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Scandinavian Higher Education Governance

Knowledge
Education
Higher Education
Ivar Bleiklie
Universitetet i Bergen
Ivar Bleiklie
Universitetet i Bergen
Svein Michelsen
Universitetet i Bergen
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Abstract

The three Scandinavian countries – Denmark, Norway and Sweden – have a lot in common when considered as political entities. As unitary, parliamentary (relatively decentralized) democracies with constitutional monarchs as heads of state, their overall political regimes have a number of basic characteristics in common. The fact that they also represent the archetypical examples of universal welfare states (a.k.a. “The Scandinavian Model”) extending inclusive cradle-to-grave public services to the entire population, and are among the most prosperous and peaceful countries in the world, adds to this impression of three almost identical polities and societies. Even the languages are so similar that Danes, Norwegians and Swedes understand one another when they speak their respective mother tongues. Yet when one looks more closely at the three countries, important differences emerge (Kogan et al 2006; Hansen 2011). Thus in spite of the similarities, the idea that the Scandinavian politico-administrative systems represent one common model with characteristics that clearly distinguish them from those of other European countries is a contested one. In this paper we raise the issue of similarities and differences among the higher education governance systems of the three Scandinavian countries as three questions. 1) What are the differences and similarities among the three countries? 2) How can the similarities and differences be explained? 3) Are the similarities strong enough that they warrant the concept of a Scandinavian model of higher education governance? These questions require first of all conceptual clarification of characteristics of the governance systems which we consider essential in distinguishing specific types or models of governance systems. We shall therefore look at two different aspects of the governance systems depending on whether we consider them as results of partisan politics or as products of politico-administrative regimes i.e. relatively stable, institutionalized arrangements that at critical junctures may open up for actors to shape or reshape them. Secondly we will briefly present the higher education sectors of the three countries in order to identify similarities and differences of their governance systems as they have evolved the last 10-20 years. Finally, we will discuss how the two perspectives (partisan politics and political-administrative regimes) may help explaining differences and similarities of Scandinavian higher education governance systems and draw some conclusions regarding the differences and similarities among them.