Hopes, beliefs, and concerns: narratives in German and Portuguese universities regarding Brexit

  • Tim Seidenschnur
  • Amélia Veiga
  • Jens JungblutEmail author
  • António Magalhães


This article contributes to the understanding of how different actors in the academic field perceive the challenges that Brexit poses for European higher education. Based on a narrative analysis of 28 interviews, this paper highlights how actors’ narratives convene discursive elements stemming from competing discourses on cooperation and competition. In doing so, the exploratory study focuses on two countries, Portugal and Germany, which correspond to distinct cases regarding their performance in the European research and higher education landscape.

The analysis highlights that there are national differences between the perceptions of Brexit and allows identifying commonalities in the narratives in both countries. In addition, we identify the presence of a pragmatic managerial attitude in response to Brexit. The three overarching narratives are the narrative of concerns, the narrative of hopes, and the narrative of beliefs. These narratives reflect the struggle of the cooperation and the competition discourses in ascribing meaning to Brexit. The competition discourse has assumed a dominant role in the perceptions of Brexit and cooperation is mainly fueled through the academics and their professional ethos.


Brexit Higher education Portugal Germany Narratives 


Funding information

Jens Jungblut acknowledges the financial support of the Research Council of Norway through its DIV-INT funding under project number 263544/F10.


  1. Abbott, A. (1988). The system of professions: an essay on the division of expert labor. Chicago: The University Chicago Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Araújo, E. R., & Silva, S. (2014). Ecos do tempo. A mobilidade de investigadores e estudantes brasileiros em Portugal. Sociologias, 16, 218–250.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bansel, P. (2014). The subject of policy. Critical Studies in Education, 56(1), 5–20.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Barkhuizen, G. (2014). Revisiting narrative frames: an instrument for investigating language teaching and learning. System, 47, 12–27.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bieletzki, N. (2017). The power of collegiality. A qualitative analysis of university presidents’ leadership in Germany. Wiesbaden: Springer VS.Google Scholar
  6. Boyer, E. L., Altbach, P. G., & Whitelaw, M. J. (1994). The academic profession: an international perspective. A special report. Princeton: Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.Google Scholar
  7. Burr, V. (2003). Social constructionism (2nd ed.). London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  8. Chou, M.-H., & Gornitzka, Å. (Eds.). (2014). Building the knowledge economy in Europe. New constellations in European research and higher education governance. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.Google Scholar
  9. Clark, B. R. (1983). The higher education system: academic organization in cross-national perspective. Los Angeles: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  10. Cohen, M., March, J., & Olsen, J. (1972). A garbage can model of organizational choice. Administrative Science Quarterly, 17(1), 1–25.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Courtois, A. (2018). Higher education and Brexit: current European perspectives. In CGHE special report, February 2018. London: The Centre for Global Higher Education.Google Scholar
  12. Czarniawska, B. (1997). Narrating the organization: dramas of institutional identity. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  13. Dalpiaz, E., Tracey, P., & Phillips, N. (2014). Succession narratives in family business: the case of alessi. Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice, 44(2), 1375–1394.Google Scholar
  14. Delamont, S., & Atkinson, P. (2014). Narratives and accounts: their collection and analysis. In J. Hiusman & M. Tight (Eds.), Theory and method in higher education research II (Vol. 10, pp. 43_62). International perspectives on higher education research. Bingley, UK: Emerald Group publishing limited.Google Scholar
  15. Downing, S. (2005). The social construction of entrepreneurship. Narrative and dramatic processes in the coproduction of organizations and identities. Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice, 29(2), 185–204.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Drori, G. S., Meyer, J. W., & Ramirez, F. O. (2003). Science in the modern world polity. Institutionalization and globalization. Stanford: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  17. Elliot, J. (2013). Using narrative in social research - qualitative and quantitative approaches. London: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
  18. Fairclough, N. (1992). Discourse and social change. Cambridge: Polity Press.Google Scholar
  19. Fairclough, N. (1995). Critical discourse analysis. London: Longman.Google Scholar
  20. Fonseca, M. (2012). The student estate. In G. Neave & A. Amaral (Eds.), Higher education in Portugal 1974–2009 - a nation, a generation (pp. 383–416). Dordrecht: Springer.Google Scholar
  21. Foucault, M. (1972). The archeology of knowledge. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  22. Frank, D. J., & Meyer, J. W. (2007). University expansion and the knowledge society. Theory and Society, 36(4), 287–311.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Gideon, A. (2017). Higher education institutions in the EU: between competition and public service. Berlin: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Gornitzka, Å., Maassen, P., Olsen, J. P., & Stensaker, B. (2007). “Europe of Knowledge:” Search for a New Pact. In P. Maassen & J. P. Olsen (Eds.), University Dynamics and European Integration (Vol. 19, pp. 181–214). Dordrecht: Springer Netherlands.Google Scholar
  25. Hohti, R., & Karlsson, L. (2014). Lollipop stories: listening to children’s voices in the classroom and narrative ethnographical research. Childhood - A Global Journal of Child Research, 21(4), 548–562.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Joseph, J. (2014). A narrative exploration of gender performances and gender relations in the Caribbean diaspora. Identities, 22(2), 168–182.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Jungblut, J., & Seidenschnur, T. (2018). Germany: much ado about nothing? – Perceptions in German universities regarding the impact of Brexit. In A. Courtois (Ed.), Higher education and Brexit: current European perspectives (pp. 47–59). London: CGHE.Google Scholar
  28. Kehm, B. M., Huisman, J., & Stensaker, B. (2009). The European higher education area. Perspectives on a moving target. Rotterdam: Sense Publishers.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Kosmützky, A., & Krücken, G. (2015). Sameness and difference. International Studies of Management and Organization, 45, 137–149.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Kreiswirth, M. (2000). Merely telling stories? Narrative and knowledge in the human sciences. Poetics Today, 21(2), 293–318.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Krücken, G. (2017). Die Transformation von Universitäten in Wettbewerbsakteure. Beiträge zur Hochschulforschung, 39(3–4), 10–29.Google Scholar
  32. Krücken, G., Kloke, K., & Blümel, A. (2010). Hochschulmanagement. Auf dem Weg zu einer neuen Profession. WSI-Mitteilungen, 5, 234–241.Google Scholar
  33. Luijten-Lub, A., Van der Wende, M., & Huisman, J. (2005). On cooperation and competition: a comparative analysis of national policies for internationalisation of higher education in seven western European countries. Journal of Studies in International Education, 9(2), 147–163.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Magalhães, A., & Stoer, S. (2007). A Narrativa das Narrativas: um estudo das narrativas educacionais dos investigadores/docentes da FPCEUP. Educação, Sociedade & Culturas, 24, 135–154.Google Scholar
  35. Magalhães, A., & Veiga, A. (2015). The narrative approach in higher education research. In M. tight, & J. Huisman (Eds.), Theory and method in higher education research (pp. 311-331), volume 1. London: Emerald.Google Scholar
  36. Magalhães, A., Veiga, A. & Sá, M. J. (2018). Portugal: Portuguese case-study. In a. Courtois (Ed.): Higher education and Brexit: current European perspectives (pp. 125-145). London: CGHE.Google Scholar
  37. McAlpine, L., Amundsen, C., & Turner, G. (2014). Identity-trajectory: reframing early career academic experience. British Educational Research Journal, 40(6), 952–969. Scholar
  38. Meyer, J. W., & Rowan, B. (1977). Institutionalized organizations: formal structure as myth and ceremony. American Journal of Sociology, 83(2), 340–363.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Morinã Díez, A., Lopez, R. G., & Molina, V. M. (2014). Students with disabilities in higher education: a biographical-narrative approach to the role of lecturers. Higher Education Research and Development, 34(1), 147–159.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Olsen, J. P., & Maassen, P. (2007). European debates on the knowledge institution: the modernization of the university at the European level. In P. Maassen & J. P. Olsen (Eds.), University dynamics and European integration (pp. 3–22). Dordrecht: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Pareto, V. (1935). The mind and society [Trattato Di Sociologia Generale]. Brace: Harcourt.Google Scholar
  42. Phillips, L., & Jørgensen, M. W. (2004). Discourse analysis as theory and method. London: Sage.Google Scholar
  43. Podolny, J. M. (2005). Status signals: a sociological study of market competition. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  44. Roberto Franzosi, (1998) Narrative Analysis—Or Why (and How) Sociologists Should Be Interested In Narrative. Annual Review of Sociology, 24(1), 517–554.Google Scholar
  45. Rosa, M., Veiga, A., & Amaral, A. (2004). Portugal. In J. Huisman, M. van der Wende, & M. (Eds.), On cooperation and competition (pp. 139–163). Lemmens Verlags: Bonn.Google Scholar
  46. Serrano-Velarde, K. (2010). A fish out of water? Management consultants in academia. Minerva, 48(2), 125–144.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Shapiro, I. (2002). Problems, methods, and theories in the study of politics. Political Theory, 30(4), 596–619.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Somers, M., & Gibson, G. D. (1996). Reclaiming the epistemological “other”: narrative and the social construction of identity. In C. Calhoun (Ed.), Social theory and the politics of identity. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers.Google Scholar
  49. Teixeira, P. (2012). The changing public-private mix in higher education: analysing Portugal’s apparent exceptionalism. In G. Neave & A. Amaral (Eds.), Higher education in Portugal 1974–2009 - a nation, a generation (pp. 307–328). Dordrecht: Springer.Google Scholar
  50. Thornton, P. H., & Ocasio, W. (1999). Institutional logics and the historical contingency of power in organizations: executive succession in the higher education publishing industry, 1958-1990. American Journal of Sociology, 105(3), 801–843.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Torfing, J. (2005). Discourse theory: achievements, arguments, and challenges. In D. Howarth & J. Torfing (Eds.), Discourse theory in European politics: identity, policy and governance (pp. 1–32). New York: Palgrave Macmillan.Google Scholar
  52. Wagenaar, H. (2011). Meaning in action: interpretation and dialogue in policy analysis. New York: M. E. Scharpe.Google Scholar
  53. Weick, K. E. (1995). Sensemaking in organizations. London: Sage Publishing.Google Scholar
  54. Werron, T. (2015). Why do we believe in competition? A historical-sociological view of competition as an institutionalized modern imaginary. Distinktion: Journal of Social Theory, 16(2), 186–210.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Wöhrer, V. (2014). To stay or to go? Narratives of early-stage sociologists about persisting in academia. Higher Education Policy, 27(4), 469–487.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.International Centre for Higher Education Research (INCHER)University of KasselKasselGermany
  2. 2.Faculty of Psychology and Education Sciences, Centre for Research and Intervention in Education (CIIE) and Centre for Research on Higher Education Policies (CIPES)University of PortoPortoPortugal
  3. 3.Department of Political ScienceUniversity of OsloOsloNorway
  4. 4.SCANCORStanford UniversityStanfordUSA
  5. 5.INCHERUniversity of KasselKasselGermany
  6. 6.Faculty of Psychology and Education Sciences, Centre for Research on Higher Education Policies (CIPES)University of PortoMatosinhosPortugal

Personalised recommendations