It is good that Minister of Education Mats Persson addresses the problem of increased administration in the university, in a debate article in SvD. But in order to really get at the problem with detailed management, we also need to design the content of the education more long-term, writes SFS chairman Linn Svärd.
Last week, SFS participated in Sweden's university teachers and researchers (SULF) University Symposium 2023: Academic freedom in a shaken Europe. Academic freedom is the current concept for discussing the governance and financing of higher education. Academic freedom is also subject to discussion at European and global level. In this, I myself have contributed to knowledge and data, among other things through the European Student Union's survey and report Survey on Academic Freedom, Institutional Autonomy and Academic Integrity from a Student Perspective.
Shirin Ahlbäck Öberg, professor of political science at Uppsala University, launched and presented in connection with the symposium a new paper with the title About academic freedom. This document describes the different parts and dimensions of academic freedom. A common question in the discussions is "academic freedom for whom?", is it, for example, freedom for the universities, the teacher or the student? Ahlbäck Öberg presents the conclusion that:
"What I have presented here unfortunately shows that the protection of academic freedom in Swedish legislation is not sufficient, and that this situation has paved the way for reforms that undermine rather than support the institutional autonomy of state universities and the academic freedom of teachers and researchers."
Mats Persson, Liberal Minister of Education, ended the day and it is this part that prompted me to write this post with reflections from this day and SFS's work with, among other things, academic freedom. Together with SULF and Sweden's University and College Association (SUHF), SFS works to constitutionally protect academic freedom.
The Prime Minister emphasized the importance of academic freedom, of the importance of teaching staff and researchers in higher education devoting themselves to exactly what they are trained to do. Persson was clear that bureaucracy and administration needed to be reduced. A few days later, Persson's proposal was also published in Svenska Dagbladet, the title is telling: "This is how we will reduce the documentation disease" (Published 2023-04-01). I share Persson's comment that the administration has increased, but one has to ask what it is due to and each of us must face our own gaze in the mirror, not least political decisions have contributed to the swelling of the administration.
In the same breath that Persson emphasizes the importance of academic freedom, it is defended that the degree system should remain as an appendix to the higher education regulation. This follows criticism that bureaucratization and administration have increased as a result of political greed in, among other things, the design of education. It is understandable that politics has an interest in higher education given that large funds are allocated to it, but it does not go well with the ideology and I would have expected more libertarian reforms.
Since the examination system is regulated in a regulation, this means that it is the government alone that decides on changes or additions, for example new examination objectives. It is problematic that the degree goals are decided by the government alone, because the degree system then becomes a way of implementing political measures. Rapid changes made with political justification and detailed control risk going wrong and undermining the quality of education. The degree system should be kept stable in the long term and not changed based on the interests of the political parties.
One solution is to instead place the responsibility for deciding on the examination order on a national coordinating authority. The authority should be tasked with anchoring the graduation goals with both the sector and stakeholders and continuously revising the graduation goals. The possibility of transferring the degree system from the Higher Education Ordinance and the government to an authority should therefore be investigated. The government would thus still be involved, but an expert authority would, in dialogue with universities, student unions and others, contribute to a harmony between degree goals.
Fact: The degree system is regulated in the Higher Education Act and determines what constitutes a higher education degree
The degree regulation is Appendix 2 of the Higher Education Ordinance (1993:100) and it determines what constitutes a higher education degree. The degree scheme specifies which degrees may be taken at basic level and advanced level at and postgraduate level. It also states which goals and requirements the students must fulfill for each degree, so-called degree description.
The requirements and objectives stated in the degree descriptions, as well as the general requirements found in the Higher Education Act (1992:1434), are what the respective higher education institutions design their educations according to.
There is also a local degree regulation at each institution of higher education which states which local rules apply to the degree at that particular institution of higher education.