New directorate to promote coordination, coherence in HE and skills

Norway is to launch a Directorate of Higher Education and Skills on 1 July, and has announced the appointment of Sveinung Skule as its director general.

“A main goal is to contribute to greater coordination and coherence within the area of higher education and skills policy across vocational schools, university colleges and universities,” Skule told University World News.

Another goal was to “administer a broad array of programmes and measures efficiently to the benefit of the education sector and working life. Internally, as well as towards relevant sectors, we must continue to develop digital ways of working that we established during the pandemic,” Skule said.

Skule (55), who is currently director of Skills Norway, has also been director general of the Nordic Institute for Studies in Innovation, Research and Education; research director at Oslo Metropolitan University and head of analysis, international work and skills in the education ministry.

His big new directorate will include some 400 employees in four cities. It is bringing together all or parts of numerous agencies with functions related to higher education and skills, ICT, research, quality assurance and access.

In late May, when cabinet appointed Skule as director general for six years, Norway’s Minister of Research and Higher Education Henrik Asheim said: “A new and common directorate will contribute to making our higher education system more accessible so that more people can have the education they need to live good and independent lives.”

Skule, he added, had “solid and relevant experience within the responsibilities of the new directorate”, which would enable him to lead its establishment and forge a sound direction for future work.

University World News asked Skule how he sees the responsibilities of the directorate.

“Higher education has a crucial role in providing highly qualified graduates and new skills to the demands and expectations of society. Universities and other institutions within higher education must seek to constantly enhance the quality of education offered to present and future students,” he responded.

“Also, we will assist the higher education sector in providing further and continuing education and lifelong learning in more flexible manners, according to the needs of an increasingly diverse student group in terms of social backgrounds, age and geographical location. The directorate will be a key actor in incentivising and supporting efforts towards quality, flexibility and accessibility.”

Norway has been through two decades of university mergers and reforms. What might be the priorities in future?

“The pace of mergers and structural changes among universities and university colleges has slowed down, leaving more room to focus on quality and flexibility,” said Skule. “I am firmly convinced that higher education institutions will continue to develop in line with changing societal needs, which I believe the sector is highly motivated to do.

“The next Long-Term Plan for Research and Higher Education, which will be presented in October 2022, will set new goals and be an important steering instrument for the further development of higher education in Norway. The directorate will participate in preparation of the plan with input and advice, and will also play a role in its implementation.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the international work of higher education institutions. University World News asked whether the new directorate would be able to support the sector in getting back on track with internationalisation.

“The pandemic has, more than anything, underscored the importance of global cooperation and this is a strong concern of the new directorate,” said Skule.

“Enhancing international cooperation on all levels is a core aspect of our mandate, closely linked with the aim to develop quality in Norwegian education.

“We will work together with the Norwegian higher education sector to follow up governmental strategies on international cooperation and mobility in a European and global context.

“Fortunately, we experience strong interest in international cooperation projects and increased student mobility, despite the negative effects of closed borders during COVID-19,” he added.

“Our dialogue with higher education institutions, and the high number of applications to our international programmes, makes us optimistic about the future.”