Government moves to improve development of HE quality

The government has included in its budget proposal for 2018 a plan to expand the Norwegian Centre for International Cooperation in Education or SIU, its organisation for internationalisation and quality development in the education and vocational training sector.

Harald E Nybølet, the director general of SIU, told University World News that from 1 January 2018, SIU will merge with the Norwegian Agency for Digital Learning in Higher Education, or NUV, and the Norwegian Artistic Research Programme, or PKU, to create a new national body for quality development with its headquarters in Bergen.

“The organisation shall manage, develop and coordinate most incentive arrangements contributing to the development of quality in higher education and vocational training, including internationalisation and digitalisation,” he said.

SIU will also take over the administration of the Centres for Excellence in Education Initiative from the Norwegian Agency for Quality Assurance in Education, or NOKUT.

“Most incentive arrangements in higher education will be organised in a new national arena for quality development.

“The new organisation will be a strategic instrument, particularly on quality development for the institutions, to a greater degree than the SIU of today, the NUV and the PKU had been previously.”

Secretary of State in the Ministry of Education and Research, Bjørn Haugstad, told University World News that the reforms are part of a government effort to simplify, renew and improve the public sector.

“The Ministry of Education and Research has analysed how our sector can be organised better to reach the governmental goals through better goal attainment, more effective resolution of the tasks and to move governmental work out of Oslo.”

He said the objective behind the reorganisation of SIU is to gather together organisations that are working on behalf of the ministry to “stimulate better quality” in higher education and vocational training.

“The ministry will effectuate several other re-organisations in the period 2018-2022, which in total will mean that 20 staff positions will be moved from Oslo to other localities around the country,” Haugstad said.

SIU had a staff of 107 people in 2016 and its total turnover in 2016 was NOK349 million (US$42.5 million).

Overhauling the national system

The government budget for 2018 will also have implications for part of the work of the Norwegian Association of Higher Education Institutions or UHR. The latter will now concentrate on its role as the voice of universities, lobbying ministries and parliament on behalf of higher education institutions.

SIU is the national office for international programmes such as Erasmus+. The centre will continue to promote internationalisation, cultural communication and mobility. It will profile Norway as an educational nation and provide information for researchers wanting to work in Norway.

Several programmes for international education cooperation will continue to be operated by SIU:
  • • The UTFORSK Partnership Programme supports project cooperation between higher education institutions in Norway and higher education institutions in Brazil, China, India, Japan, Russia and South Africa.

  • • The INTPART programme for international partnerships for excellent education, research and innovation, which is tasked with developing world-class research and education through long-term international cooperation. It will create a framework for expanding cooperation between academics and groups considered to be at the international forefront today or that are expected to become world leaders in their field (a programme currently operated by the Research Council of Norway in collaboration with SIU, an arrangement that will continue).

  • • NORPART, the Norwegian Partnership Programme for Global Academic Cooperation, which supports academic partnerships and student mobility with an emphasis on masters and PhD level initiatives between higher education institutions in Norway and selected developing countries.
The Norwegian Contact Office for Research, Innovation and Education has since its opening in 2016 been operated by the Research Council of Norway, Innovation Norway and SIU, and will continue the same way.

Some ministry functions will also be transferred to SIU. Further details will be decided through consultation this autumn.

Independence and legitimacy

Marianne Synnes, former vice rector of NTNU-Aalesund and former chair of the board of SIU, who was also elected to parliament this year, told University World News that the organisational model for SIU had not been finalised, as far as she knew, and she was strongly arguing for SIU to be organised in the same way as the Research Council of Norway, independently from the ministry, and not as a directorate.

“As a public funding agency, it is important that SIU has its own board, to have legitimacy in the higher education sector. This is especially important with SIU’s new role in taking responsibility for making selections in the Centres for Excellence in Education Initiative.”

She said although having its own board could make it difficult to transfer further administrative tasks from the ministry to SIU, it is needed “to keep the integrity of SIU and its independence”.

SIU’s close dialogue with universities allows for and legitimises its advisory role to the ministries regarding the accuracy of the incentives.

“This role might be lost if SIU becomes only the extended arm of the ministry,” Synnes said.

Professor Rune Nilsen, chair of the University College of Southeast Norway, said that SIU was established in 1991 as a child of Norway’s university sector by the Norwegian Association of Higher Education Institutions to cater for increased international activities in the sector from the early 1990s and onwards.

“The sector has fulfilled the fatherhood tasks and the child has left to become a governmental body.”

The reorganisation is part of a decision by the previous government to move 60 governmental staff positions from Oslo to other parts of the country.