Greetings from the department 13.10.2023

Are Nylund. Leader of the Fish Health group (Faggruppe fiskehelse)

Financing of Universities

Recently, I and other members of Forskerforbundet received an invitation to the research policy seminar 2023: Ekstrem oppussing [renovation] av kunnskapssektoren?  The meeting will be held in Oslo on 7 November. Should the university sector be given a boost (renovation should probably improve the state of things and it may be necessary as times are tight at the universities) or is it the research policy that should be revamped (perhaps an increased focus on more business-friendly research and increased production of students at a lower cost) ?

I have always liked the idea/myth of the Humboldt university model: Research must be free and independent, teaching must be research-based,…. i.e. a university protected from the influence of religions, the state, political parties, powerful economic and social special interests in society, and changing mood waves. My position is linked to the professional study in Fish Health, i.e. a study that was started to meet the needs of the aquaculture industry for qualified staff with knowledge of fish health. The study was started in 1989, but it took nearly 15 years before a good professional environment was established in fish bacteriology, virology, pharmacology, immunology and histopathology. This expertise did not exist in Norway until the aquaculture industry was well established. In this context, it is important to remember that the capital of a university is the academic staff and the expertise of the engineers who are connected to the subject area. This is a capital that allows a long time to establish in new professional areas, but a short time to lose. The most important source of funding for fish health research is now FHF, which means that the grants for new projects are closely linked to the industry’s immediate need for problem solving. In recent years, the grant from NFR for fish health has been significantly reduced, and as everyone knows, there are no research funds for operations at BIO. Fish health research is undoubtedly controlled by the state and powerful financial interests (ie far from the Humboldt vision).

The current grant system for universities was determined in 2002 and is based on the following parts: a) Basic grant (65.6% in 2022), b) result-based part through an open framework (29.8%, credits, candidates, exchanges and doctoral degrees), and c) performance-based part through a closed framework (4.6%, competition for these funds). In 2022, the Storting report: Styring av statlige universiteter og høyskoler was submitted to the Ministry of Education. The committee’s task was, among other things, to: a) assess how the current state funding of universities and colleges satisfies the political goals, and propose changes to achieve the goals, b) take into account the government’s overall research policy and policy towards other sectors, and c) make proposals which should be able to be carried out within the current budget framework. This approach is not very Humboldtian and gives little hope of increased budget limits. The Humboldt vision that the universities should be independent rests on a view that in the long run this will be the best for society. Today, it is probably difficult to claim that the universities are run according to this vision. If the academic environment at the universities is to have a greater influence on the prioritization of subject areas, then the universities must ensure that parts of the basic grant are left to a greater extent to the subject areas (here it would have been an advantage to have a collegium chosen from among the scientific staff and students, instead of a board with politicians and business actors).

The committee suggested in the report that: The long-term plan for research and higher education should contain plans for the dimensioning of higher education and that the current distribution of the framework grants between the institutions be retained, as well as that arrangements be made over time for further management of several research environments. The committee also believed that it is particularly relevant to strengthen research within the important professional education for the welfare state, as well as research that contributes to a good development of working and business life. The committee proposes that the management of universities and colleges be strengthened through the use of development agreements, i.e. development agreements, together with agency management. Four different models for financing linked to the development agreements have been presented: 1) The first involves additions or cuts to the base grant based on evaluation of results, 2) involves the allocation of fresh, strategic funds linked to the implementation of the development agreements, 3) strategic funds for the implementation of the development agreement goes through earmarking of parts of the framework grant, 4) while the last option is based on a looser link between funding and development agreements. It may seem that Extreme renovation of the knowledge sector involves increased political and business management of research at the universities, no increase in the financial framework, but strengthening of research within professional education. The mantra is: what is good for the economy is good for Norwegian society, – but is it also good for the environment, biodiversity, and our obligations to future generations?

The university environments must, in my opinion, carry out extensive changes in their priorities, and perhaps investment in different subjects within biology must be distributed between the universities where, for example, UIB invests in the marine. When new subject areas are to be established, significant funding must be prioritized for such ventures, and in addition parts of the existing professional environment at the institution must be involved in such ventures. Without significant increases in the budget framework, this means that some subjects will have to be closed when new ones are to be built up.

For reflection

JP Paulsen 2007: The legitimacy of the traditional university has been questioned. The problems are partly due to the fact that the University, due to its increasing social relevance, has been overloaded with tasks, goals, participants, problems and solutions. The university (not the users) has been given responsibility for the application of knowledge. The university (not the students) has been given responsibility for the flow of students. At the same time, expectations are far from clear and consistent. They vary from requirements for world-class research to requirements for relevant vocational education and help for regional business development. [Mellom økonomi og kultur: Det europeiske universitetet i endring. JP Paulsen, Norsk statsvitenskapelig tidsskrift, 23 (3) 2007]


God høstferie



  1. Excerpt from Indikatorrapporten of 17. March 2022 – report from an expert committee regarding the system for funding of Universities and University Colleges (Kunnskapsdepartementet) Read the whole report [Norwegian language]
  2. Kunnskapsdepartementets finansieringskategorier for høyere utdanning (The Ministry of Education and Research’s indicator categories for financing of higher education)


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