chapter  7
20 Pages

Policy Networks and Research on Higher Education Governance and Policy


In his pioneering 1978 essay on policy networks, Hugh Heclo used an example from higher education to demonstrate the increasing importance of issue networks in American politics. In 1977 Harvard University employed a Washington lobbyist and joined a group called Friends of DNA in order to influence government regulation of research into the creation of new forms of life (Heclo, 1978). Over the last thirty years the concept of policy networks has been widely employed within policy analysis, political studies and comparative politics in North America and Western Europe, and while it has been less frequently used in the higher education literature, it has informed several studies on higher education policy reforms. Different interpretations and typologies of policy networks can be found in the academic literature and there is a continuing debate on whether this is a theory, an analytical tool, an explanatory device, or simply “another example of otiose social science jargon” (Rhodes, 1997: 9). Critics argue that the concept lacks forecasting power and does not explain policy outcomes. Proponents suggest that policy networks reflect the new reality of “governance without government” (Rosenau, 1992) and provide explanatory and theoretical tools for studying contemporary policy-making processes.