Bridging higher education and the world of work? Employer panels in Nordic university governance
Journal article, Peer reviewed
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Original versionEuropean Journal of Higher Education. 2021 10.1080/21568235.2021.1886138
Universities are increasingly expected to cooperate with society and the world of work to ensure relevant higher education. One example is the introduction of mandated employer panels, where external members are brought in to advise universities on study programmes. Building on research on third mission activities, this article examines employer panels’ role in university governance through a comparative case study of two Danish and two Norwegian employer panels. The article employs a historical-institutionalist approach emphasising path dependency and embedded agency and integrates contributions from the welfare state and political economy literature. The empirical material consists of interviews with nine panel members, as well as documents from panel meetings. The article finds similarities in background but differences in the organisation of panels, with more specialisation in Denmark. The cases suggest that the panels can be understood as layers to established cooperation with the world of work, and the findings show an emphasis on shared interests. This is analysed in light of Nordic traditions for coordination, as well as a bridging strategy for university leadership. The article finds that university leadership can shape cooperation by managing recruitment, agendas, and reporting, but the cases also illustrate tensions and possible challenges.