More research, but it must be world-class – Minister

Two reports, on the status of higher education and on research, were discussed at a sector conference last Wednesday held by Norway’s Ministry of Education and Research. Minister Torbjørn Røe Isaksen said he was encouraged by an increase in investment and 12,000 more researchers than a decade ago – but universities needed to produce globally-rated research.

It was the first such meeting arranged by the current Conservative-Populist coalition government, which took over last year after eight years of a social democratic led coalition.

In their election campaigns the currently ruling parties constantly stressed that higher education and research would be a priority area in government, and a record 370 participants from across the country attended the conference.

What the minister said

“Much is positive with regard to Norwegian higher education and research,” Minister Isaksen told the participants. “There is a 16% real income increase in investments over the last decade, and there are 12,000 more researchers than 10 years ago.”

There was a ‘but’, however, “and that is if we get value for money from our investments.

“Researchers produce more articles than before, but these are not cited on the same level as articles produced in Denmark, The Netherlands and Sweden.

“Also, we are satisfied that there is an increase of 50% of foreign researchers in Norway at our universities and colleges and a 96% increase in the industry sector. This means that Norway increasingly is becoming more attractive for foreign researchers.”

But it was worrisome, Isaksen said, “that the Research Barometer demonstrates that there is no scientific field where a Norwegian institution is ranked top among the Nordic countries. This is one example among several others that we are not in front when competing on quality.

“There is no natural reason why this should be the case, even if there are several ways to explain this fact. If we are going to improve quality, we will have to make some priorities.”

Isaksen said a strategy document the government was working on would identify five to six priority research areas. If Norway was to succeed and be a country among the top in research, it would have to concentrate resources on areas that had potential.

Sector snapshot

The new Status of Higher Education report has chapters on education, PhD training, research, internationalisation, university museums, international collaboration, human resources, the economy and an international profile.

The Research Barometer (Norwegian only) compared Norway’s research performance with ‘reference countries’ including Denmark, Finland, The Netherlands, Sweden and Austria, and included a special analysis of mobility.

The two reports presented a very detailed picture of Norwegian higher education and research, including that:
  • • Norway had 33 public higher education institutions in 2013, including eight universities, and 23 private institutions.
  • • There was a total of 33,006 staff and a total budget of NOK34.6 billion (US$5.9 billion).
  • • There were 233,000 students in Norway in 2013, up 22% since 2007. Among them, 11.6% were immigrants or children of immigrants, an increase from 7.8% since 2004.
  • • Altogether, 37,420 degrees were awarded.
  • • The number of international exchange students grew from 3,467 in 2004 to 6,628 in 2014, a 91% rise. The number of Norwegian exchange students was 5,698.
  • • In 2013, 21,000 foreign students were registered for a full degree in Norway.
  • • There were 1,524 doctoral graduates in 2013, twice as many as 10 years ago.
  • • There has been a sharp increase in foreign citizens, especially in technological fields where they comprise 65% of graduates.
  • • Average time-to-degree is still long: 63% of those admitted in 2007 had graduated by 2013.
  • • Generally, students spend too much time on degrees. Among bachelor students admitted in 2010, 43% had completed their degree in 2013, 39% had not and 17.8% had dropped out. There is a significantly better completion rate at university colleges – 53% compared to 32.3% at universities. At Oslo the completion rate was 29.2% and at Bergen 36.5%.
  • • Among masters students, 36% who started in 2009 completed on time, and after four years two-thirds had graduated, 24% had dropped out and 9% were still studying.
  • • There were 1,200 bachelor courses offered in 2013 and 1,000 masters courses.
  • • The number of international joint degrees increased from 23 in 2010 to 43 in 2013, and there was a strong increase in courses taught in English.
Innovation and experience

A number of presentations were delivered at the conference.

Among the speakers was Erkki Ormala, now a professor of innovation at Aalto University in Helsinki and former CEO of Nokia, who talked about what makes research institutions attractive to a global company, and the benefits of the interplay.

Ormala stressed the importance of practical experience during PhD training, and said Aalto University had built innovation into its doctoral programmes. Students are able to spend a week of their studies in California, visiting companies and universities.

He said the PhD innovation programme at Aalto had an optional 10-credit course that imparted skills such as teamwork and multidisciplinary training, and students were required to produce academic articles in these areas as a part of the thesis requirements.

Ormala said Israel could serve as a role model for how a country should go about training PhD students in innovation. “Israel is connected to all major companies in the world.”

“When I was director of Nokia and received delegations from all over the world, the Israeli delegations had a different approach compared to the others, often opening their visit with: ‘We have analysed your company activities, and we have found that you have these X and Y problems. We have the following proposals for solving these problems’.”