A Nordic model of education – does it exist?

Educational researchers gathered in Uppsala to learn more about each other's work and plans, and the results achieved in Education for Tomorrow so far.

A Nordic model of education – does it exist?

Is there a Nordic model of education? Are globalisation, internationalisation and market influences placing our shared values under pressure? These questions and more were discussed when educational researchers convened in Uppsala recently.

The Nordic programme on educational research “Education for Tomorrow” gathered 60 of its participants for its annual conference on 27 May. Now in its third year, the programme has moved beyond the initial development phase and project participants are well into the process of analysing data to generate specific results.

Mikael Börjesson and Nordic fields of higher educationIs there a Nordic model with basic common values shared across the Nordic countries? If so, what do these core values comprise? This was a recurring topic in many of the discussions held between participants in various projects and the Nordic Centre of Excellence under the programme, all of which are examining various issues and topics under the broad scope of the programme.

Comparisons across Nordic countries

“Several of the thematic areas, such as justice, globalisation, stability and change, are being studied under multiple projects, which the researchers approach in different ways. The fact that the researchers are cooperating and collecting similar data from several of the Nordic countries helps to create a wide-ranging basis for comparison, which will in turn contribute to further development of the programme,” says Senior Adviser Kaisa Vaahtera, who is responsible for the Education for Tomorrow Programme at NordForsk.

School meals

In the two-year ProMeal project, researchers have nearly completed their study of whether school meals improve the overall healthiness of diets and learning conditions for children in Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden. This topic shows up regularly on the political agenda in several Nordic countries, perhaps particularly in Norway, which is the only Nordic country which does not offer a food programme for schoolchildren. Using interviews, observations, photographic documentation and tests, researchers have compiled a comprehensive set of data for comparing the different countries.

ProMeal researchersParticipation has been high in all countries, and we have focused on involving children to get their personal opinions about the food they eat,” explains Maria Waling, Senior Lecturer at the Department of Food and Nutrition, Umeå University. The researchers are still analysing the data, but certain trends are already emerging.

“Boys and girls tend to make different selections, for example when it comes to vegetables. Except from the food itself, the children talked a lot about how important the school meal environment is, i.e. the level of noise, how clean it is, who they sit with and so on.”

“One thing they all share, however, is that they rarely eat the meal that was planned for them,” states Maria Waling and her research colleagues from Norway, Finland and Iceland. “If the planned meal is not eaten, how can we make the school meals more attractive for the pupils?”

Growing interest

Several of the researchers taking part in Uppsala stated that they are seeing a growing interest in their studies among national politicians, trade unions and the media in the Nordic countries. There was broad agreement that it will be critical to disseminate the findings from the projects as they emerge, making them available to the various target groups that will benefit from them.


Text and photo: Lisa H. Ekli
Translation: Glenn Wells and Carol B. Eckmann

Photo 1: Mikael Börjesson from Uppsala university and his research team in the project "Nordic fields of higher educationNordic fields of higher education. Structures and transformations of organisation and recruitment".
Photo 2: ProMeal researchers Maria Waling from Umeå university, Anna Ólafsdóttir from the University of Iceland, Hege Wergedahl from Bergen University Collage and Hanna Lagström from the University of Turku.