems in accordance with the prevailing guidelines which were accepted at international level. At the same time, the need to monitor higher education development in various Bologna Process member countries has also intensified, for example, in Slovenia and the Netherlands which are rarely in the focus of interest of comparative researchers of higher education. While on the one hand, the development of higher education systems in accordance with supranational commitments is supposed to strengthen harmonisation, on the other hand, the emerging EHEA is seen more as rhetoric than a reality. As a result, more attention is given to the study of various dichotomies, among which the convergence and diversity dichotomy undoubtedly stands out from the crowd.
Although during the last decade and a half, the development of initiatives in the field of quality assurance of internationalisation and internationalisation of quality assurance also intensified in Europe, most of the ongoing discussions still separately examine both selected areas of research. Therefore, I fill in the created void with the central research question, worded as: today, when EHEA is being built for more than a decade and a half, how (can) we understand the link between internationalisation and quality assurance of higher education in Europe in general and in two selected countries separately. In this way, it is possible to bridge various conceptual, developmental, methodological, theoretical and comparative gaps that despite the actuality of the selected topic of research still appear in most of the current academic debates.
In the first, conceptual part of research which serves as a starting point for reasonable understanding of further chapters, I look at the prevailing meanings of internationalisation and quality assurance in higher education and I demonstrate what both concepts actually mean. In the second part, I focus not only on the analysis of development of internationalisation and quality assurance systems before and after the Bologna Process but also on various initiatives in the field of quality assurance of internationalisation and internationalisation of quality assurance. In this way, I expand the main topic of research and provide reasons, why to include the selected concepts within one and not two separate studies. In the third part, I present the theoretical and methodological design of the study, in which I combine the concept of institutional isomorphism – one of the well-known versions of sociological institutionalism, and the glonacal agency heuristic. This allows me to examine in more detail, why in the processes of internationalisation and quality assurance in higher education, the trend of convergence is strengthening and/or diversity is preserving. Theoretical debate is followed by discussion on the methodology of comparative studies in which I emphasise the need to introduce a multidimensional methodological framework which can exceed the limits of using national dimension as the basic unit of analysis. In the fourth, comparative part of research, I place the findings of the previous chapters in the context of Slovenia and the Netherlands and thereby, I provide the missing answers to the questions about similarities and differences, distinctive for the study of main fields of research within specific higher education contexts. In the final or the fifth part of research, I answer the main research questions and thus the main research problem, while after that, I also reflect on the main contributions of research and propose some future possibilities for examining the main fields of research.
The central part of the research is based on the analysis of documentary sources (i. e., theoretical literature; institutional, national and international strategic documents; international studies) and is complemented with the analysis of existing statistical data and in the comparative part of research, also with the findings of semi-structured interviews.
By selecting Slovenia and the Netherlands, I fill in the research gap, typical for comparative studies in the field of higher education, which continue to focus on higher education contexts from Western (European) countries. By recognising the interdependence among the two core concepts, I also strengthen their conceptual understanding and I open up new possibilities for their interpretation. Moreover, I also offer an alternative view on research of higher education by critically exposing the limits of theoretical and methodological designs that consider the national dimension as the key unit of analysis.
Based on the findings of research, I argue that internationalisation and quality assurance should be considered as dynamic processes, which can improve the quality of higher education by recognising specific national, institutional, disciplinary and individual environments in which their development is embedded. Although the Bologna Process has enhanced comparability and compatibility and hence the mutual convergence of various higher education systems in all EHEA countries, at the same time, national and institutional responses to supranational commitments on their development should also be seen as a result of many varied changes, brought by the dominant national (political) authorities. By analysing internationalisation and quality assurance systems in Slovenian and Dutch higher education, I could confirm that their development differs from case to case, as it depends on specific interests and attitudes of various authorities that create the space of European higher education, in which the convergence of European higher education systems is not (anymore) the only goal of the Bologna Process.