ETER Analytical Report: Dual vs. Unitary Systems in European Higher Education

Publikation aus Policies
Technologie, Innovation und Politikberatung

Daniel Wagner-Schuster, Michael Ploder, Maximilian Unger, Marija Breitfuss-Loidl , and Benedetto Lepori (Università della Svizzera italiana)

, 1/2020


The European higher education sector is, despite important commonalities, a very heterogeneous gathering of national higher education systems. In a rough classification, systems could be divided into two large groups: unitary systems, which are systems dominated by universities, and dual systems, where HEIs outside the university sector enrol a considerable share of students. Such institutions can be universities of applied sciences and similar types of higher education institutions, including Fachhochschulen (Austria, Germany), Hogescholen (Netherlands), University colleges (Norway) or also Polytechnics (Finland, Portugal).

The analysis of different system types is highly relevant in order to understand – and in further consequence steer – higher education in Europe. As will be shown in this report, dual and binary systems in Europe are the outcome of the policy decision to increase diversity in higher education by implementing new types of HEIs as the answer to increasing demand of higher education and increasing needs for professional qualification. Even though national higher education systems may be classified the same way, national systems are barely comparable with each other. There exist many characteristics (e.g. their distribution and distinction of types of institutions, their historical development as well as the diversity and differentiation within countries), which have to be taken into account when comparing systems and countries.

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