The growing corporatisation of universities in northern Europe has frozen to a halt in Norway, where academics and students are claiming a rare victory in the fight against managerialism.
Iselin Nybø, the country’s minister of research and higher education, announced last week that she was shelving plans proposed last January to introduce a corporate model for universities, under which institutions would have full financial autonomy and would be overseen by boards empowered to appoint rectors (currently elected by staff and students), who would have responsibility for the long-term development of the institution.
Bjørn Stensaker, director of the Centre for Learning, Innovation and Academic Development at the University of Oslo, said that the proposals would have seen universities “organised like a private company” and that there were fears that such a model could have paved the way for the introduction of tuition fees.
Norway’s move bucks a trend that has seen several countries, including Denmark and Finland, transform public universities into self-governing institutions that are overseen by boards including external stakeholders and that enjoy greater financial autonomy.
Giosuè Baggio, professor of psycholinguistics at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, added that academics were concerned by developments in the Netherlands, where the granting of greater financial flexibility had allowed universities to take out loans, leading to high levels of debt at some institutions.
The shelved plans constituted the second attempt to introduce a corporate governance model for higher education in Norway. The first was in 2003, but the idea was abandoned after huge protests from academics outside parliament.
Malcolm Langford, professor of public law at Oslo, said he believed that a campaign from academics and students, including a petition with 3,500 signatures from scholars, was the “dominant reason” why the proposal was dropped this time around too, particularly given that the Liberal party – which is part of the coalition government – draws heavily on support and votes from these groups.
“I think there was a worry that, if they didn’t listen to the voices of staff and students, they could suffer the same fate as the Liberal Democrats [in the UK],” he said.
Professor Langford added that Norway benefited from having been in a position to “learn from other [countries’] experiences and then have a real debate over whether we wanted that experience or not”.
The fact that Norway’s higher education sector had previously been successful in campaigning against the policy and therefore had a “model for mobilisation” was another factor in defeating the proposals, he added.
However, Professor Baggio cautioned academics against celebrating too soon.
“Even if a corporate model is never adopted in Norway, the ministry and some high officials in the largest universities seem to want to grant greater financial flexibility to universities anyway,” he said.
A report from a working group that was established by the government to look into the corporate model “does not say that we do not want greater flexibility or that that is dangerous but that that can be done within the current framework”, he said.
Print headline: ‘Corporate’ universities on ice
Register to continue
Get a month's unlimited access to THE content online. Just register and complete your career summary.
Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:
- Sign up for the editor's highlights
- Receive World University Rankings news first
- Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
- Participate in reader discussions and post comments
Or subscribe for unlimited access to:
- Unlimited access to news, views, insights & reviews
- Digital editions
- Digital access to THE’s university and college rankings analysis
- Unrestricted access to the UK and global edition of the THE app on IOS, Android and Kindle Fire
Already registered or a current subscriber? Sign in now