Europeanising Higher Education: Intergovernmentalism and Neofunctionalism in Higher Education Policy

In the quest for a brighter economic future in Europe, we find education at the core of the European Union’s current ten-year growth strategy, the Europe 2020 Strategy, in which it frames education centrally to a series of interrelating targets. However, since education was omitted from the Treaty of Rome, and although – still today – Higher Education cannot be considered as a fully fledged area of Community competence, a marked development in Community involvement in Higher Education can be noted.

The expansion of Community competence into the field of Higher Education can be tested in the framework of the two rivaling theories: Intergovermentalism and Neofunctionalism. Intergovernmentalists argue that a policy area will not be created if that is not the aim of the member states; while Neofunctionalists argue that a policy area could develop due to the process of spillover regardless of the member states’ preferences. The aim of this paper is to establish the extent of neofunctionalist theory in the development of Higher Education policy and whether there is evidence of intergovernmentalist theory.

The research method to be adopted is documentary analysis by means of collecting two sets of official documentation produced at the European level. The first set will consist of documents that directly address Higher Education, while the second set will consist of those that are related to Higher Education. The study will endeavour to span the period from the first document to the most recent. By analysing the documentation linked to Higher Education and the sequence of these two sets of documents, it will be possible to suggest whether activities in Higher Education at the European level have resulted from spillover or whether they were the result of intentional expansion to the European level.

The literature makes the strong case that member states have kept a tight hold on their control in Higher Education, resisting its release to the supranational level. Therefore, the hypothesis proposes that development in Community competence in Higher Education is predominantly a result of spillover in the framework of neofunctionalist theory. However, development has occurred intentionally in the framework of intergovernmentalist theory when cooperation has taken place on member state terms and outside the Community arena.