Higher Education and Research

The Legislative Reform Programme

Please find below the Executive Summary from the final report on the Legislative Reform Programme. You can see the whole publication here.

The work of the LRP
Evaluation and follow-up

The work of the LRP 

Goals of the Legislative Reform Programme (LRP)

The primary aim of the Legislative Reform Programme was to provide effective support to the processes of legislative reform in higher education and research, as part of the consolidation of democratic regimes, and of the overall process of transition from centrally planned to social market economies, in the countries of central and Eastern Europe. A subsidiary aim was to deepen understanding of the proper role of legislation in higher education in Europe as a whole.

Basis of co-operation

The LRP was part of a general policy of the Council of Europe to support democratic transition in its new and potential members. It shared with other programmes the features of practical support for countries in transition, professional advice by independent experts, and reference to the European standards and best practices expressed in European conventions. It also had features specific to the higher education sector: it followed a long-standing policy of academic mobility proposed by the Standing Conference on University Problems (CC-PU), and drew on the experience of a network of bilateral East-West university co-operation developed since the 1970s. In its operation, the LRP drew heavily on the Committee for expertise, feedback and leadership. The strong links of the LRP to the Committee reinforced its character of extended solidarity rather than one-way assistance.

Activities of the LRP

From 1991 to 1999, the LRP carried out some 200 activities: 136 bilateral and multilateral activities, and at least 64 Secretariat missions. Bilateral activities included over 70 advisory and exploratory missions, 15 joint commissions and 4 expert meetings, and one written opinion not linked to a mission. Multilateral activities comprised 12 regional missions and seminars, ten workshops, five consultation meetings and twelve study visits to eight western European states. Two books and 3 substantial reports were published, in addition to mimeographed workshop reports. Over 40 other meetings were held for the purposes of management and publications decided on by the CC-PU/CC-HER.
By number of events, the ranking of countries is as follows: Bosnia and Herzegovina (14), plus World Bank project group meetings, Russia (13), Albania (9), Bulgaria (8), Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania (6 each), Czech Republic (6), and Ukraine (6). On average, 5.5 events per country were carried out. By region, southeastern Europe (48 events) ranked ahead of central and northern Europe (35), Russian Federation and NIS countries (33). Consultation meetings, study visits and publications are not included here.

During the life-time of the LRP, the changing needs of member states led to significant changes in its profile a gradual shift in geographical focus, and therefore thematic priorities, from central to eastern and south-eastern Europe, reflecting a general development in the Council of Europe; a broadening of scope from legislation as such to the policy context surrounding it; a trend to fewer but longer-term projects, often involving partnerships; finally the increasing involvement of experts from central Europe in missions and workshops.


The total budget of the LRP was 19 104 000 FF (€2 912 000) over the period, an average of 2 123 000 FF per year (€324 000), including project staff (52%). The staff team ranged from one to four with an average of about three. Of the income, 79% was provided by voluntary contributions, and 12% by the Council of Europe, not counting ADACS drawing rights and invisible overheads. Seventeen countries provided voluntary contributions; however, 61% came from two countries, the Netherlands and Germany.

The budget of the LRP was small in relation to its workload and compared to similar projects elsewhere. It was able to secure most of its funding from voluntary contributors, two of whom provided the backbone of its budget and an element of stability; however a more secure and less ad hoc arrangement would be appropriate for a core programme.


Advice on higher education legislation contributed to 8 first generation laws: 4 higher education acts (Hungary 1993; Croatia 1993; Slovenia 1993; Albania 1994) and 4 laws on education (Romania 1995; Moldova 1995; Georgia 1997; Armenia 1999). Advice on second generation legislation supported 16 law projects including 14 higher education acts (Estonia 1995, amended 1996; Latvia 1995, Bulgaria 1995; Russia 1996 and amendments 1997; Croatia 1996; Hungary 1996; Slovakia 1996; Poland 1997; Czech Republic 1998; Albania 1999; Lithuania 2000; Belarus intended 2000; “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” intended 2000; Ukraine intended 2000), and two laws on education (Ukraine 1996; Russia amendments 1996 to law of 1992).

The workshops, study visits and publications contributed to the diffusion of good practice in the same way as classic multilateral co-operation. In particular, they helped in the practical establishment of national systems of quality assessment in a number of countries and in the establishment of a new college sector of professional higher education in the central European region. The projects in Bosnia and Herzegovina led to a report that lays the foundation for a national education policy based on consensual co-ordinating structures. The LRP’s work led directly to the preparation of Recommendation No.R (97) 1 on the recognition and quality assessment of private institutions of higher education. It highlighted the importance of the Lisbon Recognition Convention as a gateway to European co-operation, and made a substantial input to the implementation of Recommendation No.R (98) 3 on access to higher education.

The Final Report analyses in more detail the extent and quality of the contribution of the LRP to the complex processes of democratic legislation. Partners consistently stated, in consultation meetings, CC-PU and CC-HER plenaries, bilateral contacts, and communications to the independent reviewers, that the dialogue and advice was highly valued and made a positive impact on the legal and policy framework for the development of national higher education systems.


The policy approach of the LRP is discussed in parts one and two of the Final Report, covering norms and their sources, architecture, governance, and learning. Reflecting the historical diversity of European higher education, the LRP did not carry with it a ready-made policy model. It addressed the central topics of higher education policy in a dialogue with the host countries, seeking in its advice fairly to reflect European concepts, traditions and standards, as well as evolving ideas of best practice. Ten topics may be highlighted:

  • A concept of legislation aimed at establishing a partnership of education – with its liberal and individualist traditions - and a modern democracy;
  • identifying issues by level of legislation - framework acts, special laws and decrees, and domestic legislation (Charter, Statutes, Articles, etc.) - and the allocation of appropriate competences to state or federal governments and their agencies (ministries) as well as to higher education establishments and intermediary institutions;
  • distinguishing the general and specific missions of institutions: the role of advanced learning and inquiry, including that of independent centres of critical thinking in society; the increasing roles as centres of professional and vocational higher education, as agents of public science policy and providers of quality services, and as social centres;
  • planning a diversification of higher education, as the key issue in the institutional landscape in all parts of Europe, with new programmes for vocational education organised either in a specific sector of new institutions or within a unitary scheme;
  • the integration of separated and fragmented institutions - a lasting legacy of the Soviet model - and a strategy of associating institutions of teaching and institutes of basic research previously under ministries or academies of science;
  • permitting the creation of private higher education institutions, and defining the circumstances under which they may be accredited or recognised;
  • prescribing, at different levels of legislation or regulation, the governance, funding, financial management, accountability, and quality assurance of academic institutions;
  • regulating the organisation of studies and degrees, of access and admission, of fees and financial support for students, as well as the structure, appointment and tenure of academic staff;
  • complying with European Conventions and Agreements, in particular those on minority rights, the Lisbon Recognition Convention and similar acquis;
  • building a long-term state policy in higher education linked to secondary education and to the professional sectors, recognising national traditions as well as international developments.

Some progress was made in systematising concepts of European standards and best practice in these areas during the life of the project, especially through workshops and publications. This work is necessarily incomplete, but some elements of a “European model” have emerged, particularly on the democratic governance of higher education.

The central challenge of partnership with democracy

The core belief that guided the LRP in its work on governance is that democracy and education are locked in an embrace of mutual dependence: one cannot succeed without the other. The great achievement of the first wave of “autonomy laws” on higher education was indeed freeing the universities from any state intervention or political influence in the core areas of academic freedoms and institutional autonomy. But this was not enough to establish equilibrium with the democratic state, where the government has the political and financial responsibility to provide public goods and social opportunities through the operation of higher education institutions. LRP experts pointed out to their partners that legislation in higher education, laying down the rights, rules, and regulations which determine the functioning of higher education institutions and guide the development of the systems to which they belong, must aim to build a culture of mutual respect and solid co-operation. It needed therefore to define the responsibilities as well as the rights of the three main actors: governments, institutions and individual students and academics.

In summary, the following principles of governance emerged (the Final Report treats the topic in greater depth):

  • Democratically elected governments have the right and should have the authority to establish and to change publicly owned institutions, to assign to each institution its broad mission, including the types of degrees to be offered, to establish enrolment levels, to determine operating budgets, and to licence private institutions of higher education.
  • Academic institutions should have the authority and responsibility, within constraints and guidelines provided by law, to establish a structure for internal academic governance, to elect their leaders, to select faculty members, to determine and deliver teaching programmes, to admit students, to award degrees and honours, to establish budgets and expend monies. Effective accountability of institutions for their tasks is not in conflict with autonomy, but rather requires strengthening their managerial leadership and self-government practice.
  • The individual members of the university should enjoy freedom of speech and choice of subject in research, teaching and study; the right to participate (in different ways) in academic self-administration, and the right to associate for academic purposes.

In many areas of policy, a stable model was not attainable in a continually shifting context. The transition from centrally planned to social market economies seems to be merging into an ongoing transformation, involving a shift from the national to the global frame of reference. Formal European norms only provided a partial basis for discussion on long-term perspectives of public policy, and in many areas the LRP had to make informed guesses on international trends in higher education; for example, to anticipate the future European model(s) for the organisation of studies and degrees. Diverging interests as well as changes in technology and society will continue to create new problems, and solutions sought in a new equilibrium of autonomy and dependence.

Evaluation and follow-up 

The evaluation conducted by the CC-HER included the preparation of a report by two eminent independent experts, included in the Final Report along with extensive material by LRP “insiders”, and a round table debate at its plenary meeting on 29 March 2000. The latter drew especially on input from the new member states, who have been the LRP’s main partners and beneficiaries.

In a resolution (see the full publication) drawing on these different perspectives, the CC-HER agreed on three key points:

  • the Legislative Reform Programme had been successful: a timely, cost-effective, principled and practical response by the Council of Europe and the member states to the challenge of the democratic transition in higher education
  • its work should be continued in a new framework, in cooperation with the Education Committee and with the continued support of member states account should be taken in this work of the comments by the independent experts and delegations on the generally successful working methods;
  • the European standards identified by the LRP, particularly on governance of higher education, should be consolidated through further intergovernmental action and instruments.