Follow-up of Sweden's network university
In its official appropriations document for 2004 the government has commissioned the Swedish National Agency for Higher Education to do a follow-up report on Sweden’s network university. This report brings us up to date on how far the commission has progressed. It examines how much Sweden’s network university has contributed to greater accessibility and broadened recruitment, and it also analyses the effects of the additional compensation paid to Sweden’s network university to help it run its study programmes. Sometime during the year 2005, the Swedish National Agency for Higher Education will submit a final report on the follow-up assignment; and this will also include a follow-up on the importance of the support given Sweden’s network university by its governing body.
Sweden’s network universitySweden’s network university came into being in the spring of 2002. Its function is to coordinate IT-support distance courses run by the universities and university colleges. A large number of courses with many students have been rapidly established within Sweden’s network university. This has led to a significantly increased distance higher education. A total 32 700 network university students had enrolled for the autumn term of 2003, which is ÆÌ0 per cent of the entire student population. Because of their brevity, many of the network university courses correspond to only 5 per cent full-time course equivalents. Many of the network university students study network university distance courses parallel to campus courses or traditional distance courses.
Greater accessibilitySweden’s network university has considerably augmented accessibility to higher education. The establishment of Sweden’s network university has resulted in a currently available greater range of university courses that are neither confined by time nor space, nor do they impose great demands on physical presence at the universities and university colleges. Many of the courses are specially created for the network university. The network university’s entire curricula courses are easily accessible to presumptive students via an Internet portal.
The network university’s curricula courses are largely short courses, many single subject courses, many courses with low study pace and relatively many courses on law, social science, nursing and health care.
Broadened recruitmentThanks to augmented accessibility Sweden’s network university is expected to contribute to broadened recruitment, competence development and life-long learning. Recruitment concerns university entrants, and broadened recruitment refers to students from environments with lesser previous study experience where the emphasis is on social and foreign background.
Swedens’s network university has broadened its recruitment through acquiring many new students from a background different from the traditional one. The network university has recruited university entrants that, compared to university campus entrants, have a somewhat largely working-class background but to a lesser extent a foreign background. Furthermore, the groups differ, e.g., by the fact that the university entrants within the network university are older, they live in thinly-populated areas, they live further from the university or university college, are gainfully employed, to a large extent have children and more than seldom have study support.
Compared to traditional distance education, the differences are not so many. To a lesser extent university entrants within the network university come from a working-class background but to a greater extent with a foreign background. More common, moreover, is that university students within the network university, relatively speaking students within traditional distance education, live in metropolitan districts, live further from the university or university college and more seldom have study support.
Sweden’s network university has contributed to a broader recruitment to universities and university colleges, but the effects are limited since they constitute a relatively little part of the entire student population. On the other hand, however, the network university attracts students whose life situation for different reasons places high demands on flexibility in the studies. The network university would appear to fill a need for continuing education and further education as well as life-long learning.
Effects of extra compensationDuring the introductory years, the universities and university colleges were allocated extra compensation for courses within Sweden’s network university and it did not take long for them to establish a large number of courses. Development costs for IT-supported distance education are high but, thanks to the extra compensation, universities and university colleges have both instituted many new courses especially for the network university and also revamped existing courses to network university courses. The extra allocation has also functioned at university level so much so that those universities and university colleges which received a significant allocation also have a more comprehensive network university education and vice-versa. The number of full-time equivalent students to which the extra compensation has been adapted has up to now far exceeded expectations. Universities and university colleges forecast a similar expansion for the year 2004.