Nordic fields of higher education. Structures and transformations of organisation and recruitment

Professor Mikael Börjesson, Uppsala University

Higher education has been seen as one of the pillars of the welfare systems of the Nordic countries. Changes during the last three decades appear to have transformed the higher education systems in the Nordic countries into more diverse and complex national and international higher education landscapes.

What do these changes mean for the traditional Nordic model of education? Recruitment patterns may offer a key to understanding these effects, as changes in recruitment patterns over time provide indicators of changing valorisations of higher education programmes, institutions, and fields and types of study. Analysing recruitment patterns also makes it possible to evaluate the function of higher education in relation to the welfare state, evidencing the role it plays in democratic goals related to equity.

The project compares recruitment patterns at both an institutional and a discipline-related level across Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden.

Key findings:

  • The Nordic model of higher education as developed from the mid-twentieth century has during the last three decades seen a number of challenges and developed in the direction of a more market-oriented system, although the pathways differ in the Nordic countries.
  • Decentralisation, re-regulation and internationalisation have led to more complex landscape of higher education.
  • Similar overall expansion traits in the four studied Nordic countries, including two major waves, in the 1960s and the 1990s, and large increase of social sciences, and especially business studies.
  • A fairly stable and similar social structure of higher education in the four studied Nordic countries, with significant differences in recruitment based on social group and gender.
  • Similar patterns in inequality reductions in access to higher education in all four countries. However, while students (especially daughters) from low-education families have taken up on the opportunities that the expanding higher education system has offered them, the most prestigious professional university programmes continue to favour the more socially privileged children.