© 2019

Governing through Standards: the Faceless Masters of Higher Education

The Bologna Process, the EU and the Open Method of Coordination


  • Exposes the mode of governance that characterizes The Open Method of Coordination and documents the close relations between the Bologna Process and the EU

  • Shows how the policy ambitions in the Bologna Process, the EU and national political rhetoric fail to resonate with the practices of everyday working life in higher education

  • Draws on non-conventional interpretive frameworks such as new materialism


Part of the Educational Governance Research book series (EGTU, volume 10)

Table of contents

About this book


This book offers an empirical and theoretical account of the mode of governance that characterizes the Bologna Process. In addition, it shows how the reform materializes and is translated in everyday working life among professors and managers in higher education. It examines the so-called Open Method of Coordination as a powerful actor that uses “soft governance” to advance transnational standards in higher education. The book shows how these standards no longer serve as tools for what were once human organizational, national or international, regulators. Instead, the standards have become regulators themselves – the faceless masters of higher education. By exploring this, the book reveals the close connections between the Bologna Process and the EU regarding regulative and monitoring techniques such as standardizations and comparisons, which are carried out through the Open Method of Coordination. It suggests that the Bologna Process works as a subtle means to circumvent the EU’s subsidiarity principle, making it possible to accomplish a European governance of higher education despite the fact that education falls outside EU’s legislative reach. The book’s research interest in translation processes, agency and power relations among policy actors positions it in studies on policy transfer, policy borrowing and globalization. However, different from conventional approaches, this study draws on additional interpretive frameworks such as new materialism.


higher education and transnational education reform national and international regulators subsidiarity principle multi-sited policy ethnography globalization studies Open Method of Coordination EU's subsidiarity principle modularization and the outcome-orientation of the curriculum social dimension of reform processes policy ontology, material-affective infrastructures Bologna Declaration of 1999 standardising devices and monitoring practices governing technologies, big data, performance data policy borrowing

Authors and affiliations

  1. 1.Danish School of EducationAarhus UniversityCopenhagenDenmark

Bibliographic information


“Katja Brøgger’s book, Governing through Standards: The Faceless Masters of Higher Education, is essential reading for all policy sociologists in education, for all those with interests in higher education, and for those concerned with how EU policies and soft governance work through the Open Method of Coordination. This is so because of its original methodological contribution (multi-sited policy ethnography), its sophisticated theoretical framing (philosophy of science, new materialism, feminism) and its brilliant insights into the ways Bologna standards and practices for higher education are translated into the quotidian practices of university administrators and academics and at the same time create a European Higher Education Area.” (Emeritus Professor, PhD, Bob Lingard, School of Education, The University of Queensland, Australia)

“This book is essential reading to truly understand how education policies are imposed from above, the manifold ways in which power works invisibly and the determining effects of emotion. This book makes a ground-breaking contribution to the scholarship on how education policies are internalised, but also resisted in unexpected ways.” (Professor, PhD, Rajani Naidoo, School of Management, Bath University, England)

“Brøgger’s book is a timely and highly original theoretical contribution to studies on governing higher education and also a beautifully crafted read.” (Professor, PhD, Susan Robertson, Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge, England)

“Governing through Standards: the Faceless Masters of Higher Education offers a timely and much needed conceptual framework for unravelling the subtle mechanism of soft governance. This is a ‘must read’ if you are to understand how no one in particular governs while everything effectively and affectively exercises governance.” (Professor, PhD, Dorthe Staunæs, Danish School of Education, Aarhus University, Denmark)