Inquiry heralds reform of HE governance and funding

The government has announced that Professor Pam Fredman, rector of the University of Gothenburg, has been selected to lead a government investigation into university governance and financing.

At a press conference arranged by the Ministry of Higher Education and Research and Stockholm University on 27 April, Minister of Higher Education and Research Helene Hellmark Knutsson said that Fredman, who is due to step down as rector of the University of Gothenburg on 30 June, has an ideal background.

She is president of the International Association of Universities, chair of the Association of Swedish Higher Education or SUHF, has experience in leading one of Sweden’s major universities, and has had numerous other major international and national engagements. Her new role lasts until December 2018.

Governance and funding

Fredman’s selection was announced at a conference on “Governing for Strong and Responsible Universities”, held at Stockholm University.

The rector of Stockholm University, Astrid Söderbergh Widding, welcoming the minister, said that the need for this governmental overhaul and a revised model for funding distribution had been proposed by her predecessor, Professor Kåre Bremer, when in 2015 he delivered an extensive report on governance structures at Swedish higher education institutions (Ledningsutredningen).

“We look forward to the work with great expectations and some uneasiness,” Söderbergh Widding said, “hoping that a new system shall bring more flexibility to higher education and research, perhaps recognising that universities need different resource bases and that the ‘equality for all’ principle now can be substituted by a more flexible ‘profiling of institutions’ principle.”

Funding modernisation

Minister Hellmark Knutsson, in her introduction, said that the higher education sector in Sweden is the largest governmental activity with 400,000 students, 75,000 employees and an annual turnover of SEK67 billion (US$7.6 billion).

“The present resource allocation system was introduced in 1993 and is now in need of an overhaul. What we now need is a governance structure and a resource allocation model in line with the needs of the 2020s,” Hellmark Knutsson said.

“The governance needs to ensure that the higher education sector is meeting the needs of the workforce and also the needs of society,” Hellmark Knutsson said, underlining the third new task for universities as “samverkan” (cooperation), in addition to education and research, as major objectives for higher education.

The work of the special investigator is inter alia to propose how to support this major objective of university cooperation with other societal institutions via the governmental resource distribution allocation in higher education.

”The 1993 reform of higher education in Sweden gave the dimensioning of student intake, mapping out the goals for candidate production and stipulating a budgetary ’reward’ component in relation to the degree of goals obtained,” Hellmark Knutsson said.

”This robust model for resource distribution has now been functioning for 25 years and several governmental reports have indicated that a revision is needed.”

Among other things, she believes it is necessary to secure better teacher training and assess whether the quality of higher education and research corresponds to the level of investment in it – the highest share of gross national product or GNP in the OECD area.

Quality and ‘fitness for purpose’

“Also, important political objectives such as greater social equality in recruitment to higher education and greater equality between men and women have not been reached,” Hellmark Knutsson said. She was referring to the situation where children whose parents have been to university are twice as likely to attend higher education institutions; and that although 60% of students at Swedish universities now are women, 75% of professors are men.

The mandate for the special investigator is to work out a long-term proposal for “ensuring that Sweden reaches the goal of being one of the world's foremost research and innovation countries and a leading knowledge nation, where high-quality research, higher education and innovation leads to the development of society and welfare, makes industry competitive and addresses societal challenges we face both in Sweden and globally”.

The mandate calls for a “more thorough overview” and a discussion of “new principles needed for the governance of the higher education sector”, including “a more transparent and fit-for-purpose distribution of responsibility between the government and the higher education institutions”, and to evaluate whether “a predominantly financial governance or other governance forms could be used”.

The mandate includes a special chapter for lifelong learning and calls on the investigator to collaborate extensively with the higher education sector and work with a reference group containing members of the different political parties in parliament. The investigator is specifically charged with drawing up proposals for reforms.

Professor Bremer, who in 2015 chaired the commission for the government white paper on governance in higher education, told University World News he welcomed the investigation.

“Central questions are the system for funding of governmental institutions with separate allocations today for education and research, respectively, and the balancing of the so-called ‘basic funding principle’ (based on full-year production of degrees and students), a system that does not support a profiling of the institutions,” he said.

“Many have addressed the shortcomings and asked for an investigation and changes, including myself in the governance white paper.”

He said he did not share the minister’s view that governmental governance of the institutions should increase – as demonstrated by her intervention in the case of Dalarna University, where she insisted that the institution should have a campus in both neighbouring towns of Falun and Borlänge.

He said the mandate left a large degree of freedom to the investigator and he trusted her to work to secure university autonomy and come forward with interesting proposals for reforms.


Hans Pohl, programme director at STINT – the Swedish Foundation for International Cooperation in Research and Higher Education – voiced concern about internationalisation only being mentioned once, in a passive way.

He told University World News that “the governance of the higher education institutions has to handle the requirements that increased internationalisation brings”.

He said that although a separate review of the internationalisation of higher education and research, led by Agneta Bladh, has recently been initiated, and although tuition fees have been introduced for non-European students relatively recently, there is good reason to have a look at the framework now.

”Another governance issue of some interest is off-shoring and in-shoring of higher education institutions. Branch campuses have been discussed but the legislative framework makes it difficult to realise,” Pohl said.