Discursive construction of higher education policies in Greece during the financial crisis (2011-2014): a critical discourse analysis of the debate around the policy-making of the 4009/2011 framework act
During the past decade Greece has been experiencing a tremendous fiscal crisis. The recession ensued by the crisis along with the adopted austerity measures have dealt a severe blow not only to the basic, daily operations of Greek HE institutions but even to their very survival. Within this adverse financial context, a major framework act was passed (Law 4009/2011 “Structure, function, quality assurance of studies and internationalisation of institutions of higher education”) with a view to address some of the deficiencies and challenges in the sector. The major changes that this law brought referred to a new governance and structure model and the reintroduction and strengthening of quality assurance procedures, with the aim to set the Greek higher educational agenda one step closer to the Bologna process and the European Union directives. Albeit being voted by a wide political margin in the Greek parliament the 2011 Law failed to be efficiently implemented within the specified time period. This failure can be attributed to the interweavement of various structural and political factors, such as the strong opposition by the academic community and the inconsistent political communication and amendments taking place after the 2011 Act’s enactment. Consequently, these developments gave rise to a variety of new competing ideas and discourses about the character of higher education reform and its social and economic implications. This thesis critically explores the role and function of the competing discourses between the various political and public actors (politicians, academics, students, etc.) in the construction and (de-) legitimation of the Greek HE reforms during the financial crisis, from 2011 until 2014 focusing on the enactment of the 4009/2011 Law. The objectives of this study are (a) to explore how the political and public debate regarding the HE reforms that were introduced by the 4009/2011 Law in Greece has been developed in the light of the recent financial crisis; (b) how the debate has impacted on the construction and dissemination of the HE policies introduced by the 4009/2011 Law; and (c) to examine the co-articulation of the debate with the structural and contextual features that surround it. The research is rooted in a critical realist theoretical approach that acknowledges the co-articulation and interaction between policy, discourses and contextual/ structural factors. A qualitative approach was adopted, which involved the analysis of parliamentary policy speeches and face-to-face, semi-structured interviews with actors that have been specifically involved in the policy-making process of the 2011 reforms (i.e. rectors, academics, journalists, trade union members and politicians). The framework of Critical Policy Discourse Analysis (CPDAF) was used for the analysis of the textual data. The analysis of the data revealed two overarching discourse themes: (a) University Governance and the issue of University Councils and (b) Quality Assurance and Internationalisation of Greek Higher Education. Overall, the thesis has identified a division between the ideas, imaginaries, goals and/or interests that underpin policy actors’ discourses - which was discursively built upon a political and ideological polarisation. Two discursive coalitions thus emerged: those who support the 2011 reforms and those who oppose them. However, the new knowledge discovered through this research indicated the existence of moderate or even similar opinions - especially with regard to the implementation of quality assurance and accreditation processes. The external policy actors’ influence (such as the EU and OECD) along with the pivotal historical moment of financial crisis have been crucial to building the common ground found in the actors’ discourses. Overall, the commonly accepted imaginaries tend to be promoted by different coalitions in such a way that contribute to a hyperbolic account of the various differences that separate the political parties. This results in the misconception of having two distinct, polarised coalitions involved in the policy process. This has influenced the way policy problems have been defined as well as what solutions are being offered by the policy actors, creating more conflict and increasing ambiguity in regard to core issues such as the purpose of HE, its governance, academic freedom and the character of higher education degrees. This study provides novel insights about the discourse dynamics that take place within the Greek HE policy sphere. At the same time, it contributes to relevant literature through the adoption and use of a critical discursive approach to policy-making while at the same time providing a robust analysis of the interaction between policy discourses and contextual and structural factors (such as the financial crisis).