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Quality, robustness and efficiency: Norway’s higher education reforms

Norway’s higher education sector will undergo a transformation in the coming months and years. A series of reforms, which began last March, will affect everything from the number of higher education institutions in the country to the length of teacher training programmes. In the first place, at least 14 of Norway’s universities and university colleges will be merged into five, bringing down the total of higher education institutions in the country to a maximum of 24. This bold move is reminiscent of the 1994 mergers, which successfully reduced Norway’s then 98 higher education institutions to 26. Further, teacher training programmes will be extended to five years, so that every new teacher will hold a master’s degree. Thirdly, the heads of universities’ governing boards will be appointed by the ministry, from outside each university (at present, the university rector is chair of the board and can be elected by staff—a model that has set Norway apart from its fellow Nordic countries). Lastly, academic quality control of masters and doctoral courses will transferred to NOKUT, a national quality assurance body running under more direct control of the ministry. 
Minister of Education and Research Torbjørn Røe Isaksen declared that “the time is now ripe for [these reforms]”. The mergers, he said, would bring about “robustness” to the higher education system and lessen its current “fragmentation”. Currently, too many small programmes with little demand are having trouble attracting qualified staff. They produce little research and cannot compete on an international level. The reforms, centred on a strategy of “quality, robustness and efficiency,” are meant to turn the situation around and boost Norway’s standing in the international academic arena. 
The financial details of the reforms and their impact on institutional budgets will not be known until the government’s budget for 2016 is presented in October. It is to be hoped that the cost of the reforms will not be used to justify and further push for the introduction of university tuition fees for international students, a project the Conservatives (in government) have long supported. Along with Iceland and Finland, Norway continues to offer free higher education to students from outside the EU, while Sweden and Denmark have in recent years introduced fees for foreign students. 
Government of Norway (in Norwegian)