Doctoral thesis: University reforms carried out at an accelerating rate and often with questionable justification

In recent decades, organisational reforms have been carried out at an increasing pace, and often from a basis other than the benefits for of scientific research, education and teaching based on it.

These findings are presented in a doctoral thesis to be publicly examined at the University of Helsinki, comparing and describing the historically evolved organisational structures of European universities and the reforms to which they have typically been subject. The study compares the organisational structures of 106 well-established European universities in terms of their longitudinal development and the reforms typical of them from the 1960s to the 2010s.

The thesis illustrates how the continuum of constant organisational reforms dating back to the 1960s has not put an end to university reforms, or even reduced their prevalence, almost anywhere in Europe. In the reforms, structural changes are often implemented to resolve non-structural problems, even though there is usually no evidence of their usefulness in solving such problems.

Number, size and complexity of universities as organisations have increased

The study of a longitudinal dataset encompassing half a century demonstrates that European universities have, in recent decades, multiplied in size as organisations and diverged both as institutions and in terms of their internal organisational structures. The thesis also clarifies the discussion on whether the organisational structures of universities and higher education systems are converging or diverging.

“Mainly, the internal organisational structures of individual universities are diverging, while the global structures of higher education are converging. Simultaneous developments of both convergence and divergence are taking place on the in-between national level of higher education systems, but those changes are focussed on different aspects of their organisational structures,” doctoral candidate Arto Aniluoto explains.

New types of organisational structures and reforms increasingly common in the 2000s

In the 2000s and 2010s in particular, the rate of change brought about by university reforms has accelerated across Europe and their effects on university structures have diverged, for example, due to new types of organisational levels established above faculties as well as university mergers divergent in their implementation. According to Aniluoto, many of the reforms are questionably justified, or they do not take into account the history and organisational nature of their target universities.

“The results of my research can be applied in practice by consciously choosing structural alternatives from among those compared in the thesis when planning future university reforms and new university organisations,” Aniluoto says.

The doctoral thesis analyses the evolution of a number of historical university models through which the contemporary organisational structures of universities and the national higher education systems in Europe have been born and shaped by emulating themselves on older and more prestigious paragon universities.



Arto Aniluoto, MSocSc, will defend his doctoral thesis entitled ‘At Once So Uniform and So Diverse’ – A Comparative Study of the Organisational Structures of Well-Established European Universities from 1962 to 2013’ on 18 December 2020 at 13 o’clock at the Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Helsinki. The public examination can be viewed at

University Lecturer Elias Pekkola from Tampere University will serve as the opponent and Professor Pertti Ahonen as the custos.

The thesis will be published in the Publications of the Faculty of Social Sciences series.

The thesis is also available in electronic form through the  E-thesis service.

Contact details of the doctoral candidate:
Arto Aniluoto
Phone: +358 50 381 3829