Norway plans for niche market

June 9, 2000

Greater autonomy, higher quality and more but specialised universities will dominate the future of Norway's higher education sector if the recommendations of a government report are implemented.

The report of the 17-member committee, chaired by Ole Mj?s, former rector of Troms? University, emphasises the need to strengthen quality in teaching and research.

The previous report on Norwegian higher education, prepared a decade ago by Gudmund Hernes, former minister of education and research, said Norway needed no more universities. The Mj?s report reverses that decision.

Although finding no need for more classically-based universities than the existing four, Professor Mj?s recommends "narrow universities operating in a niche, perhaps based on regional needs, such as petroleum or geology".

"Consideration for the students is central," Professor Mj?s said. There will be fierce competition for students in the coming years - and quality in education will be a parameter in attracting them."

The higher quality should help bring study times down - to three or three and a half years for lower degrees and to five years for higher degrees, rather than the current six years, Professor Mj?s said.

The universities should set and maintain quality standards, and this implies greater freedom and responsibility for institutions and less state control, the report says. While it should prepare national policy and strategy, the ministry of education and research should not govern in detail.

Universities should be organised as legal entities but with rectors appointed by the governing body, in which the ministry of education and research should appoint a majority of the members.

The report will go through comprehensive consultations, leading to a bill on higher education in 2001, with possible implementation from 2002.

Minister of education and science Trond Giske said: "I think the will for change has become much greater in the past few years. I am strongly against letting market forces take control - I want control in the hands of the public and the community. That means we must have a flexible system."

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