Big panel split delays reforms in Norway

October 10, 2003

A committee looking into the future of higher education in Norway is so split that it has delayed giving its report to the minister of education by a month.

The ten-member committee, which is chaired by Anders Ryssdal, an Oslo lawyer, cannot agree on the ideology that will underlie tomorrow's universities and university colleges.

Seven members, including Mr Ryssdal, want a model that closely resembles the new Danish system, in which higher education establishments are converted into autonomous foundations with external majorities on the boards of governors, have their rectors appointed rather than elected and are allowed the possibility of charging tuition fees.

Opposing that model are three members, all of whom are from universities.

They want to retain existing structures, although they accept that some amendments are necessary.

The minority believes that a foundation model could run into problems with the rules of the European Economic Area, which govern Norway's relations with the European Union, of which it is not a member.

Because a large part of the foundations' income would still be paid by the state, the committee minority fears that EEA rules would classify this as a state subsidy that hinders free competition with private schools.

The minority members look positively on external governors, but they want no group to have a majority. They fear that an external majority could appoint its own successors or limit recruitment to narrow groups.

The minority oppose full independence for universities and university colleges. The three members think there must be overall political control of the use of resources. They also argue that higher education and research are so vital to society that their administration and development should not be left to free-market forces.

The committee's minority believes that private higher education should continue to be regarded as a supplement to the public system and not placed on an equal footing. Although most on the committee want universities and university colleges to have a limited right to charge tuition fees, the minority say it is vital to retain the principle that basic education is free, but they say state institutions should be allowed to charge for non-basic education.

In their report, given to the minister in late September, the committee members all agree that universities and university colleges must have complete freedom in teaching and subjects. New legislation covering Norway's universities and university colleges is unlikely to take effect before mid-2005.

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