NOU 2014: 5

MOOCs for Norway— New digital learning methods in higher education

To table of content

13 Cooperation, specialisation and competition

13.1 Cooperation, division of labour and consolidation in the sector

Political guidelines

In its 2008 report, the Stjernø Commission referenced evaluations which indicate that Norwegian higher education overall does not have a sufficient level of quality.1 Among other things, it was noted that many small, vulnerable academic communities provide the same education programmes. This results in insufficient consolidation of resources for research and higher education, and that many education institutions compete with each other instead of collaborating. In order to facilitate increased quality, the Commission proposed merging the institutions in Norway into eight to ten major universities.

The SAK strategy (collaboration, division of labour and consolidation) was established by the Stoltenberg II Government as a response to the challenges from the Stjernø Commission. The SAK strategy emphasises voluntary processes and local ownership at the institutions, as opposed to centrally governed structural reforms. The aim of the SAK work is to boost distinguished institutions and robust academic communities and facilitate better quality education and research.

Over the last four years, the Ministry of Education and Research has appropriated NOK 50 million annually to SAK processes. Some of the processes are limited to regional collaborations, while others include education institutions in different parts of the country. The aim is in some cases to merge institutions. In other cases the aim is broad academic cooperation between education institutions or cooperation limited to certain areas within administration, education or research.2

The Solberg Government has determined that it will submit a Report to the Storting concerning the structure of higher education in the spring of 2015. The Government states that the challenges outlined by the Stjernø Commission have not been resolved through the SAK processes.3 The report will e.g. consider how the structure of the higher education sector best may ensure high quality and an expedient national and regional capacity. It has been claimed in a political context that SAK did contribute to processes, but that the challenges outlined by the Stjernø Commission have not been resolved. It is emphasised that one must start with a comprehensive quality assessment and then examine how the structure should be designed to ensure high quality and expedient national and regional capacity.

National and international cooperation and competition

There are several international examples of players collaborating on MOOCs. For example, edX is the result of collaboration between MIT and Harvard. These are two major, dominant players that acknowledge the benefit of cooperating to establish themselves in a market with heavy competition for the best students. In the US there are also examples of smaller institutions using MOOCs from larger players in their own education programmes.4 This could in part be seen as a desire to provide their own students with a better academic programme than they themselves are able to develop on their own, and in part as a positioning against other institutions at the same level by providing students with academic content from the most recognised institutions.

The public debate in the US has raised questions regarding the implications it will have for the structure of higher education when increasing numbers of institutions are offering education over the Internet. It is for example noted that if universities with strong brands want to offer web-based degree programmes in finance, this could result in skilled students preferring such offers instead of campus programmes at less reputable institutions. If the influx of skilled students is reduced at the smaller education institutions, this could undermine the quality and number of new students. Over the long term, this could result in a reduction in the number of institutions that provide financial education.5

There are many examples of web-based programmes developed through collaboration between institutions in Norway. Over a number of years, Norway Opening Universities has supported projects with a focus on developing flexible education as part of SAK collaboration. In other words, technology is a recognised instrument for collaboration. The MOOCs offered in Norway so far have not been anchored in a cooperation between institutions. This is now about to change. Examples of this are two continuing education courses for mathematics teachers. One of the projects is headed by the Norwegian Centre for ICT in Education and is being developed in cooperation with several institutions, while the second is a collaboration between the university colleges of Østfold, Lillehammer and Bergen.

The European University Association (EUA) has carried out a mapping of e-learning among its members (249 institutions, seven of which are Norwegian).6 The mapping showed:

  • 70 % believe that web-based education will have a significant impact on cooperation within the institution and internationally. Nearly 60 % expect a national impact

  • the four most common purposes of web-based education are: flexible learning (27 %), more effective utilisation of time in the class room (20 %), offering multiple learning opportunities for off-campus students (20 %) and on campus (20 %). A desire for internationalisation is not among the most important purposes (8.5 %).

According to the EUA, the figures indicate that there is a potential within web-based education, e.g. as regards institutional cooperation, both nationally and internationally. The EUA believes that MOOCs in particular have a potential for increased cooperation in the following areas:7

  • strategic policy instrument for spreading knowledge and increased cooperation globally, for example through a north-south partnership

  • contribute to research cooperation between institutions

  • support development of European higher education and research through teaching cooperation, shared curricula, exchanging employees and students, as well as possibilities for increased use of open educational resources (OER).

The study also shows that the purpose of developing MOOCs is somewhat different than for web-based education in general. When asked about motives for developing MOOCs, more than 50 % respond international visibility and the institution’s reputation. Only about five per cent state cooperation with other institutions or partners as motivation. This could indicate that an important driving force for the institutions to develop MOOCs is increased visibility, reputation and recruitment, in other words, a tool in the competition for students.

Competition for students could be an important driving force for Norwegian institutions’ development of MOOCs in English. Such offers could presumably increase the appeal of Norwegian institutions and thus contribute to increased student recruitment. One example of this is the Centre for Development and the Environment (SUM) at the University of Oslo, which is in the process of developing a MOOC about international development. One of the primary objectives of this programme is highlighting and promoting UiO internationally.8

13.2 The Commission’s considerations

The figures from the European University Association (EUA) discussed in Chapter 13.1, indicate that the possibilities for cooperating on web-based education, both nationally and internationally, are not sufficiently exploited.

Erasmus+, the EUs new programme for education, young people and athletics for the period 2014–2020, gives Norwegian institutions opportunities to apply for project funding for educational cooperation, and gives access to a network of European partners.9 The Commission is of the opinion that Norwegian institutions that want to cooperate internationally on MOOCs, should actively explore the possibilities in Erasmus+.

MOOCs give Norwegian institutions the opportunity to efficiently share expertise. Resources can be used more expediently across institutions, and larger academic clusters can develop over time. A generic subject offered as part of a study programme at several institutions, can for example be developed and offered as a MOOC at one of the institutions. The other institutions can arrange for their own students to follow this MOOC. Institutions can also use programmes from other institutions, both international and national, as part of their own education in variations of blended learning and flipped classroom. This could free resources for strengthened advisory services and facilitation for own students.10 When dividing the labour, the institutions can focus their own efforts on promotion and their own advantages, and thereby develop more robust academic clusters and higher quality education and research.

Norwegian institutions will face increased web-based competition from reputable international institutions. At the same time, the Commission believes there is a significant need for increased cooperation, division of labour and specialisation in the Norwegian higher education sector. In order for Norwegian institutions to be able to face stronger international competition, and be capable to develop quality and relevance in its education programmes, more cooperation-oriented, innovative and robust institutions are needed. The Government’s decision on a structure report could indicate a desire to reinforce the significance of structure as an instrument for increased quality in higher education. The Commission believes the use of technology provides increased opportunities for collaboration, division of labour and specialisation. This can contribute to better utilisation of the overall sector resources and contribute to higher quality education and research. The Commission believes use of technology in higher education, and MOOCs in particular, make it possible to handle these types of challenges in a new way.

In particular, the MOOC Commission would like to emphasise the importance of incentives and instruments that make cooperating on developing and providing MOOCs profitable, for example through flexible ways of sharing credit production. The Commission recommends having the committee that will review and assess financing of the higher education sector, assess the use of incentives and instruments for cooperation, division of labour and specialisation.

13.3 The Commission’s recommendations

  • The Commission encourages Norwegian institutions to utilise the opportunities provided by MOOCs for professional cooperation, division of labour, specialisation and efficient exploitation of resources.

  • The Commission recommends Norwegian institutions that want international cooperation on MOOCs to take advantage of the opportunities for European cooperation presented by EU's education programme Erasmus+.

  • The Commission recommends that incentives and policy instruments supporting cooperation, division of labour and specialisation between the institutions be considered by the committee that will review and evaluate the funding system for the Norwegian higher education sector.



The Ministry of Education and Research (2008) NOU 2008: 3 Sett under ett (A comprehensive view).


The Ministry of Education and Research (2012) Prop. 1 S (2012–2013


Isaksen, Torbjørn Røe (2014) Kvalitet først og fremst (Quality first and foremost). Speech at Kontaktkonferansen 2014. Available from: aktuelt/taler_ artikler/kunnskapsministerens-taler-og- artikler/2014/kvalitet-forst-og-fremst.html?id=749237 (Retrieved: 4 March 2014).


Inside Higher Ed (2012) MOOCs for Credit. Available from: coursera-strikes-mooc-licensing-deal-antioch- university#sthash.GPG2jjw7.dpbs (Retrieved: 5 May 2014).


Patrick Clark (2014) “Half of U.S. Business Schools Might Be Gone by 2020”, Bloomberg Businessweek, 14 March 2014. Available from: articles/2014-03-14/online-programs-could-erase-half-of- u-dot-s-dot-business-schools-by-2020 (Retrieved: 10 April 2014).


European University Association (2014) MOOCs – Massive Open Online Courses. EUA Occasional Papers.




The Centre for Development and the Environment, UiO (2013) Prosjektmidler – Endelig Søknad (Project funds – Final application). P82/2014 – What works? Application to the Norway Opening Universities for project funding.


The Ministry of Education and Research (2014) Regjeringa ønskjer norsk deltaking i Erasmus+ (The Government wants Norway to participate in Erasmus+). Available from: 2024/regjeringa-onskjer-norsk-deltaking- i-era. html?id=751963 (Retrieved: 4 March 2014).


The European University Association (2014) MOOCs – Massive Open Online Courses. EUA Occasional Papers.

To front page