Research interests

Klemenčič's research spans several areas within sociology and politics of higher education, and is mostly international comparative and or focused on European higher education. Please see relevant publications listed in the subpages. 

Student agency and the impact of students on college: through politics and service

The study of higher education impact on students has been one of the most prolific subfields in sociology of higher education and explores variety of ways that higher education influences student outcomes measured as learning outcomes, graduation rates, employability, etc. Yet, this entire field of research ignores the fact that student too have impact on their colleges and universities. Klemenčič corrects this one sided view by introducing theory of student agency as students’ capabilities to intervene in and influence their own learning pathways and educational environments. 

Klemenčič applies this theory to investigating student voice in university quality (see The student voice in quality assessment and improvement (2018) and Student involvement in quality enhancement (2015)) and student agency and actorhood in student centered learning and teaching (see Students as Actors and Agents in Student-Centred Higher Education (2020)). Klemenčič's proposition of student impact on higher education, covers five distinct yet interrelated domains of students excercising their agency: through representation (ie.,student representative associations, such as student governments, unions, councils), through activism, through voluntary service on campus (such as leadership of student groups), through student campus employment  (see 2020 Springer encyclopedia entry Student campus employees) and through consumer signalling and behaviour. Klemenčič introduces the concept of student administrators,  that is, students who daily cross the boundary of merely being students and recipients of university services to participate in university programming and operations (see SAGE entry Student activism and student organizations (2020)). 

Much of Klemenčič's research has been devoted to the study of contemporary student politics (see her edited special issue and lead article Student power in a global perspective and contemporary trends in student organising. Studies in Higher Education (2014)), and in collaboration with Thierry Luesher and James Jowi in African context (see edited book  Student Politics in Africa: Representation and Activism (2016) and special issue Student Power in Africa (2015)). Her foremost interest in student politics is on student representation in higher education governance and the characteristics of student governments as part of higher education politics. Klemenčič is first to have theorized student governments in the special issue she edited and the lead article Student Representation in Western Europe (2012). She further developed theories of student governments in the encyclopedia entries on this topic as well in article Transnational student associations in the European multilevel governance of higher education policies (with Fernando Galan, former president of the European Students' Union).


Student centred learning and teaching

Klemenčič has investigated European policies and practices on SCLT both analyzing the theoretical underpinnings of policies and offering prescriptive advice. She introduced the concept of student centered learning and teaching ecosystems at the keynote talk during the 20th Anniversary Conference of the Bologna Process (in June 2019). With Sabine Hoidn, Klemenčič further developed the framework and published it as a conclusion to their co-edited Routledge International Handbook of Student Centered Learning and Teaching in Higher Education (Routledge July 2020). Klemenčič and Hoidn (2020) argue that 'SCLT processes are embedded in and enabled by broader institutional (and national and supranational) environments that consist of a variety of components and related elements – both human and material. These components and elements, [...], constitute student-centered ecosystems (SCEs). SCEs are defined as culturally sensitive, flexible and interactive systems of SCLT in higher education which exist both within higher education institutions and in higher education systems'. So the change from the teacher-centered to student-centered paradigm does not involve only a change in classroom practices, but rather conceiving and working on the number of elemnets that constitute the institutional (or system) student-centered ecosystem. The student centred ecosystems framework is also the backbone to the analytical report commissioned by the European Commission and co-authored with  Mantis Pupinis and Greta Kirdulytė and published in May 2020 by NESET, an international advisory network to the European Commission and the Publications Office of the European Union. 

SCLT ecosystem

Klemenčič argues that shift to student centred learning and teaching in higher education has to focus on student agency as student capabilities to take responsibility for their learning and to influence their learning environments and learning pathways. This proposition corrects the existing theoretical underpinnings of policies on SCLT in higher education which are based on studnet engagement. Klemenčič analyzes the theoretical underpinnings of EHEA (European Higher Education Area)  higher education policies and corrects the conceptual bases on which they are based in her article From student engagement to student agency: conceptual considerations of European policies on student-centered learning in higher education (2017). Furthermore she conceptually advances the conceptions of student agency and actorhood in SCLT with some prescriptive advice in a chapter Students as Actors and Agents in Student-Centred Higher Education in the Routledge Handbook (2020). 

The conception of students as actors presupposes student agency which refers to students’ capabilities to actively participate in the learning-teaching processes and the design and implementation of the learning environments. In line with this definition, this chapter analyses student agency in SCLT in two distinct, yet interrelated domains. First, in line with constructivist education theories, the chapter explores issues of students’ autonomy, power relations between teachers and students and students’ responsibilities in learning and teaching processes in classroom environments. Second, drawing on perspectives from neo-institutional theories and HE politics, the chapter analyses student agency in institutional governance and administration of SCLT by exploring the concepts of power relations between students and institutional decision-makers/administrators, students’ sense of agency in and student impact on SCLT. Student agency is one of the central tenets of the contemporary scholarship on student-centered education and this chapter elaborates and advances the conceptions of student agency and actorhood in SCLT. The chapter also introduces a novel perspective on students as agents to bring about change in institutional strategies and culture toward more student-centeredness, a view that has so far been neglected in scholarship.


Civic role of higher education

In research on civic role of universities, Klemenčič has  focused mostly on education function preparing students for citizenship and civic engagement. Klemenčič argues that to develop students' civic agency and dispositions for active citizenship and civic involvement two measures are needed. One is to build-in these topics and create connections to real-world problems in examples as part of the existing course offer when possible (as opposed to offering civics courses). Another is for universities and colleges to behave as sites of citizenship and civic involvement. Through practices of student representation in decision-making and offering opportunities to students for public service on campus, colleges and universities enable student university citizenship. Through representative and service roles students not only learn how to enact their civic agency, but by doing so their sense of belonging to the home institution and their sense of ownership of their institution strenghten. Both are important for student wellbeing and well-functioning as students. 


Institutional research - quality assurance in higher education

Klemenčič has examined the role of students in quality assurance in European context and theoretical underpinnings of such involvement. In the 2018 chapter The student voice in quality assessment and improvement, Klemenčič argues that the trend in liberal higher education has been to afford students enhanced capabilities to intervene in their higher education environments, especially in quality assessment, accountability and performance. According to liberal values of modern Western societies, agentic individuals – their choices and capabilities - are central to political democracy, open market economy and cultural freedom and such liberal values have gradually diffused into domains of education. Consequently, the role of students in higher education (HE) practice and research has been revised. For liberal educational approaches, students are central in three ways. First, HE is expected to prepare students to become agentic individuals. To this end, progressive pedagogical practices, which entail active learning activities, have been put in use. Furthermore, students’ extracurricular engagements have become integrated into the expanded notions of HEIs’ responsibility over student experiences. Second, understanding students - their attitudes, preferences, capabilities, and behaviours - is becoming a vital task for HE professionals. Data on students feeds into multiple decision processes at different levels of HE governance. Third, as more countries are adapting liberal education, students are constructing new roles, and new types of authority in HE governance. The relationships at the heart of HE are being redefined: between students and HE teachers, students and HE administrators, as well as between students and the state. Klemenčič analyzes the areas and pathways for student involvement in promoting quality investigating both the rationales and student motivations for such involvement. She also addresses controversies related to student involvement in quality: acceptance of students as “peers”, tokenistic involvement of students in decision processes, and the “domestication” of students. In the 2015 chapter The student voice in quality assessment and improvement, Klemenčič explores the institutional conditions and organizational culture that shape student agency in structures and processes towards quality enhancement. The framework Klemenčič develops present a shift from the traditional focus on how colleges and universities can assure educational quality to how students are co-responsible for and contribute to the wellbeing and advancement of their colleges and universities. Klemenčič also researched the characteristics of the institutional research/quality assurance in the context of Central European countries. Especially she explored the diffusion of European policies to national and institutional contexts as well as institutional path dependencies and  national systemic legacies that have impaired such diffusion. 


Higher education reforms in the Western Balkans


From 2010 to 2012, Klemenčič was engaged in a research project “Differentiation, Equity, Productivity: the social and economic consequences of expanded and differentiated higher education systems - internationalisation perspective” (PI Professor Pavel Zgaga), which focused on higher education reforms in the Western Balkans. Through the analytical lens of diffusion theories, she has examined the impact of European policy initiatives and instruments on changes in higher education policies and institutional practices in Western Balkans. Through this theoretical lens, she has investigated – usually by comparing several countries in the region - questions of institutional differentiation, institutional research, conditions of academic work, internationalisation, private-public higher education and student representation in university governance. 


Academic profession and conditions of academic work

Klemenčič has been a member of the Slovenian research team within the Global Network on Academic Profession in Knowledge Societies (APIKS), which is a continuation of decades long international comparative research on Changing Academic Profession (CAP). The national teams are conducting system-wide surveys of academic staff based on a generic questionnaire. The Slovenian team conducted a system-wide survey in 2013 and 2018. 

Internationalization of higher education


Klemenčič proposes a framework for integrated international engagements arguing that that multiple layers of international cooperation are more effective as international cooperation in only one area, such as research or joint degree programmes. 


Higher education developments in Europe 


New research agendas

- Alternative higher education

- Student administrators and other student campus employees