Higher education reshuffle ahead of elections

As of Monday, Sweden’s new university chancellor will be Professor Harriet Wallberg, Minister for Education Jan Björklund announced at a press conference last week. Her appointment is seen as part of a sectoral shuffle ahead of general elections on 1 August.

University Chancellor Wallberg will be in charge of the Swedish Higher Education Authority and its 90 staff members.

She will replace Lars Haikola, who is about to begin new work as a special advisor to the Ministry of Education and Research on the structure of higher education, including the role of massive open online courses – MOOCs – and digital strategies for the future.

Haikola has started a debate on how to finance higher education in Sweden in the coming years, drawing some of the attention away from Wallberg’s agenda.

Harriet Wallberg was vice-chancellor of the Karolinska Institute from 2004 to 2013, and is a member of the Nobel committee at Karolinska, selecting Nobel laureates in medicine and physiology. She is also a member of the country’s Globalisation Council.

She told a press conference that she would work to strengthen higher education quality and Sweden’s position internationally, and to forge new forms of cooperation between universities and the Swedish Higher Education Authority.

For the first six months she will also continue work on the qualification evaluation system, and will try to have recommendations ready by the end of this year.

Kåre Bremer, previous rector of Stockholm University, has been appointed by the ministry to work out how leadership functions work within the Swedish higher education system, using a comparative perspective.

Bremer’s mandate includes analysing the roles of vice-chancellors and boards in higher education institutions – and how the two leadership structures function together – describing and analysing how the collegial decision structure works, and how universities and colleges set and operate strategic priorities.

In late May Lars Haikola wrote an op-ed article in Dagens Nyheter, arguing that private capital was needed to ensure quality in higher education. “Last year we invested SEK74 billion [US$11.1 billion] in higher education, almost twice as much as was invested in defence,” he stated.

That made higher education the largest public sector in Sweden, “with almost half a million employees. We cannot expect more public money to be invested in higher education, so what do we have to do to keep our international position and preferably improve this?”

The Swedish Confederation of Professional Employees, or TCO, which represents 1.3 million members in both the private and public services, reacted negatively to Haikola’s article.

TCO Chair Eva Nordmark said in a statement: “I am worried over the solutions proposed by Haikola. What does he really want?” she asked. “Does he want to impose tuition fees on Swedish students? That is a wrong track to choose.”

One reason for all this activity is parliamentary elections due on 1 August. Polls are predicting that the governing centre-right Alliance for Sweden, comprising four parties and led by Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, will not be re-elected.