Loose policy and local adaptation : a comparative study of masters degrees in the context of the Bologna Process

Sin, Cristina and Saunders, Murray (2012) Loose policy and local adaptation : a comparative study of masters degrees in the context of the Bologna Process. PhD thesis, Lancaster University.

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The research presented in this thesis focuses on a comparative analysis of six master programmes in Physics in three European countries (England, Portugal and Denmark) in the context of the implementation of reforms triggered by the Bologna Agreement. It undertakes the programme comparison with a particular interest in two dimensions: first, conceptions of master degrees, i.e. what people consider a master degree is, referred to as the ontology of the degree; second, teaching and learning practices as experienced by academics and students, referred to as enacted ontology, determined by an interplay between the ontology of the master and by the process of policy implementation. Policy-making and implementation has received special attention, since the loose guidance and „soft. legislative status that characterises Bologna policy (the open method of coordination) has led to different interpretations and a variety of national and institutional responses determined by local or situated circumstances. To capture the transformation of policy and the evolution of actor conceptions at European, national and institutional level, the implementation staircase approach has been used. The research found that similarities and differences both in conceptions and in teaching and learning practices (manifestations of enacted ontology) emerge as consequences of disciplinary features, national tradition and departmental teaching and learning regimes. In particular, country-specific traditions of university degree organisation appear powerful in shaping the degree.s conceptualisation. Differences in conceptualisation between implementation levels (European/national versus institutional) are particularly pertinent in the exemplar discipline of physics. The most notable one refers to the degree.s purpose. Whereas the national (and European) levels view the degree as preparation for employment and further studies, physics academics and students describe it more as a springboard to a PhD. Teaching methods were found to be overall similar, apparently due to disciplinary tradition. A generally low emphasis on transferable skills has been noted, again explained by disciplinary factors. Nonetheless, although physics is a highly-bounded discipline, with relatively strong agreement on its structure, several differences in its „enacted ontology. have emerged. Thus, assessment practices show discontinuity, sometimes explained by national and sometimes by institutional traditions. Use of learning outcomes is variable, apparently determined by national tradition. There are, too, different approaches to incorporating research in the degree. This research suggests that implementation and ontology are mutually sensitive and act together to shape the practices associated with master courses. First, degree conceptualisations (nationally and institutionally determined) exert influence on the interpretation of new education policies and the choices made during implementation. Second, educational policies have the power to shift ontology. New national imperatives can act as catalysts and determinants of new academic practice. Therefore, the expressions of a master degree materialised in recurrent pedagogic practices (the enacted ontology), are produced by a symbiotic intertwining of the two dimensions.

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05 Mar 2012 09:33
Last Modified:
17 Dec 2023 01:03