Résumé : In this paper we compare the institutional evolution of the higher education systems in France and England from 1980 onwards. These two systems are interesting case-studies as they correspond to two topical opposite positions in terms of their elaborative structures : the French system was originally centralised whereas the English model was decentralised. The optimal way to reform higher education systems is different in both cases (and easier in a decentralised setting due to the noncooperative behaviour of higher education institutions). We show that England faced a centralising movement (especially since 1988) whereas in France a decentralising movement was a precondition for effective reforms. In a long run perspective there seems to be some convergence between the 2 models as well as institutional change.