My research has an international comparative focus and address the institutional change of research universities within the dynamics and interrelations of global, national and local processes in higher education. My work also examines the cognitive and institutional characteristics of comparative higher education research itself, and contributes to the improvement of methodological development of comparative research designs. In addition, to help disseminate scientific knowledge and research results, I regularly participate in application-oriented projects and serve as an active contributor to policy advice committees.
Institutional and Organizational Change of Research Universities
One of the most recent prevalent changes and pervasive forces within higher education is its globalization. The increase of international activities and international interconnectedness has been well documented. But globalization is not a one-directional maelstrom towards the international or global that absorbs other spatial developments. Localization, nationalization, and regionalization are dimensions of globalization, and there can be antagonistic tendencies at different levels, which are operating in a contradictory or oppositional fashion. Focusing on the historical development of the university shows ongoing tensions, but also synergies between the local, national, and international or transnational and global positioning of the university.
In this context, I am interested in the nature of the Research University and its institutional and organizational change. I am looking at change and reform from sociology of science and sociology of organizations perspective, particularly on unintended side effects and consequences, on failing reform implementation, and the impossibility of direct steering and influence of social systems.
To study the dynamics of globalization processes in higher education, I have recently analyzed the remarkable proliferation of international branch campuses. Focusing on macro-sociological and organizational dynamics, I show that institutions establish international branch campuses even when the environment is highly competitive and the strategy appears unlikely to succeed. My research indicates that the expansion of international branch campuses represents an increasingly legitimated strategy of universities to engage transnationally as organizations. It addresses the larger question of whether the university, as it becomes a competitive organizational actor, becomes less tied less to a specific location and more of an abstract concept or brand.
As part of my research agenda concerning the process of globalization in higher education, I also plan to bring international scholars from Europe, the U.S. and Asia together for a conference. In consideration of a globalized environment, I aim through this conference to develop an understanding of the shared institutional characteristics of research universities in different parts of the world.
International Comparative Methodologies
I study comparative higher education research using a meta-perspective and a bibliometric approach. Accompanied by methodological considerations, these studies are dedicated to the improvement of international comparative methodologies. Many international comparative studies, and particularly international collaborative studies, lack methodological rigor and acuity.
In a recent article, I explore the patterns of international comparative higher education research on the basis of articles in leading international higher education journals from both Europe and the U.S. My findings show that international comparative research is a small but steadily productive branch of higher education research, typically engaged in small-cluster comparisons of universities, and to a large extent internationally collaborative. In another paper, I show with bibliometrics that the growth of non-comparative transnational and global studies has posed a challenge for comparative research in recent years. Such research has also been confronted by a critique that blames higher education research for reifying nationalism; but, on the basis of methodological arguments, I advocate the analytical and explanatory power of the nation-state in higher education research.
To help improve the methodological precision of comparative studies, I also have guest edited a special issue of the journal Higher Education regarding the challenges of comparative higher education research. Based on significant challenges that comparative research faces, several colleagues and I have organized an ongoing series of workshops and panels at major international higher education conferences.
Application Oriented Projects and Policy Advice
As an extension of my pure research, I regularly conduct application-oriented projects and provide policy advice. In 2010/2011, I led a study of institutional differentiation in the German higher education system, which was requested by the German Expert Commission on Research and Innovation (EFI) and contributed an overview of research in German universities and its relevance for the National Innovation System. In 2013/2014, at the request of the Federal Statistical Office (Destatis), I have been contributing to a working group that is formulating a new indicator model and reporting standards for German early career researchers. I also participate in the Consortium on the “National Report on Junior Scholars 2017,” which was launched by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF).