Pulling the Plug in a Bathtub: The Big Consequences of a Small Change in Norwegian Higher Education

  • Mari Elken
  • Nicoline Frølich
Part of the Palgrave Studies in Global Higher Education book series (PSGHE)


The Quality Reform (Kvalitetsreformen), introduced in 2004, is frequently referred to as the most comprehensive higher education reform in Norway. One element in the reform was that higher education institutions could change institutional categories, provided that they fulfil certain minimum criteria and are able to obtain accreditation from NOKUT (the Norwegian Quality Assurance Agency). This initially minor change has had considerable effects on higher education landscape in Norway, where the number of universities doubled from four to eight as a result of the reform. The chapter takes an analytical starting point in four perspectives of reform: reform as design, reform as incremental change, reform as concurrence and reform as a result of interest bargaining. The case highlights the complexity of systemic change initiatives in higher education. Overall, one can observe long-term incremental changes in the system, while closer observation of the reform process shows negotiations and bargaining between actors, as well as other concurrent changes that intertwine with reform efforts and attempts of policy design. Thus, one can argue that this case shows how small changes can also lead to big consequences and that change processes at some point can become irreversible.


High Education Structural Reform Reform Process Agenda Setting High Education Policy 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Mari Elken
    • 1
  • Nicoline Frølich
    • 1
  1. 1.NIFU (Nordic Institute for Studies on Innovation, Research and Education)OsloNorway

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