Open Access Journal

ISSN: 2183-2463

Article | Open Access

Keeping One’s Shiny Mercedes in the Garage: Why Higher Education Quantification Never Really Took Off in Germany

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Abstract:  The cybernetic dream of regulatory ‘dashboard control’ has taken off in the German higher education system. Both government regulators and university managers are engaged in the creation of waves of increasingly fine-grained quantitative data. Yet a wide range of recent case studies of the German higher education sector attest that in spite of this ‘datafication’ frenzy, the impact of the collected data mass on regulatory and managerial decision-making capacities seems to have remained relatively limited. This article explores why, in spite of the considerable investment in quantitative data infrastructures in the German higher education sector, this did not result in significant overt analytical capacity building. It explores three hypotheses: 1) a legal hypothesis according to which quantification is curbed by legal protections under the Rechtsstaat; 2) a dysfunctionality hypothesis which holds that decision makers reject quantification as a flawed and impracticable pursuit; and 3) an egalitarian federalism hypothesis which argues that Germany’s federal states seek to prevent commensurability to avoid comparison and competition. The article finds that, in spite of its inconspicuousness, quantification indeed does inform various central decision-making processes. However, different legal, political, and relational factors prompt decision makers to engage in a hybrid, tempered and, overall, untransparent application of numerical data.

Keywords:  administrative capacity; data; education; Germany; quantification


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© Maarten Hillebrandt. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (, which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.