Does it matter? Assessing the performance effects of changes in leadership and management structures in Nordic Higher Education

The project's primary objective is to undertake a thorough (qualitative and quantitative) comparative investigation on the relationship between changes in the formal leadership and managerial structures of public universities across the Nordic countries and performance shifts in the realms of teaching/learning and research. The project is owned by University of Agder, with members from ExCID as collaboration partners


The primary objective of the project is to analyse how learning outcomes are understood, interpreted and practiced in varying higher education contexts, most notably across different fields of science and types of higher education institutions, and to clarify to what extent, and under what conditions, learning outcomes result in changes in administrative arrangements, or in teaching and learning activities.

The secondary objective of the project is to use these insights to contribute to the development of more sophisticated, contextualised and valid performance indicators, which convincingly reflect higher education learning outcomes.

Project summary

The environmental conditions under which Nordic higher education (HE) institutions operate have changed dramatically, particularly so in the last decade. Policy efforts aimed at modernizing the sector have paid considerable attention to the way in which public universities operate. A privileged focus has been attributed to aspects such as efficiency, effectiveness and accountability. Most Nordic universities have developed extended administrative structures (central and unit levels) capable of strategically supporting their primary activities, and some have introduced recent changes in the nomination of formal leaders, e.g. appointed rather than elected. Yet, in spite of these trends, few studies have investigated, in a systematic fashion and comparative manner, the effects such types of strategic measures are having on the actual performance of individual institutions. This study addresses this knowledge gap. It investigates the impact of rationalization processes - with focus on the rise of professional management and strengthen leadership structures or managerialism - in the teaching and research performance of public universities in Norway, Finland, Denmark, and Sweden - in the period 2003-2013. The research problem driving the inquiry is the following: - To what extent are changes in leadership and management structures related to shifts in teaching and research performance in public universities across the Nordic countries in the last decade? In order to address (operationalize) this query, we focus on three key dimensions: drivers, actors, and effects. The study adopts a mixed-methods design, based on desktop research (comparative database), and a survey questionnaire and interviews with university staff of selected universities. The findings will provide policy makers, institutional managers and research communities with valuable lessons and novel insights with respect to the efficiency an effectiveness of government-led reform efforts in Nordic HE.

Financing and cooperation

The project is funded from 2014-2017 through the FINNUT program for Research and Innovation in the Educational Sector at NFR and the project owner is University of Agder with Romulo Pinheiro as project leader

Published Apr. 30, 2015 10:29 AM - Last modified Apr. 30, 2015 10:39 AM


E-mail: Bjørn Stensaker

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