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International Experts Discuss Strategies to Lead the Way in Effective Multi-level Governance in Education

In November, IOE welcomed a cohort of top-notch law & policy experts from the U.S., Russia, Poland, Belgium, South Africa and Germany for the first international conference, ‘Multi-level Governance in Education: Top-down Governance, Transfer of Authority, and Regional Cooperation.’ A joint initiative between IOE and the ‘EduLaw’ (Erasmus+ Mundus – Curriculum Development) project, the event featured multi-prism debate about how more justified central–local power schemas in education can be devised as an important condition for shaping more effective, equity-centric L&D environments.       


The Conference got underway with a presentation by Prof. Viktor Bolotov, Academic Supervisor at the IOE Center for Monitoring the Quality in Education, where he pointed out a number of conflicts and misalignments that have accompanied the development of multi-level governance mechanisms in Russian education. In his talk, Prof. Bolotov touched on, among other things, the existing problems in how interaction between various policy tiers and actors is currently organized, as well as the dilemma of whether it is the state that should retain the most of decision-making power in education or if the authority schema should be reframed to vest the ultimate stakeholders themselves (e.g., families, students, etc.) with the principal say in shaping L&D. Unlike in Soviet times, when there existed a single centralized governance model under which uniform, mandatory curriculum & instructional regulations were passed down across the national education realm, the modern-day policy framework is drastically different and stipulates a substantial degree of autonomy that every school can exercise in designing the structure and content of its basic curricula, Viktor Bolotov noted.     

A report by Prof. Jan de Groof, President of the European Association for Education Law & Policy and Academic Supervisor at the IOE Center for Education Law, concentrated on the policy experience of Belgium’s Flemish Community in striking a more reasoned balance between local autonomy and regional development imperatives in education. In his presentation, Dr. de Groof emphasized issues of implementing more justified strategies for linguistic rights while also drawing attention to how socio-historical factors have stepped in to determine certain aspects of the Flemish Community’s regulatory framework in education.       

Prof. Hans-Peter Füssel, Advisor to the German Institute for International Educational Research and a member of the European Association for Education Law & Policy, gave a talk about Europe’s best practices and faults when building multi-level governance models in education. Prof. Füssel stressed, inter alia, that carving out fair and effective power schemas across the regulatory hierarchy is a highly challenging task that requires many subtle facets and elements to be identified and appropriately considered given the complex relationships that invariably exist within multi-layered governance systems. Therefore, as Prof. Füssel pointed out, this ambiguity and lack of transparency, which is intrinsic in such multi-level regulatory contexts, represents a major concern from the standpoint of democratic control.             

A presentation by Dr. Szymon Jankiewicz, Director of the IOE Center for Education Law, focused on questions of reconfiguring top-down power schemas in Russian education as analyzed through the prism of federal legislation. In reviewing policy developments of the past several years, Dr. Jankiewicz remarked on apparent centripetal trends with the scope of authority exercised at the regional level noticeably shrinking, which, as the speaker noted, accentuates the need for pondering more balanced models of how central and local powers should be reallocated in the educational realm. In this regard, Dr. Jankiewicz believes, it would be expedient to amend the federal legislation in a way to establish a more equitable and unambiguous split of authority across the multiple levels of governance in Russia, which would promote responsible local autonomy and effective subnational policy decisions better dovetailed with unique community contexts and specific stakeholder expectations for how L&D should be organized and delivered in particular Russian territories.


 

Dr. Izabela Krasnicka, Associate Professor at the University of Bialystok, Poland, talked about the distribution of control over regional and community education in Poland. The presentation gave an overview of how the state-level governance framework in Polish education is currently organized, which consists of the Ministry of National Education (a body that, in conjunction with regional educational authorities, supervises the realm of early and secondary education) and the Ministry of Science and Higher Education (which shares authority with Poland’s Central Council for Science and Higher Education). Also, Dr. Krasnicka dwelt on the key outcomes of the Polish education governance reform of 1999, which aimed to achieve a greater parity in the distribution of power across the top-down hierarchy. Today, the speaker concluded, secondary schools in Poland exhibit higher levels of decision-making autonomy as compared to other OECD nations.       

In his report, Head of IOE Center for Social and Economic Aspects of Schooling, Dr. Sergey Kosaretsky, took a multifaceted legal perspective on how disadvantaged students and school environments should be supported. Topics of promoting equitable L&D opportunities at all levels are only beginning to receive meaningful attention in Russia, whereas in the EU there have been a number of well-formulated principles in this domain, Dr. Kosaretsky commented. Thus, in Europe, the following three courses of action have become widely accepted: a) delivering target support to vulnerable student cohorts; b) implementing measures to support underprivileged communities; and c) policies aimed at supporting disadvantaged schools. Either of these strategies begins by passing enactments to adequately define and enshrine the status of ‘students in adverse educational conditions due to life circumstances beyond their control,’ which entitles such cohorts to welfare benefits ranging from meal allowance to various types of target support. Alternatively, where a particular school enrolls a substantial share of students classified under the above definition, as per applicable local regulations, support measures may be administered at the institutional level in such a case.        

In Russia, however, a definition of ‘disadvantaged students’ is still missing from the educational regulations that are currently in place, which means the concept of educational vulnerability still remains divorced from socio-economic vulnerability. So far, the national policy discourse in education has only operated the broadest terminology, such as ‘children from low-income backgrounds,’ ‘children from disadvantaged backgrounds,’ etc., and federal legislation has not yet come up with any relevant mechanisms for ‘disadvantaged student’ cohorts to be adequately catered for through, for instance, allocating extra funding to K–11 organizations, offering preferential access to extracurriculars, etc.            

Dr. Charles Russo, Professor at the University of Dayton, USA, devoted his talk to issues of the centralization of authority schemas in education in federal nations and how actual court practices are implicated in shaping the distribution of powers in educational governance. Dr. Russo noted that the judiciary body has been taking on a more important and distinct part in framing the split of decision-making competencies in the educational realm, which is evidenced by data from both the U.S. and other countries. However, when examining a number of specific cases from the U.S., the speaker pointed out that surveys of American judges have found that they still often lack specialist knowledge and experience while dealing with matters of educational law & policy.


 

A report by Dr. Mariette Reyneke, Professor at the University of the Free State, RSA, focused on the key challenges confronting the development of multi-level educational governance in South Africa. The speaker remarked on persisting violations of Constitutional provisions by educational authorities at various levels as the principal adverse factor that has harmed national education. According to Dr. Reyneke, more efforts need to be invested by all actors in order to effectively counter instances of authority misuse, to devise strategies for improved transparency and accountability in education, and to reinforce the principles of democratic control on the basis of more parity-centric stakeholder participation.    

Anna de Ambrosis Vigna, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Administrative Law at the University of Bialystok, Poland, presented about the Polish program of educational reforms for the period of 2017–2023 that spans both the realms of secondary and tertiary education. In her talk, Ms. de Ambrosis Vigna outlined the key considerations behind these policy plans as well as the main steps and mechanisms involved. The principal tasks that the current educational reform in Poland aims to accomplish within the domain of secondary schooling include, in particular, creating a more robust organizational framework, improving the quality of training, advancing specialist curricula, and providing students with free textbooks and other L&D aids. In the realm of university education, the key outcomes that the said reformatory program is expected to achieve are: deploying more comprehensive, integrative evaluation frameworks; introducing a new body, the University Council, in the system of institutional governance; administering more stringent requirements for faculty professional development and performance appraisal, etc.            

In his talk, Dr. Ingo Richter, Honorary Professor at the University of Tuebingen, Germany and Paris Nanterre University, France, and Chairman of the Irmgard-Coninx-Foundation, turned to multiple European contexts to judge about the prospective relevance of subsidiarity in education. Specifically, Dr. Richter focused on how central and institutional tiers of educational regulation are organized in Switzerland, France, Germany and Spain as well as how subsidiarity mechanisms could be developed in these countries, while also drawing attention to certain challenges and problematic areas in this respect, such as the quality of teaching (e.g., in Switzerland and Spain) and accessibility of higher education (e.g., in Germany and France).