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Administrative evaluation of the education cooperation programmes of the Nordic Council of Ministers


July 2001 - October 2001


This study carried out between July and October 2001, concerned 10 education and research programmes of the Nordic Council of Ministers (NMR). It represented an "administrative assessment" of these 10 programmes with an aim to deliver recommendations to the NMR on two main sets of questions, namely should the Nordic education programmes be redesigned in order to avoid the overlap with the EU programmes and should the present macro-structures and mechanisms for the administration of these programmes be overhauled. The study consisted of comparative analysis of Nordic and EU programmes, evaluation of the EU experience in programmes administration and reform, and the actual recommendations for the future of the 10 Nordic programmes, which were made in the light of earlier comparative analysis and EU experience.

The study makes a total of 11 recommendations. The first three are related to the future focus of Nordic education support and its relationship with EU funding. The author suggested:

  • to keep the concept of the "Nordisk Nytta" as "open" as possible, and refrain from defining it too narrowly, in order for it to be able to accommodate future policy shifts;
  • to abstain from having its own programme priorities dictated by "third parties", for fear of "overlap" with EU programmes, and by "pulling out" where the EU offers parallel schemes;
  • to continue its support for a wide range of sectors, themes and target groups in education and research (training) in Norden, rather than focus it on narrow fields of particular "Nordic concern".

With regard to the "configuration" of Nordic programmes, recommendation 4 proposes to reduce the present 10 schemes to five programmes, devoted to research training, higher education, school education, adult education and languages respectively. This "modest merger" recommendation includes the integration of separate "regional" schemes (for the Westnordic and Baltic/Northwest Russian areas) into the "mainstream" programmes, without giving up priority attention to these regions.

In recommendation 5 the author discourages considerations to "decentralise" management task to the level of the NMR member states/participating countries. Such decentralisation is not deemed necessary in the culturally and linguistically homogeneous Norden area. Exceptions could be made for "soft" management tasks, such as information, promotion and advice.

Recommendation 6 encourages the NMR to continue with and complete the process of outsourcing programme management to "expert organisations". In line with the proposal for the creation of five programmes, five "agencies" would thus be entrusted with the management of Nordic programmes. Selection of these organisations should be based on tendering procedures. Conflict of interest must be avoided.

Recommendation 7 discourages the introduction of "institutional contract" models, as they were introduced in the Erasmus sub-programme of Socrates. This recommendation is based on the relative failure of the EU experiment to reach its main aim, and the superiority of the network formula, which is now internationally regarded as the state of the art.

Recommendation 8 proposes that five advisory committees should in the future be responsible for supporting the NMR Secretariat in the governance of the programmes, one for each of the new programmes, and that no sub-committees be created for any sub-programmes. Recommendation 9, still on the issue of governance, advises that the role of these committees should be strictly focused on providing advice on policy matters, and that they should abstain from any involvement in programme management as such.

Recommendation 10 proposes to enhance the visibility of the programmes by improving information tools. Expressly endorsing the "unbureaucratic" management style applied in Nordic programmes, the author nevertheless proposes in recommendation 11 the introduction of a few minimum standards to be applied in the administration of all five Nordic programmes, in order to avoid the danger that "lightness" of management oversteps the boundary to intransparency.