Growth in the size and complexity of higher education worldwide in the latter part of the twentieth century has meant that setting effective government policy for universities and other tertiary education providers is a challenge, with much at stake for the performance, quality and accountability of systems. Those charged with making higher education policy must balance competing interests while being mindful that failure often carries significant costs for students, governments and institutions alike. This chapter explores useful insights for both scholars and policy makers from policy breakdown in higher education, using two examples from Australia to illustrate lessons to be drawn from policy settings that have not delivered as intended. First, it examines policy change initiated in the 1990s which led to the unsuccessful merger of some higher education institutions. Second, it draws lessons from the failure of policy initiatives intended to expand the proportion of Australian students that have faced socioeconomic disadvantage. The chapter synthesises lessons from these distinct domains and comments on their applicability to higher education systems.
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