The Nordic Model of Higher Education Contested

Monday, 16 July 2018: 17:30
Oral Presentation
Agnete VABØ, Oslo and Akershus University college, Norway, NIFU, Norway
The Nordic model of higher education contested


The Nordic higher education system can be described in terms of a particular model – the Nordic welfare state higher education system. The defining features are high levels of public funding, low levels of contributions or fees from students, and systems largely publicly-owned and relatively closely regulated by the state.

In contrast to liberal (USA, Canada, Australia) or corporative (France, Germany) welfare state models, the social democratic welfare state model of the Nordic countries to a larger extent builds upon the universal welfare rights of the citizen independent of economic status and labour. The egalitarian aspect of the higher education system could be illustrated by relatively similar financial and legal conditions provided to the institutions by the state.

The Nordic approach with regard to accessibility is ambiguous. Stricter criteria for selection have been introduced as a strategy for enhancing quality and status. Elite tracks are under development, such as the organisation and selection of pupils and students for elite schools or for research tracks in secondary school. We argue that the Nordic higher education system has moved towards being more pluralistic and fragmented, with inherent dynamics and mechanisms promoting homogenisation/divergence, cooperation/competition and inclusion/exclusion. Furthermore, the systems now include a remarkable number of institutions of different size, profile and traditions, competing for excellence, visibility and not least resources.

Our analysis is based on a synthesis of existing research, research literature of general relevance, reports, public and other documents, web sites, statistics and budgets.

This paper is part of a more comprehensive study of the Nordic model of higher education funded by NordForsk.


Ahola, Sakari; Hedmo, Tina; Thomsen, Jens-Peter; Vabø, Agnete; (2014). Organisational features of higher education; Denmark, Finland, Norway & Sweden. Oslo: NIFU