Rationalizing social democrats: Neo-liberal policies and practice in Norwegian higher education
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PublisherThe University of Arizona.
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AbstractThe overall purpose of this study has been to examine how international patterns of neo-liberalism and rationalization have contributed to changes in higher education policy in Norway in the 1990s and explore how these changes have been experienced and enacted among faculty and students in different fields and institutions. The study is informed by several social science theories, particularly Max Weber's ideas of rationalization and modern extensions of this theory to modern phenomena, neo-liberal political theory, process theories of professionalization, and postmodern perspectives emphasizing the role of consumers and consumption in contemporary society. Empirically, the study is based on a structured qualitative research design. Data collection methods consisted of interviews with faculty and students and analysis of public policy texts. The main conclusion in the study is that two contradictory forces influence Norwegian higher education: rationalization processes emphasizing efficiency, control, standardization and predictability, and an increasing dominance of neo-liberal market ideology in public administration requiring more room for ambitious institutions to develop new capacities and engage in entrepreneurial activities. The study suggests that Norway is struggling to find a "third way" in the space between these two forces, but that social democratic rationalization processes and state dependence still dominate higher education in Norway. The structure of faculty work is changing, but contrary to the development in many other countries Norwegian faculty are more concerned about being increasingly managed than pressured to engage in entrepreneurial activities. Reduced professional autonomy and increased intensification of academic work have resulted in rational organizational behavior in which faculty pursue their individual goals and implement pragmatic coping strategies to reach calculated rewards. Norwegian students are becoming increasingly consumer-driven actors concerned with freedom in pursuing their academic interests, flexibility and useful education. They are generally very satisfied with their existence as students, but are often disengaged from their studies. Being a student is for many only one among several identities, often not the most important.
Degree ProgramGraduate College