As I wrote in my last post, the ongoing government inquiry on the future governance and funding of Swedish higher education institutions, titled Styrning för starka och ansvarsfulla lärosäten, may have a significant impact on the country’s universities and university colleges. Thursday 1 February, appointed investigator Pam Fredman initiated a tour around the nation to discuss the model proposed earlier this year in more detail with those it concerns. The first meeting was held in Gothenburg, and the remaining stops will be made in Stockholm (5 February), Uppsala (7 February) and Lund (13 February).
Yesterday’s meeting, held at Chalmers University of Technology, was good and answered several questions. All of us have had a chance to read and ponder the proposal for some time, and the meeting gave us an opportunity to ask questions and discuss issues we thought needed attention. I represented the University of Gothenburg together with Pro-Vice-Chancellor Mattias Goksör, University Director Anna Lindholm and the three deputy vice-chancellors for education, outreach and research, Mette Sandoff, Fredrika Lagergren and Göran Landberg.
The first time the proposed new model was presented to us, there was a focus on the general structure for allocation of resources and on the plan to distribute each university’s funding as one big lump sum instead of as today in several separate streams. According to the investigators, the latter will give higher education institutions increased flexibility and better opportunities for long-term planning and innovation. At the same time, however, the proposed model will increase the pressure on individual institutions in terms of strategic planning and ability to act autonomously.
At the meeting, we were presented a more detailed draft. In addition to the lump sum funding, which is assumed to give universities ‘more freedom and more responsibility’, the investigators are proposing the introduction of 4-year agreements between the government and individual higher education institutions. These agreements would comprise a central aspect of the governance, yet the question is how to design them in order to balance the government’s need for control and the universities’ need and opportunities for long-term planning and strategic interventions. The proposed model includes contributions from an ‘intermediary’, or some type of go-between tasked with developing the material upon which said agreements will be based.
In order to make the governance of the higher education sector more coherent, not least to create a stronger bond between research and education, the investigators also want to replace the annual national research bill with a broader higher education bill.
The role and responsibility of the intermediary is the part of the proposed model that remains a bit unclear, in my opinion, and this was also the part that raised the most questions at yesterday’s meeting. University representatives also voiced a concern that the proposed agreements will benefit the larger universities more than smaller ones, and thus eventually weaken the role of smaller academic institutions.
Thus far into the game, some questions remain, in particular regarding the ability of universities to handle the increased responsibility that the lump-sum funding policy will require, but also when it comes to the process of establishing agreements between the government, universities and possibly other actors.
Without a doubt, the proposed agreements will require a deeper dialogue between the government and higher education institutions than is currently the case. The investigators also need to develop and specify more clearly what the agreements will entail as well as the involvement of the proposed intermediary in the establishing of agreements.
The inquiry is to be completed by December this year. To ensure the best possible outcome, we and other higher education institutions need to follow the developments and take every chance we can to provide high-quality feedback. All of us will be affected by the final product.