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MaRIHE Master thesis reader e-book 2015

Diversity and Convergence in Higher Education: an Analysis of Tuning European Union and Tuning Latin America International Cooperation Programmes

Layla Jorge Teixeira Cesar 


The present research focussed on Tuning EU and Tuning LA international cooperation programmes.
The objective was to debate how the adoption of common frameworks for curriculum redesign impacts on the processes of higher education differentiation, taking the preservation of cultural diversity into consideration.

Behind this inquiry there is a sense of social justice. The main premise assumed here is that preserving cultural diversity is fundamental for guaranteeing different social groups have their rights met. It was also assumed as a premise that cultural diversity can only be expressed in higher education in a heterogeneous system, where different institutional types are allowed to exist in a horizontal way.

Tuning programme proposes competence-based education as a common framework to harmonise higher education, enhancing learning mobility. It aims at redesigning curricula, focussing on an outcomes-based, student-centred and competence-based learning. This implies changes and adaptations of teaching and learning methods, as well as the development of common quality assurance frameworks to guarantee the comparability of the implemented curricula. While pursuing change, Tuning affirms to value and respect cultural diversity.

The structural changes proposed by Tuning, however, could push institutions to sameness, decreasing a higher education system's heterogeneity. Verifying this relation was the main concern of the present thesis. The goal was to identify if the elements presented by data revealed indications that the redesign proposed by Tuning could affect institutional differentiation.

Two types of institutional diversity were considered for the present analysis: programmatic and procedural diversity. They regard the degree level, area, comprehensiveness, mission and emphasis of programmes, as well as the differences in the ways that teaching, research and services are provided. Other diversity typologies were defined in the literature review section.

The implementation of Tuning occurs at the level of departments and sets of programmes. This analysis, however, argues that the effects of such implementation may reshape the entirety of the systems, as the overall distribution of resources could be affected. No individual institutions were analysed. The interviewees were linked to Tuning either at programme level – in the case of Tuning's creators and coordinators in the EU – or at national level – in the case of the directors of Latin American National Tuning Centres.

It is relevant to emphasize this is not a comparative study between the European Union and Latin America. What is under analysis is Tuning programme as a whole, understood from the perspective of these two experiences of implementation. The inclusion of a second region out of the EU adds to the research for it magnifies the intercultural dimension. This way, the tension between differentiation and the preservation of cultural diversity becomes more visible.

Latin America was preferred to other regions for two reasons: 1) it was the first international attempt at implementing Tuning outside the EU, and therefore, the oldest and most consolidated one; and 2) for the context of symbolic dependence it presents. This last aspect could be found in the cooperation between the EU and many other regions, for the EU is a dominant actor in higher education at global scale. However, the historical colonial background that unites the EU and Latin America makes this dimension more evident.

Research question

Based on the processes of literature review and data analysis, the research question identified by me was the following:

Do data reveal elements indicating that the programmatic and procedural redesign proposed by Tuning could affect institutional differentiation?

The possible results foresaw were: positive impact, if Tuning would contribute to the increase of institutional differentiation; negative impact, if Tuning would contribute to the decrease of institutional differentiation; or neutral impact, if there were not identified elements pointing to a significant relation between the implementation of Tuning and the development of institutional differentiation.

Theoretical background

The two main concepts that supported data analysis were: academic capitalism, when discussing the economic elements involved; and coloniality, when referring to the specificities of the relation between the European Union and Latin America. A literature review was also conducted on the topics of competence-based education, globalisation and internationalisation of higher education, differentiation and diversity of higher education and cultural diversity.

Academic capitalism

For the objectives of the present research, the notion of academic capitalism was adopted here as elaborated by Sheila Slaughter and Larry Leslie in their book Academic capitalism: Politics, policies and the entrepreneurial university (1997). Academic capitalism, according to the authors, refers to market and marketlike behaviours on the part of universities and faculty.

These behaviours might be expressed, among others, in the form of:

  • For-profit activities on the part of the institutions;
  • Institutional and faculty competition for moneys;
  • Focus on research for marketable products, a perspective on teaching as human capital formation;
  • The organisation of the relations among higher education institutions and systems in a marketlike logic. This can be identified, for example, in the formation of higher education areas as conglomerates, and the adoption of seals of quality and rankings of efficiency. In the case of Tuning, the expressions of a marketlike behaviour become evident as the project intends to create common higher education areas, based on shared competence-based education frameworks. The next step would be adopting common quality standards, so that diplomas would become not only comparable but also valid in different parts of the globe, therefore integrating labour markets.


The term coloniality and its meanings were employed in this research as defined by Anibal Quijano, mainly in his text Colonialidad del poder y clasificacion social (2007). According to the author, coloniality is one of the constitutive elements of a global pattern of capitalism. It is based on the imposition of a work, gender and racial classification that justifies domination as a given condition and operates in all dimensions of social interaction.

Coloniality has spread out to all different parts of the world that had established any kinds of social relations through the logics of capitalism or modernity. In the specific case of Latin America, Quijano identifies a historical-structural dependence, for the symbolic aspects of Eurocentric domination constitute the very identity of Latin America. Every action taken in Latin America that reinforces the objectifying logics of modernity or the expansion of the capitalist system will contribute to the perpetuation of such dependence. In the present research, this issue was taken into consideration to help identify whether Tuning was understood as contributing to reinforce such logics, as The programme proposes to connect different institutions and higher education systems through a common and universal framework of competences.


The research object was investigated utilising a qualitative approach. The methodological framework adopted was situational analysis, as proposed by Adele Clarke (2005). Situational analysis is a postmodern derivation of the grounded theory initially developed by Glaser and Strauss in the late 1960's. These two theories share an epistemological and ontological root, as they are both nourished by the theoretical tradition of symbolic interactionism. Simply put, this involves the commitment to representing those we study in their own terms and through their own perspectives.

What sets the main difference between the two frameworks is Clarke's addition to the traditional grounded theory, replacing its undergirding concept of action-centred “basic social process” by the concept of situation-centred “social worlds/arenas/negotiations”. Such change from an individual to a systemic perspective allows a better understanding of the flows of power that constitute a situation of analysis.

In Clarke's approach, it becomes clearer that there is no politically neutral situation. Any object of analysis will suffer the permanent influence of its environment. Just as well, the researchers' perspective could not possibly be neutral, as they do not privilege from an objective or external position of analysis. Researchers are always immersed in a situation themselves, and any results they find are relative to their positions in social worlds.

For Clarke, the situation of the researched phenomenon should be used as the very site of analytic grounding. This approach includes the use of an integrated theoretical framework, built in the making of the research, rather than in the pursuit of formal theory. To allow the empirical construction of the situation of inquiry, Clarke' situational analysis offers three main cartographic approaches:

  1. “Situational maps that lay out the major human, nonhuman, discursive, and other elements in the research situation of inquiry and provoke analysis of relations among them;
  2. Social worlds/arena maps that lay out collective actors, key nonhuman elements, and the arena(s) of commitment and discourse within which they are engaged in ongoing negotiations – meso-level interpretations of the situation; and
  3. Positional maps, that lay out the major positions taken, and not taken, in the data vis-à-vis particular axes of difference, concern, and controversy around issues in the situation of inquiry” (Clarke, 2005: xxii)

These maps are intended as analytic exercises to elucidate the connections among the key elements, materialities, discourses, structures and conditions that characterize the situation of inquiry. They are built upon multiple kinds of data and forms of discourse.

Research Design

In a situational analysis approach, there are no research questions defined beforehand. What mainly distinguishes this and grounded theory in general from other conventional research methodologies is that it does not begin with a theory, from which hypothesis are deduct and set out to test. Both research question and theoretical framework are data driven, that is, they are not externally imposed
by the researcher, but emerge from the situation itself.

At the beginning of the study, a broad research problem is stated, based on an initial perspective of the researcher over the situation and supported by general literature. Then data collection, analysis and literature review feed into each other to refine the research scope. The result is that the theory which emerges from this process is completely tailored to the research object. The emerging theory must be developed to the point of saturation, when all elements that appeared as research problems
in the situation have been met by theoretical analysis, and the collection and analysis of new data do not add to the concepts and categories developed.

Among the analytical methods offered by situational analysis, the one adopted here was that of integrative mapping and analysis1. It consisted of two basic steps. First, grounded theory coding and analytic memoing were done using all the different data sources together. Codes were generated in/through all of the materials, sifted and coalesced into categories.

Next, all three kinds of maps and analytic memos based on them were drafted, using all materials simultaneously. The maps generated referred to the varied data sources as constituting a whole situation. To conclude the analysis section, all maps were summarised into a single project map.

In the present research, both primary and secondary sources of data were in use. The primary data consisted of eighteen interviews with the creators and directors of Tuning EU and Tuning LA and one external specialist invited by Tuning to evaluate Tuning LA progress. The secondary data consisted of seven of Tuning's main publications regarding Tuning EU and Tuning LA experiences.
Additionally to those sources, I have myself spent two months working at Deusto International Tuning Academy, in Bilbao, in May and June 2014, and attended the Brazilian Tuning conference, in August 2014.

Key Findings

Three were the main findings of this thesis:

  1. The negative impact of Tuning on higher education differentiation: The results identified that there were elements from the data indicating that Tuning had an overall negative effect on the processes of higher education differentiation, contributing to its decrease. That means institutional formats would converge to sameness, increasing vertical diversity and decreasing horizontal diversity. Hierarchies among institutions would become more evident, as they would become liable to be evaluated and classified by common standards and rankings. The effect of such processes on cultural diversity is negative, as the resources are concentrated on dominant higher education models, and marginal or new institutional formats are neglected and suppressed. Only those formats that better adapted to Tuning's ideological background would be favoured by the programme. That implies Tuning would contribute to strengthening and reproducing structural inequalities of the higher education systems where it was implemented.
  2. The highlighting of Tuning's ideological dimension: The discourses of Tuning's representatives, through their interviews and published materials, revealed many silences and ambiguities that evidenced the programme's ideological dimension. “Economic interests” were understood to be guiding subjects' choices, but interviewees did “not know who controls these interests”. Professions were assumed to have a universal core, although no one could explain how such similarities were created in the first place. Competencebased education, mobility and employability, were taken for granted as solutions to our “globalised” era demands. For me, the fact that the arguments that justify the project are forces people could not name, reveals that these are moral and ideological options, rather than elements of “truth”. The relevance in identifying the programme's historical and ideological roots is that its artificiality is evidenced. When understood as social creations, the development of competence-based frameworks and the alignment of higher education with the market loose their characteristic of inevitable fate and become a political option. No one will “fall out and behind of the running”, as Tuning expressed in its books, because it becomes clear that many and diverse paths are possible.
  3. The ambiguity of Tuning's discourses: Tuning is built on ambiguous discourses, parallel narratives that align standardisation and homogeneity with heterogeneity and the preservation of cultural diversity. This ambiguity has currently developed into an element of the neoliberal form of governmentality that emerges in Europe (Fejes, 2006). This type of discourse is useful because it accommodates different interests, integrating geographic spaces and populations not by overt coercion or rigid legislations, but by harmonised regulations, codes and standards. The emphasis of the neoliberal approach is on constructing self-regulative governing where the subjects are to govern themselves. Subjects are free to choose, but there is only one paradigm in offer. The choice is then reduced to adhering to it or not. This dualism is a central characteristic of coloniality and the eurocentric perspective (Quijano, 2007), and it is organised based on the promise of a prosperous future.

The control over the future is a powerful narrative that lies at the centre of coloniality and permeates the discourses on higher education in Europe. New social needs are being constantly generated and they should be anticipated and met. Of course not all actors are equally legitimate in identifying what are these coming needs. These are signalled by the market and validated through conventional academic research, organised by prestigious institutions, voices of “truth”. Assigning the responsibility over anticipating social needs to higher education is also on the interest of such universities, as they become the guardians of the future (Fejes, 2006). As traditional universities are favoured, the biggest – and most silenced – resistance to a project as Tuning stands outside academy, not within it.

It is clear that, in many ways, higher education is held responsible for students' employability. Tuning, however, exceeds that role and intends to control the future of students in the labour market. It assumes that the potential employers that participate on the consultation process today will remain as the main ones. Or yet, it tries to identify future scenarios through its meta-profiles. Such actions, as I see it, do not refer to predicting the future, but to limiting it, controlling it to guarantee that those who are currently favoured by the market will keep on being favoured, which is of course on the interest of the professional groups that participate in the consultation processes.

The issue of funding is central in this equation. As stated in many interviews, money flows were a determinant factor for the success of Tuning. Being sponsored by the European Commission, the programme had a special advantage over poorer countries. As long as its frameworks of competence-based education were applied, Tuning proposed to finance curricular reform and promote regional integration, processes such countries would not have been able to afford otherwise.

Not only this material asymmetry hinders the possibility of national and institutional autonomy, as it also evidences that the control over academia drifts away from nation states or universities themselves. Who moves to the centre of control of higher education are the European Union's bureaucrats and experts, as EU's agencies are in position to define the procedures and quality standards that condition funding. This brings consequences to the development of professions, and to the development of universities as places of critique and identity formation by the self., that are
now subordinated to the market ideologies of EU's bureaucrats.

Tuning's real impact on the higher education systems and institutions where it was implemented was never properly measured and researched. I do not want to attribute to it a disproportionate power to Tuning in changing the world around it. What must be clear is that the programme offers more than a methodology, it diffuses an ideology of higher education. Tuning is not an isolated
project: it is one of the expressions of the consolidation of the relation between higher education and capitalist markets, and it adds to the streams of hierarchy and power that are anterior to it.

The impact of Tuning in strengthening and reproducing the structural inequalities of the higher education systems where it is implemented happens at international, regional and local levels. At international level, Tuning appears as an eurocentric model, connected to a neoliberal market, aiming at designing professional profiles and shaping economy's future. Any alternative economic forms are disregarded, and the dependence between “centre” and “peripheries” is kept.

At regional level, in the specific case of Latin America, the effect is the perpetuation of vicious cycles of inequality. Resources are unequally distributed within the region, and the richer higher education systems will keep their advantage, as they are already aligned with the market principles that orient Tuning.

Finally, at local level, the reproduction of structural inequalities is most evident. Marginalised groups are increasingly neglected by the higher education system, as they have no room for contributing to Tuning's model. The design of curricula aiming at competences reinforces a market oriented logic and also has implications for local culture. As Apple (1993) affirms, the curriculum is never simply a neutral assemblage of knowledge, but it is always part of a selective tradition, or, a group's vision of what legitimate knowledge is. It is the product of cultural, political, and economic conflicts.

Tuning promoted benefits to Latin America when it served as a tool for enhancing communication among countries in the region. Some of these countries would not have had the needed resources to establish such contacts otherwise. Such benefits, nevertheless, do not seem enough to me to make up for the potential loss in diversity that the diffusing of Tuning's ideals can bring.

It is not possible to identify at this point if Tuning will provoke a dramatic change in the higher education scenario, but it is possible to predict it will not break any paradigms of exclusion set by dominant higher education models.


Given the dimensions of the present work, it was not possible to describe the economic and social conditions of the countries that constitute Latin America and the European Union. Both regions are significantly heterogeneous and, as previously mentioned, material, social and cultural differences have great impact on the development of higher education systems. A more in depth study would be necessary to highlight the specific national contexts.

For the same reason, it was only possible to reach Tuning's creators and directors, both in the EU and in Latin America. The ideal scenario, however, would be to include representatives from all specific subject areas, and evaluate if there is a difference in perspective according to each subject.

Finally, there is one big gap regarding Tuning that leaves room for further studies: an empirical evaluation of the effective implementation of Tuning has not been done yet. Research at the institutional or departmental level is necessary to measure the real impact of the programme on those spheres. There is also no empirical evaluation of students performance, to verify if the teaching of competences is actually producing a change in terms of learning outcomes, of mobility and labour market success.

In what refers to the practical consequences of this research, the most evident seems to be that it sheds light on the need of developing alternatives for enhancing learning mobility and the recognition of studies without contributing to the structural standardisation of higher education.
Mobility, in itself, is a very positive aspect of education and it can bring great benefits to students and to society in general. It is fundamental, however, that it is organised taking intercultural diversity into consideration.

Student mobility, both degree and short term mobility, were already a reality before Tuning or credit systems. These are believed to increase the efficiency in the recognition of studies, but that comes with the downside of implementing common frameworks, procedures and quality standards, decreasing institutional differentiation.
It is possible – and necessary – to develop a system for studies recognition that does not imply the need for common frameworks. That seems to me a possibility for breaking with the Eurocentric paradigm and the vicious cycles of exclusion in higher education.


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  • OECD:

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  • Tuning EU:

González, J.; Wagenaar, R. (eds.). 2008. Universities' contribution to the Bologna Process: An introduction. Deusto University Press, Bilbao, Spain. 164 pages.
Villa, A.; Poblete, M. (2008). Competence-Based Learning: a proposal for the assessment of generic competences. Deusto University Press, Bilbao, Spain. 336 pages.
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  • Tuning LA:

Beneitone, P.; Esquetini, C.; González, J.; Maletá, M.; Siufi, G.; Wagenaar, R. (eds.). (2007). Reflections on and outlook for higher education in Latin America: Final report – Tuning Latin America project 2004-2007. Deusto University Press, Bilbao, Spain. 420 pages;

Beneitone, P.; González, J.; Wagenaar, R. (orgs.). (2014). Meta-profiles and profiles: A new approach to qualifications in Latin America. Deusto University Press, Bilbao, Spain. 184 pages;

Tuning project. (2013). CLAR: Latin American Reference Credit. Deusto University Press, Bilbao, Spain. 38 pages;

Villa, A. (ed). (2014). Tuning Latin America - RUSI: An assessment model for responsible university social innovation (summarised version). Deusto University Press, Bilbao, Spain. 100 pages;

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