Hardly had I pressed the button to publish my comment that the minister hadn’t said much that was new in Steningevik when a Swedish Government Official Report (2017:1) entitled “For rural Sweden – a cohesive policy for work, sustainable growth and welfare”, arrived in my inbox. In Chapter 4, “Skills provision”, I read as follows (page 119 onward):

The Committee’s proposal: Higher education institutions will be instructed to increase the accessibility of higher education throughout the country.

The Government will review the indicators in the resource allocation system with a view to making educational programmes more relevant to local labour markets.”

The Committee’s proposal: The government will ensure that there are centres for higher education in municipalities in functional analysis regions that lack higher education institutions and have few learning centres, and in municipalities affected by the Committee’s business sector package for municipalities facing particularly serious challenges.

An annual government grant will be introduced to enable rural areas to establish and develop centres for higher education.

The Institute for Evaluation of Labour Market and Education Policy will be instructed to follow up and evaluate the educational centres initiative.”

After I had read this, my notes from Steningevik about what Minister Helene Hellmark Knutsson had said about the upcoming inquiry on resource allocation and governance took on a completely different meaning. As did her responses to questions about regional campuses for higher education institutions.  I find it a little strange that she didn’t mention this inquiry explicitly to us vice-chancellors on Tuesday.   Is a new wave of regional expansion of higher education institutions on the way, with learning centres? Over the past 10 years, several higher education institutions have reduced or ended their activities in various places, for reasons of quality. Are these now to be restored?  After the governing board of Dalarna University had initiated a discussion on campus locations, the university received notice in its appropriation directions last autumn that it must have activities in Borlänge. 35 vice-chancellors protested in an opinion piece (in Swedish). It is becoming increasingly obvious that the higher education institution’s own autonomy no longer extends to deciding about campus locations and the whereabouts of its activities.

We are a referral body for the inquiry so we will have to return to this issue in our consultation response, which is due by 22 March.

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