The authority of the Minister of Education
The authority of the Minster for Education in relation to the self-governing institutions is regulated in the legislation regarding the institutions, and as a main rule the Minister is not permitted to insist that these institutions make specific decisions in specific situations. According to the relevant legislation, the Minister of Education has the following authority and duties:
- Approval of new institutions and the possibility of revoking approvals.
- Approval of the institutions’ statutes.
- Approval of the institutions’ selection of educational programmes on offer.
- Establishing, among other things, the rules regarding admission to educational programmes, the content of the programmes, quality requirements, grants, budget reporting, accounting, the educational programmes, etc.
- The authority to take legal action if the board or other actors inflict a loss on an institution.
- Necessary supervision of the institutions, including the right to demand all information necessary for the purpose and the authority to institute sanctions.
- Access to complaints regarding decisions made by an institution.
The board’s tasks and responsibilities
A central element in the self-governance model is the boards for the self-governing institutions, which have the primary leadership for running and managing the activities of the institutions. This leadership competency includes the administration and financial management of the institutions as well as the educational and teaching activities that the institutions undertake according to their objectives. The responsibilities and tasks of the boards include in this respect:
- Taking decisions regarding the institutions’ educational programmes on offer, activities and admissions/capacity according to recommendations from the heads of the institutions.
- Determining the guidelines for the activities of the institutions.
- Ensuring responsible administration of the institutions’ funds, such that they are used to the greatest possible benefit according to the aims of the institutions.
- Approval of budgets and financial accounts for the institution.
The composition of the boards
In the case of vocational education institutions, the majority of the board members must come from the outside. The board members are to contribute collectively to promoting the strategic activities of the institution through their experience and their academic insight into education and the labour market’s needs for the educational programmes.
The boards are to consist of people with experience in leadership, organisation and finance. Moreover, there is to be one member who is selected jointly by one or more municipal boards, possibly regional representatives, as well as most frequently employer and employee representatives, who should always be equally represented and have a connection to the geographical area and to the labour market that the institution serves. The teachers and technical-administrative personnel are to each have one representative on the board, though without voting rights. And the students are to have two representatives on the board, similarly without voting rights. The leader of the institution is to act as secretary for the board and is to participate in the board meetings without voting rights.
For general upper secondary schools the majority of the members must come from outside the institution, primarily from the individual institution’s local area. The members of the boards should, as a group, have competencies that will contribute to promoting the institutions’ current and future activities. Members from outside the institution should as a group have experience with educational development, quality control, leadership, organisation, finance, and experience from the business world, the primary and lower secondary schools and the higher education sector.
1 member is to be appointed jointly by the municipal boards in the region, 2 members are elected by and from among the staff members (1 of which has voting rights), while two members are to be elected by and from among the students (1 of whom has voting rights if he or she is over 18). The leader of the institution is to act as the secretary for the board and participate in the board meetings, though without voting rights.
For the future university colleges, the majority of the board members must be people with experience and insight into bachelor programmes aimed at private and public businesses and professions and with experience and insight into the needs of the private and public labour market for vocationally oriented higher education programmes, specifically in regional areas.
There are to be people with extensive experience from public as well as private work in strategic leadership, organisation and finance. The regional council and the municipal boards in the regions where the colleges are located jointly appoint 2 members to the board. 2 members are elected by and from among the staff members, while 2 members are to be elected by and from among the students. The rectors of the university colleges participate in the board meetings, though without voting rights.
The purpose of the rules governing impartiality are partly to ensure that the institution is not controlled by unauthorised interests and partly to establish a guarantee that the institutions’ funds, including state grants, are used exclusively for the approved educational aims of the institutions.
For the board this means that persons cannot be members of the board if they have either a close relationship with the owner of a substantial portion of the institutions’ property or his or her representative, or if they sit on the board of a similar educational institution. Moreover, the rules regarding impartiality contained in the Administration Act apply to board members and the institution’s staff as well.
The institution’s accountant may not at the same time act as the accountant for the owner of a substantial portion of the institution’s property(ies), etc. Additionally, the accountant must meet the requirements pertaining to independence contained in the relevant legislation concerning accountants.
The leader of the institution has responsibility for the daily educational, administrative and financial management of the institution, including responsibility for ensuring that the teaching is organised in accordance with decisions and guidelines of the board.
The statutes of the institutions
In accordance with the legislation concerning the institutions, the Minister of Education must approve the statutes of the institutions if an educational institution is to be approved under the law.
The objectives of the statutes are methodological in nature in that they independently regulate the daily functions of the institution by establishing procedural rules for the leadership’s conduct and decision-making and in connection with termination. Moreover, the statutes contain, in particular, rules regarding the identity of the institution, the composition of the board, regarding the district (venue), and regarding who has the authority, for example, to sign documents on behalf of the institution.
The statutes are binding for the leadership and staff members of the institution.
The statutes’ additional contents are prescribed in the legislation regarding the institutions. This applies in particular to the objectives of the institution, the composition and size of the board, the impartiality of the board, the primary tasks of the board, the board’s responsibilities, the investment of funds, the relationship to the Administration Act, rules concerning budgets and accounting and asset statements in the case of closure.
The institution can expect approval of its statutes if they are in accordance with Ministry of Education’s standard statutes. An area that is typically problematic is the composition and size of the board, when the institution desires a different composition for the board than is prescribed by law or more members than the law permits.
The boards are responsible to the Minister of Education for ensuring that the activities of the institution are in accordance with the fundamental rules, including that public funds are administered responsibly. The legislation regarding self-governance contains, therefore, a range of sanction and response possibilities with the intention of ensuring that the institutions act in accordance with the legislation:
- Revoking of institutional approval.
- Grant-related responses, where the Minister of Education can withhold grants, allow for grants to be completely or partially annulled, or demand that grants be partially or fully repaid. The responses can only be applied if the law has been broken and if the Minister of Education’s ruling to bring the particular situation into compliance with the law is not followed.
- Responses directed towards the board, when the Minister of Education can either decide to place the institution under administration to a greater or lesser degree and thereby strip the board of its responsibilities or a portion of them, or instruct the authorities and organisations responsible for appointing the board to appoint a new board. Additionally, the Minister of Education can place an institution under administration if its further activities are deemed to be danger. These responses can be applied if an institution does not comply with a ruling from the Minister of Education to rectify the conditions defined by the Minister.
- Responses regarding the educational programmes on offer, including revoking the approval of specific programmes.
- Rulings and orders regarding compliance with the law in situations when the activities of the institution are found not to be in accordance with relevant legislation, including rulings and orders concerning changes regarding pedagogical and educational content on the basis of quality evaluations.
In practice, orders are the most commonly used responses to illegalities. If these orders are not followed, then responses in terms of funding and responses directed at the board can be undertaken. Reactions against the board are, however, will only be applied in exceptional cases, just as revoking an institution’s approval would also only rarely be relevant.