Institutions of higher education differ substantially from other state agencies in that the bulk of their activities have nothing to do with the exercise of state authority.
Thus a new type of organization is needed, writes Daniels Tarschys, who heads commission of inquiry looking into autonomy in Swedish high education, in an article in the Dagens Nyheter newspaper.
“The point is not only to protect academic freedom, but also to cultivate dynamism, competitiveness, and the capacity for renewal. In a changing society, educational institutions need to be able to act quickly and forcefully. Thus central planning and long decision-making processes don’t cut it,” writes Tarschys.
Rather than being state agencies, Sweden’s colleges and universities ought to be made into a new type of public body which Tarschys calls “independent educational institutions”.
“This would give them substantially more freedom of movement, while at the same time taking the interests of society and tax payers into account by through public supervision and control,” he writes.
While universities would continue to receive public funding, they would cease to be under constant regulation by the state, and instead enter into multi-year agreements, leaving schools freedom to make strategic decisions without constantly seeking government approval.
Educational institutions would be governed by a board of which the chair and a majority of the members would be appointed by the government. Following appointment by the board, a school's dean would also require the approval of a standing panel of academics and researchers.
While the new organizational set up would give universities and colleges more flexibility to raise outside funds, another key reform would be the creation of a holding company giving universities ownership of their buildings and grounds.
The value of colleges’ real estate holdings could then be used to bolster their credit worthiness and give them access to other financing.
“Independence presumes responsibility, and educational institutions must of course be able to show how committed resources are used,” writes Tarschys, adding that such information can be used by students to help them decide between various educational options.
“In the long run, it is probably [the students] who have the most to gain from more independent educational institutions,” he concludes.
The commission is to hand over its findings to higher education minister Lars Leijonborg on Monday.