|dc.description.abstract||This thesis concerns a study of the dynamics of Nordic cooperation in higher education, in light of recent developments in its various contexts, the European and the national.
Nordic cooperation in higher education is considered well established, not only as ad hoc cooperation between universities and colleagues across borders, but also as inter-governmental cooperation within the structure of the Nordic Council of Ministers. European cooperation in higher education is also well established, amongst other things through the European Union mobility program; Erasmus. However, in Europe, key decisions were made at the turn of the century that are currently forming the foundation for major reforms of European higher education systems. These decisions were made, amongst other things, in the framework of two important political agreements i. e. the Bologna declaration and the Lisbon agenda. The Bologna declaration formed the beginning of an intergovernmental process where European ministers responsible for higher education are coming together every other year to discuss a set of common developments for their national higher education systems. One intended outcome of this process is a regional integration of European higher education, referred to as the European Higher Education Area, to be realized by 2010. The Lisbon agenda is a development plan for the EU, intended to deal with the stagnation of economic growth in the union. Like the Bologna process, this process also includes a set of goals to be reached by 2010. Contrary to the Bologna process the Lisbon agenda reaches across several policy areas, amongst them education.
The rationale behind this thesis is found in the observation that Nordic cooperation in higher education constitutes an interesting case for discussing various aspects of multilevel policymaking in higher education. Nordic cooperation in higher education is currently facing the challenge of being integrated into, replaced by or perhaps complemented with European cooperation.
This is an explorative case study. The thesis is based on data from a study of the Nordic countries conducted by the Norwegian Institute for Studies of Research and Education on behalf of the Nordic Council of Ministers in 2003, and a document analysis and literature study conducted in 2007. The study is organized around the problem statement: How can the dynamics of Nordic cooperation in higher education be interpreted, given the developments in its European and national context? To answer this question, the policy content of European developments and NCM initiatives are investigated and analyzed, and the current state of affairs in the internationalization of higher education in Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden is discussed.
The theoretical foundation is found in neo-institutional theory, in Gornitzka’s (1999) description of policy content, and in theories on internationalization and the development of ‘new’ internationalization. According to neo-institutional theory, an ‘institution’ will make choices of change and stability based on an interpretation of how to maintain conformity with its environment. In the case of higher education, there are new rules of action, principles and objectives related to internationalization of higher education observed in general, according to the description of ‘new’ internationalization, and at a European level specifically. Are these changes becoming legitimized at a Nordic level, and in the Nordic countries? And how is this affecting the dynamics of Nordic cooperation?
The regionalization of higher education in Europe and the Nordic region is characterized by continuous development. These are processes “in the making and under construction”. The thesis finds that there is a convergence in policy content of European developments and NCM initiatives, though cultural values and objectives still maintain a more central position in NCM initiatives than what is the case in European developments. A convergence is visible amongst other things in the rhetoric related to policy problems, in the choice of policy instruments, and in an increased focus on competition and the ‘external dimension’. There is also convergence in the focus on international cooperation as a quality enhancer and in seeing regional cooperation in higher education as a policy instrument in foreign policy. The latter is visible at a Nordic level with the inclusion of the Baltic countries as equal partners in the Nordplus program.
Nordic cooperation is only marginally visible in national policy, though NCM initiatives are appreciated and utilized in the Nordic countries. This could be related to Nordic cooperation being considered a separate issue from the internationalization of higher education in general; a regional rather than an international concern. This is not the case with respect to European developments, which play a very central role in developments at the national level. Another reason could be that Nordic cooperation in higher education is considered a matter of fact, and thus in need of less attention.
Developments in Nordic cooperation in higher education seem to be influenced both by international developments in general and by European developments in particular. Concerning the future role of Nordic cooperation in higher education, there is a certain danger that it will become redundant as a result of European developments. It is however supported by the general tendency of higher education institutions and countries to choose institutions in their neighboring countries as preferred partners. Research has shown that regionalization of higher education is increasing. There are new opportunities for Nordic cooperation to continue its former role as a pioneer in higher education cooperation. These may be found amongst other things in the need for more research in two areas: the role of international cooperation in quality enhancement of higher education, and the role of regional cooperation in strengthening the economy and social cohesion. Another area where Nordic cooperation might play a role is with respect to regional cooperation and the role of higher education in development/ developing countries.||nor