Higher Education in Scandinavia: A Case Study

Jørgen Lerche Nielsen, Lars Birch Andreasen

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Higher education systems around the world have been undergoing fundamental changes through the last 50 years from more narrow self-sustaining universities for the elite and into mass universities, where new groups of students have been recruited and the number of students enrolled has increased dramatically. As the general level of education in society is growing, universities are adjusting to the role of being a mass educational institution. Universities have been challenged on how to cope with various external pressures, such as forces of globalization and international markets, increased national and international competition for students and research grants, increased pressure to become more efficient economically and regarding students’ length of studies. These various pressures can be seen as expressions of national policy changes from more democratic governance towards new public management principles. In this chapter we will examine how higher education systems in Scandinavia are developing in relation to these challenges. To what extent has the democratic tradition had an impact on the educational systems, and what possible futures can be envisioned?

In the development of higher education in Scandinavia, there are different perspectives on education at play. One perspective sees education as a “public good” that benefits society and therefore should be free and accessible for all students who qualify to be admitted. According to this perspective, one of the main purposes of higher education is to add value to all students, so they can contribute to society. Within the framework of the Scandinavian welfare state, this model has prevailed in the organization of education, health care, and social services.

Another perspective sees education as mainly an “individual investment”, and therefore students should pay for attending their education. According to this perspective, one of the main purposes of higher education is instead to select the best among the students, in order to sharpen their market value. The notions of competitiveness and individualism play an important role here. In some of the recent reforms in Scandinavia, as well as in the recommendations of the Danish Productivity Commission (2013), we see this second perspective prevailing.

Even though the current reforms seem to point towards this second perspective and towards principles of new public management, the Scandinavian countries still have educational systems where higher education as a basis is free of tuition fees, students are supported with study grants, and people generally have access to education. The massive diversification of educational institutions during the 20th century, which also provided local access to education, is currently replaced by a process of centralization of higher education and fusions of existing institutions. The rate of participation in higher education is however still growing, supporting the possibility of social mobility, when students from families without traditions of education enter the higher education system. It remains to be seen, in the light of the possible new reforms, whether this development will continue.
TitelDemocratizing Higher Education : International Comparative Perspectives
RedaktørerPatrick Blessinger, John P. Anchan
Antal sider19
UdgivelsesstedNew York
Publikationsdato25 mar. 2015
ISBN (Trykt)9781138020948, 9781138020955
StatusUdgivet - 25 mar. 2015

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