About the project

The ‘Transnational Governance of Higher Education’-project is based in the Department of Political and Economic Studies at the University of Helsinki. The two-year project (Aug 2010 – Dec 2012) explores the complex relationships between international university rankings and transnational higher education policy ideas, their diffusion, transformation, and impact on national policies and institutional practices. The project is funded by the Network for Higher Education and Innovation Research (HEINE) at the University of Helsinki.


Higher education policies have traditionally been regulated and steered only to a minor degree by international standards. Nevertheless, our conceptualization and comprehension of higher education is increasingly being framed and affected by international and transnational ideas of governance. At the most general level we can distinguish the effects of, for example, the UNESCO-sponsored co-operative networks that provide frameworks for the exchange of ideas while we at the same can recognize an increasing role of global expert organizations promoting, albeit in an indirect way, detailed ideas of administrating and organising higher education.

These global expert organisations such as the OECD,  and new actors as the Times Higher Education (THE ranking) and the Institute of Higher Education of Shanghai Jiao Tong University (Shanghai ranking) are increasingly promoting a specific set of objectives, organizational structures, financial systems, decision-making mechanisms, control related processes and networks that can be located at the regional as well as the European level. In addition, national higher education policy and academic activities are determined more and more clearly in relation to the European Union, OECD and associations like the European University Association, that are part of a transnational network defining standards, principles and practices in higher education.


The main goal of the research project is to increase our knowledge of transnational governance of higher education: its discourses, ideas, operating models and the normative principles of governance that it promotes. Furthermore, our research sets out to examine how this field of governance is being produced and upheld with the help of  university rankings. The project explores how the rankings contribute to the diffusion of ideas to national higher education policies and decision-making procedures. Moreover, the project also looks at the impacts of various international higher education rankings on the administrative and strategic actors at the national level in higher education. In relation to this, the project will also analyse the formation and results of the reform of Finnish universities (that came into force in 2009) as a part of transnational governance of higher education, where numerical assessments function as a policy instruments.

The research data of the project will support the field of Finnish higher education in its ability to generate self-declared and justified solutions in a situation where national higher education and its organisational and administrative principles are being challenged by supra-national phenomena, processes and actors.

The project is funded by the Higher education and Innovation research-network at the University of Helsinki (HEINE). For more information, contact Mr. Tero Erkkilä  or Mr. Ossi Piironen.