Re-Structure is a four year project funded by the Research Council of Norway through the FINNUT programme. The project addresses a highly important theme for Norwegian policies for higher education and research: to what extent can system performance be improved by system (re)design.
The core aim of the project is to carry out a research-based evaluation of the structural reform in Norwegian higher education. The project is designed as a multi-level and multi-method project, employing several disciplinary perspectives.
The project applies two key empirical lenses: outcome-oriented and process-oriented. The outcome analysis is based on an extensive analysis of relevant indicators, while the analysis of merger processes focuses on capturing opportunities, tensions, solutions and unintended consequences. The project is organised in four working packages.
In the first work package, the project analyses the reform itself, to uncover inconsistencies in the reform itself and how it interacts with previous and concurrent change processes in the system.
In second work package, the project examines the processes within the merged institutions through a series of in-depth case studies. Given that we know that higher education institutions are institutionally complex organizations, the working package examines how institutions manage new forms of organizational hybridity that emerges as a result of merger processes, how they work with academic integration processes, and how the organisational processes that are set into motion contribute to fulfilling reform objectives.
In the third work package, the project examines reform outputs through a broad range of quantitative indicators. The project will develop a novel database that includes various performance data on departmental level and will in this manner provide a more nuanced and detailed image of reform effects on academic environments.
The fourth work package is focused on bringing the previous working packages together and answering the overarching question of the evaluation: To what extent does the reform bring the Norwegian higher education sector closer to the goals of the reform, and which factors condition the realization of these goals?
Questionnaire for academic staff
As an important part of the research-based evaluation of the Structural Reform in the Norwegian university and college sector, we are sending out a survey in the winter of 2021 to academic staff at Norwegian universities and colleges. The survey will go to about 8,000 academic staff members, and their answers will be of great importance in assessing how the reform affects higher education.
The survey is about working conditions for academic staff, and asks questions about teaching practice, the conditions for research activities, dissemination and the ‘third mission’. Furthermore, we will gather experiences from administrative support, management and organisation. The survey will go to academic staff at universities and colleges, regardless of the degree of change their institution has undergone as a result of the reform. The purpose is to map changes in the sector and to compare merged and non-merged institutions.
The survey will be a central data source along with interviews to:
• uncover internal contradictions and how the reform interacts with other ongoing changes in the system of higher education
• examine ongoing processes in the merged universities and colleges, both the academic integration processes and other organisational processes aimed at realising the objectives of the reform
• assess the work towards achieving the results of the reform
The purpose of the research-based evaluation
The purpose of the Re-Structure project – the research-based evaluation of the structural reform – is to investigate whether the goals of the reform are being achieved, and why or why not. As a result of the structural reform that was launched in 2015, the landscape of higher education in Norway has undergone major changes. Many universities and colleges have merged, which means that the sector is in the middle of a comprehensive reorganisation process. One consequence is that Norwegian higher education now consists of several large multi-campus universities and colleges.
The purpose of the structural reform is to promote general objectives of high quality in education and research, regional development, a world-leading professional environment and efficient use of resources. The evaluation will examine the extent to which the reform brings Norwegian higher education closer to these goals and the factors that contribute to their realisation.
Interviews with academic staff, students, management and policymakers
In the autumn of 2019, the project began with the collection of interview data. The data collection took place in the spring and autumn of 2020. Now, in the winter of 2021, we are conducting the final interviews.
The main focus of the project is to analyse the ongoing change processes in the merged institutions, and the results of these processes so far. This is done both through documentary analyses and interviews. The project group conducts semi-structured interviews with both decision-makers and stakeholder groups involved in political design processes, as well as various stakeholder groups in the merged higher education institutions. The informant group consists of academic staff and students, representatives of departmental management, faculty management and institutional management. Interviews have also been conducted with national actors in higher education (policymakers).
The interviews at the educational institutions cover:
• managers at six case institutions (at faculty and institutional level), to investigate strategic processes related to merger work
• academic and administrative staff, students, departmental heads, and study programme leaders and research group leaders at selected study programmes and research groups in six institutions.
We have selected two or three study programmes and research groups at each of the institutions. These cover different subject areas and dimensions in academic integration processes. The purpose is to gain more knowledge about micro-processes that take place in academic integration processes. The selected programmes and research groups are not treated as representative of the entire institution, nor as ‘best practice’, but as illustrations of academic integration processes. A representative picture of the consequences of the mergers is examined through other methods, e.g. questionnaire.
The project is scheduled to end in 2023.
The main outcome of the project is to contribute to long-term improvement of the knowledge base concerning higher education reforms. To safeguard the welfare societies and uphold legitimacy for the chosen policies, an informed and democratic debate about policy problems as well as solutions is necessary.
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