New higher education institutions (HEIs) have resulted in more people gaining access to higher education. However, conditions at different universities may differ significantly for both teachers and students, according to three researchers in a new SNS report.
The higher education sector has undergone fundamental changes since the mid-1990s. The trend has gone from elite universities only available to a few to mass universities available to many more. However, HEIs differ in terms of student composition and funding, according to three researchers in the SNS report Swedish Higher Education: Caught between Offering High-Quality Education or Education for the Masses? A lack of resources and students exhibiting shortcomings in terms of prior knowledge result in a strained work environment for teachers at newer universities.
“There are clear differences between different HEIs. Students at newer HEIs are not as familiar with academic studies as the ones attending older ones, while the former also receive a smaller share of the research funding. However, when conducting evaluations and allocating funding, HEIs are often compared as if they face similar conditions,” says Douglas Brommesson, professor of political science.
The researchers also show that working conditions vary between HEIs in terms of how employment contracts for assistant professors specify how much time is allocated toward teaching versus research.
“There are both newer and older HEIs enabling their teachers to increase their level of knowledge through research. In newer HEIs with poorer conditions, however, teachers face a dual burden due to the fact that they also face greater educational challenges compared to their peers at older HEIs,” says Sofia Nordmark, assistant professor of social work.
There are calls that not all university teachers need to carry out research and that a larger portion of resources should go to so-called excellent research environments. According to the authors, however, this is not the right approach. The ability to engage in research, they argue, is important not only for increasing the teachers’ level of knowledge in their respective subjects but also for getting a better insight into how research is conducted.
“Today, students from non-academic backgrounds already attend the least research-intensive environments, while students from more academic backgrounds study in the most research-intensive environments. This means that the already advantaged enjoy even further advantages. HEIs facing greater educational challenges should be given more resources. In this way, HEIs may not only provide more higher education but also more high-quality education,” says Jörgen Ödalen, associate professor of political science.
About the project
The report Swedish Higher Education: Caught between Offering High-Quality Education or Education for the Masses? is part of the SNS research project Higher Education and Research. This project focuses on the governance, organization and funding of the higher education and research system. The aim is to contribute with analysis and facts on issues such as whether resources are to be invested in cutting-edge research or whether they are to be spread evenly across the country, whether research funding should be centralized or whether HEIs should have more autonomy to freely use their funds. The project timeframe is 2022–2024.
About the authors
Douglas Brommesson is a professor of political Science, Linnaeus University.
Sofia Nordmark is an assistant professor of social work, Linköping University.
Jörgen Ödalen is an associate professor of political science, Mälardalen University.