Governance at heart of government’s universities survey

A consulting firm has secured a mandate from the government of Denmark to interview 35 stakeholders as part of a broader investigation into universities’ compliance with government policy frameworks. A researchers’ magazine sees the move as an attempt to exert more control over higher education.

The terms of the investigation became public after Member of Parliament Jacob Mark of the Socialist People’s Party requested that Minister of Higher Education and Science Ulla Tørnæs publish details of the mandate given by the government to consultants Nextpuzzle.

In April the ministry asked consulting companies to compete for the task of giving assistance in the mapping out of universities’ experiences and perspectives regarding governance. The main method of investigation was to be 35 interviews with "relevant stakeholders”.

According to the mandate, higher education institutions have experienced significant changes over the past 10 to 15 years with regard to size, organisation and governance structures.

Critical changes in the development of higher education institutions were also noted in the areas of governance, composition of boards – which have included external representatives – and in the trend towards employed rather than elected leadership.

A focus of the investigation is on how universities can open up to society at large and collaborate with each other and the private sector.

The mandate also notes challenges relating to quality and relevance.

The study is expected to be finalised by 1 August 2016.

Perspective of researchers’ magazine

The Danish researchers’ magazine Forskerforum recently published an article on the issue under the headline: "The liberal government wants sharper control over universities”.

The magazine asked the ministry for a list of people in the higher education sector selected for interviews, and the criteria guiding their selection. No response has reportedly been received.

Forskerforum claims that top bureaucrats in the ministry are working on a new governance model that will give the state more control over universities and open the door to further external control of the sector.

The article argued such a move was in line with the policy of the present government which advocates the use of new public management models.

Meanwhile, the faculty of humanities at the University of Copenhagen has reportedly commissioned the services of consulting company Struensee & Co, which assists senior leadership in identifying and implementing permanent improvements in the public sector.

The company has since produced a 225-page report identifying how humanities can cut costs by another DKK115 million (US$17 million) in the years ahead.