Tag: Norway

Guest blogger: Higher Education Learning Outcomes – do they matter?


Hanne Kvilhaugsvik (University of Bergen)

Hanne Kvilhaugsvik is a PhD Candidate in the Department of Administration and Organization Theory, University of Bergen. Her research interests are organizational change in universities, governmental steering of higher education, and university governance. Her PhD project explores how learning outcomes and criteria of relevance for the labor market are used to evaluate and steer higher education in Norway and Denmark. This blog post is based on material from her master’s thesis in Administration and Organization Theory from 2015.

By the end of 2012, Norwegian higher education institutions were required to introduce written descriptions of the intended learning outcomes for each and every course unit and study program, in every discipline. Learning outcomes are connected with qualifications frameworks, the Bologna process, and the OECD, and have therefore been introduced throughout Europe during the last couple of years. So, what happens to higher education institutions when learning outcomes are introduced? Do they improve the quality of education and provide transparency, or are they simply formal requirements?

What are learning outcomes?

Learning outcomes can be defined as: “[…] written statement[s] of what the successful student/learner is expected to be able to do at the end of the module/course unit, or qualification.” (Adam, 2004: 5). In pedagogy, learning outcomes have been connected to a paradigm-shift “from teaching to learning” or “from input to output”. The recommendation is to use expected learning outcomes as a starting point for planning course units and study programs (Biggs and Tang, 2011). This is described in contrast to planning based on traditional input factors, such as reading list and content descriptions.

Learning outcomes can be understood as administrative tools or formalities. However, they have increasingly been described and promoted as instruments for reform and change (Lassnigg, 2012; Bjørnåvold and Coles, 2007). There is no shortage of goals for using learning outcomes: To improve the quality of education, provide transparency, ensure relevant qualifications for the labor market, and provide better opportunities to steer education. Learning outcomes can therefore be understood in connection with New Public Management ideas, and especially with ideas of reforming higher education towards more ‘complete organizations’ (Brunsson and Sahlin-Anderson, 2000). While learning outcomes have been studied much within pedagogy, there has been less research on learning outcomes as political instruments or policy tools (Souto-Otero, 2012). It is therefore interesting to study how learning outcomes are introduced and defined as instruments in higher education.

A case study on learning outcomes in higher education 

Norway: expert group suggesting the introduction of contracts

norwayflagIn April 2014, the Norwegian ministry of education set up a new expert group to examine the funding system in Norwegian higher education. At the time, we also interviewed professor Bjørn Stensaker who is a member of this expert group, and he highlighted that “one of the main aims of the Commission is to look into how quality within the sector can be fostered through the funding system.

The mandate of the expert group was to:

  • stimulate devlopment of quality in education and research
  • contribute to a diversified sector (division of labour and profiles)
  • contribute to cooperation with society and industry
  • provide strategic room to maneuver for the institutions while making them accountable for results
  •  contribute to cost-effective resource use
  • provide stability and predictability for the institutions
  • create incentives for competition in European arenas and strenghten international coperation

On January 7th, the commission delivered the report to the ministry, with a set of recommendations rgarding the funding system. The report gave an evaluation of the current funding system, as well as a set of recommendations for the future.

The report highlights that in principle, the system is of appropriate size, as there is low unemployment rates amongst the graduates, and the match between graduate profiles and labour market needs is in general rather good, with some exceptions. One problem where there has not been significant improvements in the last ten years is system efficiency, and the report highlights persistent dropout rates as an indication of this. Regarding research, there has been considerable increases in output – both in terms of publications and in terms of completed PhD degrees. The sector has become more international, both in terms of education and research. A key concern highlighted in the report is the fragmentation of the system with many small environments, while institutions have become more alike, and the report argues that this can be linked to the framework conditions and funding system that creates similar incentives for all institutions. 

Student blogger: Tuition fees for non-EU/EEA students in Norway – who will bear the brunt of it?

Hedda master student Ammar Bahadur Singh

Hedda master student
Ammar Bahadur Singh

These days, Norwegian government is discussing the new national budget where a number of changes have been proposed. One of the proposed changes has been the introduction of tuition fees to non-EU/EEA students. While we are waiting for the decision, one of Hedda master students, Ammar Bahadur Singh has examined some of the implications of such fees for students from developing countries. 

Following the footsteps of its closest neighbors, Norwegian government in its state budget of 2015 proposed to introduce tuition fees for international students outside the EU/EEA and Switzerland. If implemented, it would directly affect the students mainly from developing countries, rather the students from other countries like the US, the UK, Canada, Australia, etc.  Denmark introduced tuition fees in 2006, Sweden in 2011, Finland in 2010 on a trial basis and the trial period is coming to an end this year, Norwegian conservative government is struggling harder to impose tuition despite strong opposition from student communities, and Iceland has not taken any initiatives in this regard, though all students must pay and annual administration fee of approximately £350.

Nordic countries are known as the front-runners in advocating, promoting and protecting the principles of equity and equality in the world, but the provision of tuition fees only for students outside EU/EEA and Switzerland goes against their own principle of equity and equality of opportunities. Why has Norway proposed to impose discriminatory provision of tuition fees?  What is the rationale behind it? If it is a business, why does the same principle not apply to all students (domestic and international) as it is in the US, the UK, Canada, etc.?

The Norwegian government led by conservative party proposed the tuition fees soon after it came into power in 2013. The parliament strongly rejected it. This year the same government has also put forward the same proposal for imposing tuition fees for international students outside EU/EEA and Switzerland. Students’ parliaments, many universities professors, international students’ union (ISU), etc. have strongly opposed the proposal saying that it would jeopardize the principle of free education, which is the cornerstone of the development of welfare state. The proposal is the blatant violation of this principle. They argue that the introduction of tuition fees is the first step of introducing tuition fees for all as the Netherlands, Ireland and the UK has done and that finally, no one will get free education.

However, the conservative circles of politicians and student wings supporting them have put forward some arguments in support of their proposal for imposing tuition fees for international students. They argue that their closest neighbors have already introduced tuition fees and they don’t want international students out EU/EEA coming to Norway simply because of cost-free education, but for quality education. Second, the provision of free education can lead to a degradation of quality and introduction of tuition fees will ensure quality in higher education. Third, why should Norwegian taxpayers subsidize international students who pay tuition fees back home and in other countries for higher education?  Fourth, they are attempting to limit the meaning of the long standing political consensus for free higher education only to Norwegian students, not for others.

News: Low unemployment amongst Norwegian Master graduates

logo_en_graa-300x120New data from a NIFU report suggests that nine out of ten of Norwegian Masters degree graduates are at work six months after graduation. The data was compiled based on a nation wide survey of Masters degree candidates six months after graduation where main focus was put on the transfer from education to work. The main findings from the report are summarised in the following key points:

In general, there are few changes in the employability and unemployment amongst graduates is 6,8%. While there are generally minor differences in the general unemployment rates of new graduates, the group where unemployment had risen more than others,  was those in economic-administrative disciplines. Furthermore, despite for continuous calls for more education in natural sciences that has been prominent in Norwegian public debate in recent years, the report indicated that those with a background in natural sciences have a rather high unemployment level (9,6%), while unemployment is on below average level for those with engineering degrees (6%).

There has been a substantial growth in the number of masters degrees in Norway between 2003 and 2013, and there has been a debate on what has been termed “Masters Disease” (Mastersyke) in Norwegian media, where a core argument has been that Norwegian higher education educates too many with Masters degrees and that this kind of over-education has adverse effects on the labour market. However, the NIFU report does not suggest that there has been an increase in the mismatch between labour market needs and graduate educational levels, and this is in fact relevant for all disciplinary fields. There is indeed a certain number of Masters degree candidates working on positions where a bachelors degree would sufficient. At the same time, what is notable is that the share of these graduates has not increased despite a substantial increase of Masters degree candidates in recent years. As such, the report does not confirm the anecdotal stories of candidates with masters degrees working in low-skilled work where no higher education is not required, suggesting that the labour market and educational structure in Norway is  different than what one can find in countries such as the US.

Interview with Prof. B. Stensaker about his new appointment in a national expert group

Professor Bjørn Stensaker  (HEIK, University of Oslo)

Professor Bjørn Stensaker
(HEIK, University of Oslo)

Bjørn Stensaker is a Professor of Higher Education at the University of Oslo and is also involved in the Hedda Master programme in higher education with teaching and supervision of students. He is also a member of the research group HEIK (Higher Education: Institutional dynamics and knowledge cultures)

Recently, he was appointed to a newly founded expert  group in Norway that will examine the funding structure of higher education and advise the Minister on future developments. The Commission is led by Torbjørn Hægeland and it will deliver their conclusions by the end of the year. On this occasion, we asked Bjørn about his thoughts related to the new appointment and his evaluation on the current state of affairs in Norwegian higher education. 

You have newly been appointed to the national commission that will look into the funding system of HE in Norway. Could you tell a little what the role and mandate for the group will be?

Well, it is still early days, and it should be underlined that the Commission haven’t had its forst meeting yet. However, the Minister has been quite clear that one of the main aims of the Commission is to look into how quality within the sector can be fostered through the funding system. This would imply a shift from the current system which is more emphasising productivity/efficiency.

In your opinion, what are some of the core issues in Norway that highlight the need for re-examining the funding system?

Guest blogger: Internationalisation of higher education in Norway – towards strategic partnerships and alliances

dr. Jennifer R. Olson  (University of Oslo)

dr. Jennifer R. Olson
(University of Oslo)

This guest entry is written by dr. Jennifer R. Olson who is currently employed as a post-doctoral fellow at the Faculty of Educational Sciences, University of Oslo, the hosting institution of Hedda. In this post, she reflects on some of the recent trends in internationalization of higher education in Norway, following a nation wide conference on the topic.  

Internationalization of higher education in Norway is clearly a priority area for many higher education institutions and organizations as the third annual “internationalization conference”, held 5-6 March 2014 in Trondheim, underscored. More than 500 participants from the Norwegian higher education sector attend the conference organized by the Norwegian Centre for International Cooperation in Education (SIU) in cooperation with the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU).

The title of the conference, “Strategiske Partnerskap og Allianser” (strategic partnerships and alliances) focused the presentations and discussions on a key theme running through much of the current internationalization of higher education discourse.

In many countries, including Norway, and international organizations (i.e. the European Unions’ Erasmus + program) the notion of strategic partnerships and alliances indicates a new direction for internationalization, namely to be more specific and active with particular programs and countries, and organized at an institutional (rather than individual faculty or department) level.  This perspective was supported by the new Minister of Education, Torbjorn Røe Isaksen. In his opening speech, Isaksen, highlighted the importance of strategic internationalization, emphasizing key partners: Europe and North America and the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) countries. The growing attention given to partnerships with the BRICS countries draws questions as to why should countries focus on the BRICS but as well signals internationalization is aligning with other national interests.  Indeed, Isaksen stated that there is a global power shift where the BRICS countries are becoming increasingly important and Norway needs to keep abreast with these trends. As such the government is in the initial stages of developing a national strategy to engage with the BRICS countries. Moreover, in 2012 the Ministry of Education asked SIU to strengthen the knowledge base for policy development and cooperation with the BRICS countries. The comparative study devised by SIU and carried out in 2013 looked at how Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Germany and the Netherlands organize their cooperation with the BRICS countries. One key impression that emerged, according to SIU project leader Arne Haugen, was that many of these countries have clearer goals for what they want to achieve as compared to Norway. The targets are primarily related to national economic interests.

Norwegian students generally satisfied with their studies

norwayflagThe Norwegian Quality Assurance Agency (NOKUT) has launched a new nation wide student survey regarding students’ satisfaction. This is the first national survey of this kind in Norway and will now be repeated on a yearly basis. The responses this year came from about 17 600 students from 58 universities and university colleges in Norway, with a response rate of about 32%.

The central results from the survey indicated that Norwegian students are in general satisfied with their studies. On the question whether they are satisfied, 77% gave a respons that they were satisfied and only 8% indicated that they were not satisfied (1 and 2 on a scale of 5). Amongst professionally oriented programmes, nurse and kindergarten teacher education are those with a highest levels of satisfaction. On the other hand, teacher education students are generally more critical. Students also rank highly the relevance of their studies for future employment (81% indicate a high rank) and how academically challenging their studies are (86% indicate a high rank).

While there was general satisfaction amongst the students, this was contrasted with the fact that only half of the students were happy with the teaching and even fewer with the feedback they receive. For instance, 59% of the political science students are unhappy with supervision and feedback.

New Norwegian government announcing changes in the higher education system

norwayflagIn October 2013, Norway got a new coalition government formed by the Conservatives and the Progress Party after eight years of a social democrat government. In the area of higher education, a number of ideas have already been put forward, and the prime minister has also recently stated clearly that issues related to the knowledge society and knowledge politics are amongst the most important ones for this new government.

Until recently, Norwegian university colleges could apply for university status if they fulfilled certain criteria. This led to the development of a number of new universities in Norway, most recently University of Nordland that gained its university status in 2011. However, for the time being there is an informal cap on the process and it is not likely any new universities would be approved at this point. Earlier, the government has also announced that they would examine the consequences of introducing student fees for foreign students, but their coalition partners have worked hard to stop that process.

In august 2013, shortly before the elections, a Commission had been appointed to examine the funding system in Norwegian higher education, led by Professor Fanny Duckert from University of Oslo. That Commission was disbanded shortly after the new minister was appointed. The argument was that while there is a need to re-examine the funding structures, this should also be seen in the context of the policy objectives of the new government.

The new minister of education, Torbjørn Røe Isaksen launched a seven point plan earlier this week on the visions of the current government for Norwegian higher education in the upcoming years. These include

Professionally oriented Masters Programmes give a clear advantage on the labour market

businessA new Norwegian study by NIFU has examined labour market conditions for Norwegian Masters degree holders three years after degree completion. The key finding is that those with a more profession-oriented degree have clear advantages on the labour market. Norway is known for its generally low unemployment rate, even in the context of current global economic crisis where especially youth unemployment has been increasing in a number of countries to record levels.

Recent prognosis for Norway is an estimated unemployment rate of 4,6% by 2016, with current estimates being around 3,6%. This suggest a rather different labour market context than in the rest of the world, and provides an interesting case for examining how students perceive their own options and capacities on the labour market when the conditions are rather stable.

The results from the study suggest that a Masters degree definitely pays off. Nearly 99% of the graduates were active on the labour market three years after graduation.  However – this was not in all cases stable employment, as the graduates also reported some periods of unemployment. The report suggests that this is due to the fact that many graduates do struggle to find relevant employment and the transfer from studies to work-life is not always smooth. Furthermore, the disciplinary differences were very clear. Where psychology and engineering graduates in fact often were headhunted to their first positions, those with humanities and social sciences background had to use more time to find a job.

News: World University Rankings 2012-2013 published last week

timesLast week the most recent set of World University Rankings was published. So, the top 10 includes Caltech, Oxford, Stanford, Harvard, MIT, Princeton, Cambridge, Imperial College of London, UC Berkeley, and Chicago. In essence the same list than last year with just Oxford and Stanford changing their places. The first non-US/non-UK institution was ETZ Zürich on 12th place.

The best Asian university was University of Tokyo on 27th, and THE editor Phil Baty featured in his analysis Alan Ruby who argued that there is a general rise of Asian universities in the list, likely to be linked to the austerity measures in Western universities and the focus on excellence in a number of Asian countries which now is paying off. However, another analysis indicates that the good or better positioning in rankings is not indicative of increasing quality across Asia – for instance in the case of India there is a clear differentiation in terms of institutions and the few highly selective institutions provide few spillovers to the whole system.

The best Nordic university is Karolinska on 42nd place. In Norway, nation wide media wrote about the University of Oslo rising some 17 places – where the rector is commenting how this rise is due to a long term efforts to raise research quality. Odd words after last years “dramatic fall” – which was just as many places down. This indicates that in a two year perspective the position is about the same. But in those  two years this has created two kinds of news – the dedication to research and results on the one hand, and the dramatic fall on the other hand. And one can of course question how many changes there really have been over two years. But one could argue that University of Oslos concerns about falling under the 200 list can be seen as quite grounded in some kind of public perception, considering how the group under 200 in the THE analysis is calledthe best of the rest” or as “they might be giants…or were“.