Governments pursue their goals by adopting various mixes of policy instruments. This article proposes a specific operationalisation of these mixes and applies it to the analysis of reforms that many Western European governments have pursued, as they have adopted a similar policy design in their higher education systems (HESs) over the last 20 years. In fact, although these policies have similar templates, performance indicators exhibit remarkable variation between countries. Thus, by applying Qualitative Comparative Analysis to a large data set containing all changes in policy instruments undertaken in the last 20 years in 12 HESs in Western Europe, this article explores the possibility that differences in performance across national HESs could be associated – ceteris paribus – with different policy mixes. This article finds not only that the common template has been applied through very different national policy mixes but also that only a few instruments are regularly linked to good teaching performance, regardless of the other components of the actual policy mix.