Thematic Networks in Higher Education:
A Norwegian Perspective

Ingebjørg Birkeland, SIU
Prof. Koenraad de Smedt, UoB

June 12, 2002.


This report presents a preliminary assessment of the SOCRATES/ERASMUS action "Thematic Network Projects" with special reference to Norwegian participation. Part I is a brief presentation of background information. Part II analyses some results, particularly from 16 projects in the period 1996-2000. In Part III, the impact of the action and its results is analysed and further discussed.

Sammendrag på norsk

Part I. Background

This report presents the results of an assessment project carried out by the Centre for International University Cooperation (SIU, Bergen) and the University of Bergen (UoB). The assessment has been directed at the first stage of the Thematic Network action in the European SOCRATES/ERASMUS programme. This report was prepared by Ingebjørg Birkeland and Prof. Koenraad de Smedt.

The assessment was carried out through inspection of project applications and reports, including their outcomes, through reference to other documents, and by means of telephone interviews and a small meeting. We gratefully acknowledge the cooperation of Maria-Esmeralda Almeida-Teixeira in providing us with materials, of Bjørn Einar Aas and Jan Petter Myklebust who assisted us and provided useful insights, and last but not least, of the Norwegian project participants mentioned below, for responding to our inquiries with very useful answers.

Points of departure for the assessment

There were two points of departure for the assessment presented in this report:
  1. An application was sent to the European Commission with the intention of assessing the overall dissemination activities carried out by the 16 Thematic Network projects (TNPs) during the academic year 1999-2000. In addition, we intended to assess application procedures and forms. Preliminary findings and recommendations would be presented to the 16 project co-ordinators for discussion, leading to a final report and final recommendations to the European Commission.
  2. The Norwegian Ministry of Education expressed an interest in investigating the Thematic Network action. In particular, the Ministry wanted to assess Norwegian participation and benefits of the action for Norwegian institutions. This interest could be broken down into questions about the following possible targets:
    1. Increasing the number of TNPs with Norwegian coordination;
    2. Increasing the number of Norwegian partnerships in projects;
    3. Increasing the number of Norwegian institutions involved in the projects;
    4. Increasing the number of Norwegian professional associations or other partners;
    5. Ensuring that Norwegian participation in the networks is representative;
    6. Improve dissemination of results in Norway;
    7. Establishing connections between TNPs and national entities for the different disciplines (for instance, national councils: fagråd).
Throughout the assessment project, the particular aims with respect to Norwegian participation were concisely stated as follows:
  1. To report on Norwegian participation within the TNPs this far;
  2. To assess the degree of involvement of the Norwegian institutions;
  3. To investigate to what degree participating Norwegian institutions regard the outcomes as useful for the future development of higher education;
  4. To assess how TNPs relate to other forms of international networking and of thematic co-operation between institutions.
In the end, the application for funding from the European Commission was turned down. The project subsequently was downsized, and general information on the 4th year's dissemination more limited than originally planned. The main objectives and scope of the report are summarised as follows, and will be further explained below:

The present report is mainly aimed at gaining insights from the 16 TNPs that completed four years of project activities in 2000. With one exception, these projects have reported on their activities and have delivered outcomes. We make an attempt at analysing the results and assessing the impact from these projects on higher education in Europe, and especially in Norway. We also investigate in how far Norwegian universities in particular have contributed to TNPs and have benefited from them.

Aim and scope of this report

In 1995, the European Commission launched, at the core of its SOCRATES/ERASMUS programme, the Thematic Network action. The first projects under this action began their activities in September 1996. The TNPs are generally multi-annual and run for maximally three academic years, but the contracts with the Commission are annual and must be renewed each year. Projects can be awarded a additional project year that is specially aimed at dissemination and exploitation. The first TNPs that went through such a four-year cycle concluded their activities in 2000.

The present report has two main aims:

  1. We attempt to gain insight from the 16 TNPs that completed four years of project activities in 2000. With one exception, these projects have reported on their activities and delivered outcomes. We are particularly concerned with the degree of involvement of Norwegian institutions of higher education, and investigate to what degree they regard the outcomes of the co-operation as useful for the future development of higher education.
  2. We attempt to give an overview of Norwegian participation in the TNPs in the first phase of the SOCRATES programme. This will be followed by a discussion on how Norway may best profit from the existence of the TNPs in the second phase of the SOCRATES programme.
The presentation will underline in what respect TNPs differ from other forms of international networking and of thematic co-operation between institutions, and bring out complementarities sought.

It must be kept in mind that there are clear limitations to the current assessment. It is a preliminary exercise and by no means a formal evaluation. Our objectives are to sum up what has been done so far with the goal of gaining some insights into the nature and current results of the action. This report will mainly present an overview of results on the basis of activities reported by the TNPs, and of reported participation. The TNP action is ongoing and has so far not been formally evaluated. Such an evaluation is foreseen around 2003.

Earlier reports on the TNP action were written by Philippe Ruffio under the titles "The SOCRATES Thematic Networks: A tool for collective mobilisation and reflection on the future of Higher Education" (1998) and "Changing the University: the supporting role of the Erasmus Thematic Networks (a three-year perspective)" (January 2000). In contrast with those reports, the present report will focus on the activities and results of the dissemination and exploitation phase, which was not covered by Ruffio.

Description of the Thematic Network action

Before presenting an analysis, an explanation of the general objectives and character of the Thematic Network action is in place.

By the mid-1990s, cooperation between higher education institutions in Europe showed a clear growth, most notably with respect to student mobility. The ERASMUS programme was an important factor for this development, "by turning cooperation and mobility from exceptional phenomena into a regular feature of the higher education landscape in Europe." [1]

Already in the early ERASMUS programme, mobility of students was accompanied by a certain mobility of ideas. The Interuniversity Co-operation Projects (ICPs) in Erasmus formed an important instrument in exploring European cooperation on curricular innovation in the various disciplines.

The SOCRATES programme aimed at further encouragement of cooperation with an even wider European scope. The objectives were not narrowly focused on curricular issues, but left room for any "subjects of common interest" including, for instance, the development of teaching and learning methods and even administrative issues. The programme was aimed at a new level of internationalisation in the context of a reflection on the place of higher education in a rapidly changing society.

In its guidelines [2] on paper and on the Web, the European Commission has described the goal of the Thematic Network action as follows:

"Projects within Thematic Networks aim to define and develop a European dimension within a given academic discipline or other issues of common interest (including administrative issues) through cooperation between university faculties or departments, academic or professional associations, and other partners."
In practice, the networks are large, typically having over one hundred partners and covering all countries participating in the programme. The partners are usually represented by their academic staff.

As far as themes are concerned, some TNPs address strictly discipline-oriented issues, while others address wider themes that cut across many different disciplines, in line with the following description:

"Project activities may be either "disciplinary" in nature or "interdisciplinary" in the sense that the boundaries between broadly equivalent subject areas may differ between countries or because strong thematic links may cross the traditional definitions of the academic fields concerned."
Given that the networks are large, the issues covered are broad. Disciplinary issues roughly affect an entire discipline, for instance, Archaeology, Humanitarian development studies, Ethics, Tourism and leisure, and Languages. Examples of interdisciplinary issues are Computing in the humanities, Teacher education, and Distance education.

Addressing issues of common interest does not necessarily lead to uniformity, but to deeper levels of cooperation and understanding:

"A successful Thematic Network Project might help provide a more favourable environment for a deeper understanding of the discipline concerned comparing the systems in different participating countries."
In each of their respective disciplines or other themes, TNPs identify 'hot issues' and address these in depth. Typically, these issues relate to the content of educational programmes and materials, new teaching and learning methods, and cooperation between institutions. Thematic Network projects typically seek to:
Products of a TNP typically include: From the above description, it can be understood that TNPs are instruments to assess and analyse current status as well as plan for the future. The action is an instrument situated in the political, socio-economic, cultural and other contexts that exist in Europe. It is important to see this against the background of societal needs in Europe, and the many strategies to address those needs. In this respect, we mention particularly the developments that have started during the 1990s and which notably include the Bologna process, which should be able to benefit from TNPs as an instrument for reflection and coordination. In fact, the TNP action was the first SOCRATES action with an explicit focus on societal needs by seeking to:
"improve the dialogue between academic and socio-economic partners"
in particular by:
"demonstrating the relationship between the contents and objectives of the discipline/field(s) and the demands of the economic and professional environments in Europe."
Typically, this takes the form of a reflection on professional profiles, often leading to the incorporation of new knowledge and skills into the curriculum. For instance, if hospitals across Europe are taking new diagnostic tools into use, medicine curricula may need to be updated in order to aquire skills for working with these tools. The development of professional profiles by itself is not identical with increase of employability: in a rapidly changing society, the job market is also changing rapidly and may need thorough reflection on what is taught and learned as well as how it is taught and learned.

The dissemination and exploitation year

Projects which concluded their planned three years of activities in 1999 were invited to submit proposals for a fourth year specially aimed at disseminating and exploiting previous outcomes of the project. This may come in addition to other dissemination activities, as indicated in the following description by the Commission [2]:
"Thematic Networks should seek to disseminate and exploit project outcomes, in particular beyond the group of institutions directly involved. [...] the work programmes of all projects should therefore include reference to the dissemination methods envisaged. In addition, Community support may be provided for Thematic Networks which, in a given academic year, wish to focus specifically on the dissemination (and exploitation) of final results of proven quality."
Exploitation is not to be understood in the commercial sense, but may include:
"extension of the work of the original project or the application of results to new areas or the further development of the project workprogramme in order to add value to the results."
Devoting a special year to dissemination and exploitation crucially presupposes that tangible results of sufficient quality have been obtained that are worth exploiting and disseminating to new audiences.

As indicated before, the current report will focus on the first round of projects that have completed an extra fourth year specifically aiming at dissemination and exploitation. It has therefore been a starting assumption that the projects covered in this report have obtained results and disseminated and exploited them.

Development of the action over the years

The concept of TNPs can be seen as an extension of an initiative by the Santander group: the SIGMA project. Between 1994 and 1996, a number of subject evaluation conferences took place in the framework of the transitional measures from ERASMUS to SOCRATES. These evaluation conferences were the culmination of an analysis of specific disciplines and/or themes and included identification of their future perspectives, providing a good basis for future developments in European cooperation. In Norway, professors from the Universities in Trondheim and Bergen participated in the exercise.

SIGMA, a pilot financed by the European Commission, was succeeded by the TNP action in SOCRATES. The aim of the TNPs was initially and purposely described in a rather open way. In 1995, in response to the initial call for proposals, the Commission received as many as 486 expressions of interest. Many were forwarded by ERASMUS Inter-University Co-operation Projects (ICPs), which hoped to continue their activities. The Commission invited in all 125 applicants to submit a final project application. Roughly three types of networks could be distinguished:

  1. Large discipline oriented networks constituted by academic associations: 150-350 institutions.
  2. Smaller interdisciplinary networks: 40-80 institutions.
  3. Small networks in "minor and narrow disciplines" 15-40 institutions.
In the second round of selection, 28 networks were selected, covering 38 distinct themes (in other words, some networks addressed multiple projects, which were eventually combined into single TNPs). The selection was based on experts' evaluation of quality, in accordance with criteria established by the Commission. Of these 28 networks, 10 followed up on conclusions drawn in previous discipline evaluation conferences (SIGMA).

The first 28 selected TNPs thus carried out their first project year during the academic year 1996-1997. For the selection round of 1997, the demand for TNPs had become somewhat more targeted. This was taken as a sign that the mission of the TNPs was now better understood, in terms of the Commission's desire for:

"a focus on identifying or addressing issues of European-wide significance within disciplines and/or themes"
Applications were from then on evaluated more explicitly on the basis of:
  1. Earlier stated TNP objectives, with the added objective of improving the dialogue between academics and socio-economic partners;
  2. Significance of the project at European level (conformity with EU policies, in particular, European priorities in Education, as well as justification of the need for carrying out the analysis);
  3. Credibility of the participants relative to the project proposed (namely, representativity and level of expertise of the proposed participants relative to the subject area).
The final selection for 1997 resulted in the selection of 10 new projects, and all 28 projects from 1996 were renewed.

In 1998, the Commission claimed that the objectives of the TNPs were even better understood by the applying institutions. The Commission states:

"In the case of Thematic Network Projects, participation of higher education institutions representative of a given field from all eligible countries has a higher priority than reference to the specific coordination."
Of the 28 networks from 1996, 3 did not reapply, while the rest were renewed. All 10 networks from 1997 applied for and received financial support. 9 new networks were approved.

As for the effects of the TNPs, the Commission states in the Guidelines for applicants:

"Cooperation activities carried out by TNPs should have lasting effects on higher education, in particular on curricular development, which should also reflect the new requirements of the employment market. These include not only mastery of, for example, new technological tools but also knowledge of areas which were traditionally not part of single degree course: for instance, engineering and economics, environment and ethics, medicine and social sciences, etc. Cooperation with socio-economic partners is expected to bring positive contributions in this respect."
Mention is also made of the inter-disciplinary networks that represent new emerging study and/or professional areas.

For the selection round of 1999, the call for 'expressions of interest' was limited to a number of disciplinary areas which were not yet covered by the existing networks: History, Education, Architecture, Pharmacy, Economics, Mathematics, Psychology and Behavioural Sciences, and Earth Sciences. And again, the Commission states:

"Particular attention has been paid as to how less represented areas within SOCRATES/ERASMUS are using TNPs in order to improve curricular development, and to spread good practice in teaching and teaching/learning methods."
For 1999, only 2 new TNPs were approved. All networks starting in 1997 and 1998 were approved for renewal, while 16 of the networks that ran from 1996 to 1999 received support for an additional year specially targeted at dissemination and exploitation. The year 2000 thus marks the end of the first complete project cycle.

At the start of the new generation of the SOCRATES programme in 2000, the objectives of the action remained the same. In the selection round for 2000, 17 new TNPs were approved, representing the great majority of the ERASMUS study areas, with the exception of the areas (02) Architecture, Urban and Regional Planning, (11) Mathematics, Informatics, (15) Communication and Information Sciences, and (16) Other Areas of Study.

"The new submissions propose to develop work in areas that previous work had identified as priority not only from the content, but also from the methodological view-point, which is in line with the analysis-prospective approach that a TN project sets itself in view of fostering the development of the disciplinary area it covers."
Summing up this development, we find an evolution from the action being "poorly understood" during the first years, when the ICP concept was still strong, to a greater understanding and consensus on the scope and objectives of the action. During this development, there has been much focus on mapping, diagnosing and renewal, and on shaping the work on education in such a way that both the Commission and the working community would be satisfied.

Part II. Results

Norwegian participation in the Thematic Networks

This part will focus on the general organisation and activities of the networks, with particular focus on Norwegian participation.

During the first generation of TNPs, two studies were entrusted to Dr. Philippe Ruffio [4, 5]. The report published in 2000, Changing the University: the supporting role of the Erasmus Thematic Networks [5], serves as a useful background to analyse Norwegian participation. A total of 43 thematic networks started during the first phase of Socrates. By 1999, the total number of partnerships exceeded 5000 - note that an institution can represent multiple participations by being partner in more than one network. The participation in the networks in 1998 and 1999 is plotted by country in Table 1.

Table 1: Participation of higher education institutions to the thematic networks: number of participations by country [5]

99 125 297 464 180 369 229 575 138 166 449 16 273 189 215 838 30 4 122

% 2,3 5,3 8,4 3,2 7,1 4,1 10,4 2,5 3,0 8,1 0,3 4,9 3,4 3,9 15,1 0,5 0,1 2,2 9,8 5,5
98 106 213 361 132 308 162 411 99 120 306 8 202 143 165 645 18 1 91

% 2,7 5,4 9,1 3,3 7,8 4,1 10,0 2,5 3,0 7,7 0,2 5,1 3,6 4,2 16,0 0,5 0,0 2,3 8 4,1

These figures may serve to illustrate the general annual increase in participation. It can be seen that Norway follows the general pattern. In terms of these numbers, Norway is relatively well represented.

In order to interpret participation, it must be kept in mind that the networks are large, with an average of about 130 partners per network. However, there is considerable variation in this size. Table 2 shows the distribution of networks according to size.

Table 2: Network distribution according to size [5]
size (number of partners) < 75 75-150 150-225 > 225 Total
number of networks 9 21 8 5 43

Half of the overall participation was provided by 5 of the largest European countries (the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy and Spain). Surprisingly, only 16 of the networks were co-ordinated by these 5 countries, with Germany counting for no more than 2 co-ordinations, whereas 20 networks were co-ordinated by Belgium and the Netherlands. Some of the Belgian and the Dutch co-ordinators are, however, in fact international associations and societies that have their main secretariat in one of these countries. Norway co-ordinated only one network, as did Denmark and Sweden.

Norwegian participation in the networks during the first project year (1996-1997) was entirely dominated by 3 of Norway's 4 universities; the University of Tromsø did not participate. Of all Norwegian participations in TNPs in 1997, 60 instances were by the universities (universiteter og vitenskapelige høgskoler), 19 by the university colleges (statlige høgskoler), while some associations and two private enterprises participated as well. In addition, a number of the smaller private and semi-private institutions of art and culture participated. Of the universities, the University of Bergen and the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim (NTNU) were in the lead, with 15 and 13 participations respectively; the University of Oslo following with 10. The university colleges generally participated in one network only, as did the vitenskapelige høgskoler.

Summing up Norwegian participation during all of the first phase of SOCRATES (1995-2000), it can be stated that 33 out of the 43 Thematic Networks included one or more Norwegian partners. An institution based count shows that 5 vitenskapelige høgskoler out of 6 participated in Thematic networks. All 4 universities participated. A number of small art academies participated. Out of 27 university colleges, 10 participated in the TNPs. The university colleges' participation was clustered around no more than 4 of the networks.

As Ruffio states, the networks typically involve the intermediate and basic levels of higher education institutions (faculties and departments, respectively). The report concludes that overall, the TNPs are organisationally and functionally fairly homogeneous. Most of the TNPs strongly rely on the direct involvement of the academic staff on whose shoulders the basic level of teaching rests. A steering committee usually co-ordinated operations, providing intellectual and scientific guidance and handling the financial and technical management of projects. In most TNPs, the results in terms of analysis, reflection and comparisons were obtained from studies, meetings, articles, site visits, databases, expert interviews, surveys, literature reviews etc. There was need for ample communication through meetings and conferences, as well as through information and communication technology.

Comparative analysis of education systems and policies, as well as a mapping of the state of the art of teaching the discipline, or the relevant disciplines in Europe, is part of the life of all networks, and national surveys have either been carried out by the network as a new activity, or as a follow up of activities preceding the upstart of the TNPs proper, targeting single disciplines. Ruffio states that the material produced is interesting, although very varied in approach and scope.

After the first three years, the following available material seemed most promising [5]:

A tentative definition of a minimum common European curriculum was carried out by the TNPs in physics, dentistry, chemistry and tourism.

As stated by Ruffio, the legitimacy and recognition of the TNPs will only develop proportionally to the legitimacy they will get from European higher education bodies and to the extent they are recognised as a tool to accompany university mutations. At present, they still lack recognition because they are little identified, and their results are not much known. The TNPs are weakly linked to the institutions, their activities are too individual and cannot be easily connected to institutional strategies. Their future lies with the actual impact they will have on universities, and depend on the manner in which their proposals will be implemented or integrated by institutions.

Assessment of the dissemination phase

In the present assessment, 16 networks have been examined, all TNPs that were accepted by the European Commission in 1996 and continued until the fall of 2000. All networks received funding well below the amount originally applied for. All have carried out three year projects, subject to annual renewal applications, all were invited to apply for a fourth year prolongation for dissemination of products and results.

Table 3 presents some characteristics of Norwegian participation in these projects. The number of participants listed for each project is taken from [5]. It must be noted that the names of TNPs are abbreviated; full names will be found in appendix N where co-ordinating institutions are also listed. The category of Norwegian partner is indicated by U (university), VH (vitenskapelig høgskole) or H (høgskole).

Table 3: Norwegian participation in the 16 projects:
Contract number Subject area Theme Partners Cat. Norw. Norw. partners Norw. contact
29525 1.0 Agricultural sciences 112 VH Norges landbrukshøgskole Professor, Head of dept.
U Universitetet i Bergen (not available)
25855 3.0 Arts and Music 448 H Kunsthøgskolen i Oslo Adm. head of studies
H, U, VH 17 Norw. participants[1]  
26173 6.5 Electrical and Information Engineering 46 - - -
25899 7.2 Engineering and environment 107 - - -
25905 8.1 Philosophy and humanities 45 H Høgskolen i Agder Associate professor
26030 8.9 Humanities computing 110 U Universitetet i Bergen Professor
U Norges teknisk naturvitenskapelige universitet Professor
U Universitetet i Oslo Associate professor
25917 9.0 Languages 108 U Universitetet i Bergen Post. doc. fellow, Professor
U Universitetet i Oslo Professor
26033 12.4 Veterinary sciences 68 VH Norges veterinærhøgskole Rector
26029 12.8 Medical physics and medical engineering 37 U Universitetet i Oslo Professor
25929 13.2 Physics 119 U Universitetet i Oslo Associate professor
U Universitetet i Bergen Professor
25846 13.3 Chemistry 86 U Universitetet i Bergen Professor
U Universitetet i Oslo Professor
U Norges teknisk naturvitenskapelige universitet Director of Faculty
26036 13.9 Biotechnology 88 U Universitetet i Bergen Professor
U Universitetet i Oslo Professor
H Høgskolen i Hedmark Associate professor
25931 14.8 Humanitarian development studies 68 U Universitetet i Bergen Professor
U Universitetet i Oslo Professor
25409 15.0 Communication sciences 92 U Universitetet i Bergen Professor
25709 16.1 Physical and sports education.  251 VH Norges idrettshøgskole Rector
26203 0.0 University continuing education 106 U Universitetet i Bergen Office manager

From Table 3, it can be seen that the number of participants in each network varies from 37 to 448. Part of the variation may be explained by the number of institutions involved in teaching a particular field in Europe. In the case of project number 25855 on Arts and Music, a large number of institutions were represented by an umbrella organization, the European League of Institutes of the Arts. Some variation may be explained as a particular characteristic of the network (such as project number 25905 on Humanities and philosophy, a focused interdisciplinary network). Two networks are without Norwegian participation. It must be noted that the number of participants may have varied over the years. Some partners have ceased their participation during the lifetime of the project, while new ones have joined. According to Ruffio, the TNP with contract number 26173 on Electrical and Information Engineering has had a Norwegian participant. This participant was no longer present in the fourth year.

Overview of participation

In Table 4, we briefly present a different overview of Norwegian participation in all TNPs in the first phase of SOCRATES (1996-2000) by subject area.

Table 4. Overview of Norwegian participation by subject area.
Norwegian partner Networks with Norwegian partners
Agricultural University of Norway Network: Agricultural Sciences
University of Bergen op
University of Bergen Network: Aquaculture Education and Training
Norwegian School of Management Network: Management
Norwegian School of Economics and Bussiness Administration op
Oslo College Network: Tourism and Leisure
Høgskolen i Sør-Trøndelag op
University of Oslo Network: Continuing Education
University of Bergen op
University of Oslo Network: Teacher Education
Bergen College of Higher Education op
Institutt for praktisk pedagogikk (??) op
Høgskolen i Stavanger op
Sogn og Fjordane College op
Østfold College op
Høgskolen i Agder op
Oslo College op
Høgskolen Stord/Haugesund op
University of Trondheim (NTNU) Network: Telematics in Higher Education
University of Bergen op
NADE - Ass. for Distance Ed. op
Norwegina Ass. for Dist.Edu . SOFF Network: Distance Education University Network
NTNU Network: Education and Training for Water
University of Bergen Network: Higher Engineering Education
Vestfold College op
Sør-Trøndelag College op
Høgskolesenteret i Rogaland op
University of Bergen Network: Innovation for Education in Information
University of Oslo op
University of Bergen Network: European Ethics Network
University of Bergen Network: Imaginaire l'Europe
University of Oslo op
University of Bergen Network: Advanced computing in the Humanities
NHH op
University of Tromsø op
Univisjon A/S op
University of Bergen Network: Archeology
Eruopean Ass. of Archaeologists op
Statens høgskole for kunst og design i Bergen Network: Higher Art Education in Europe
Vestlandets kunstakademi op
National college of scenic art op
Norges musikkhøgskole op
Statens håndverks- og kunstindustriskole op
Statens kunstakademi op
Stavanger college school of arts education op
ECA- European Council of Artists op
University of Bergen Network: Languages
University of Oslo op
NTNU Network: Speech Communication Sciences
University of Tromsø op
10 LAW
University of Oslo Network: European Legal Practice
University of Oslo Network: Medical Education and Didactics
University of Tromsø op
University of Bergen op
University of Tromsø Network: MedED-21 Forum
University of Trondheim op
University of Bergen Network: Physics
University of Bergen Network: ECTS Chemistry
University of Oslo op
Borregaard Business Development Network: Biotechnology Network
Statoil op
University of Oslo op
University of Bergen op
University of Oslo Network: Biology
University of Oslo Network: Humanitarian Development Studies
University of Bergen op
University of Oslo Network: Teacher Education
University of Bergen Network: Social Professions
Association Norvégienne de science politique Network: Science politique
University of Bergen op
University of Oslo op
Agricultural University of Norway Network: Improving planning education 
University of Bergen op
Lillehammer college op
University of Tromsø op
Arkitekthøgskolen op
University of Oslo Network: University/industry co-operation
University of Bergen op
University of Bergen Network: Communication sciences
Bodø College op
University of Tromsø op
- -

Overview of products

We present a summary overview of outcomes reported by the 16 projects that went through a complete 4-year cycle and completed a dissemination phase in 2000. Table 5 presents an overview of results from the dissemination and exploitation year per TNP.

Table 5: Dissemination & exploitation results by TNP
Proj. nr. subject no. partners products from 4th year (dissemination & exploitation)
26030 Humanities computing 103
(year 1-3)

(year 4)

knowledge base on materials and tools (www)

knowledge base on institutions and courses (www)

joint recommendations (www)

guidelines on best practice (www)

info on training and retraining (www)

student awareness plan (www)

Joint European Website for Education in Language and Speech (

Meetings: NO, NL, UK, UK, DE, UK, BE

Workshops: CZ, GR

Contributions to conferences organised by others: IE, PR, GR

25929 Physics 125 Regional forums: FR, PL, ES

website (www)

flyer (paper)

Subject review handbook of the quality assurance agency for HE (short paper)

Visions of a European future: Bologna and beyond (short paper)

EUPEN on-line (electronic newsletter)

Video of regional forum (VHS)

Inquiries into European HE in Physics, Vol. 5 (book)

The training needs of physics teachers in five European countries: An inquiry (book)

25899 Environmental sciences 109 Web forum site: The WaterMasters Ring (www)

Information on student, scholar & multimedia exchanges (www)
(NB: this is a cooperation sponsored jointly by the US Dept. of Edu.)

Research paper: Risk in Water resources management: towards a new scientific paradigm (NB: this is not education)

Conference: NL

Proceedings of conference (paper)

Meetings: BE, AT

Contribution to conference organised by others: NL, HU

Newsletter (paper, e-mail)

26033 Veterinary Medicine 83 Visits: FI, IT, PL, ES, UK, BE

Meetings: SE, PT, UK, BE, ES, ES, UK, BE, BE, ES, RO, BE, HU, CH, PL, BE, UK, RO

Symposium "The European Veterinary Evaluation System", AT

Review of the European System of Evaluation of Veterinary Teaching Establishments (report, paper)
(NB: gives overview for some Eur. countries but far from complete)

25917 Languages 97 Conference: BE

Meetings: BE, CZ, BE, BE, FI, FR, FR, PT, BE, BE, FR, HU, BE, FR, BE, NO, ES, DE, DE

Language Studies in European HE 2000-2005 (A2, paper and web)

Draft synthesis papers (unpublished) on:
- mobility and the labour market, European integration and citizenship,
- new learning environments, 
- teacher training, 
- training in translation and interpreting, 
- language studies at advanced level for non-language professions
- assessment of language proficiency of Modern Language undergraduates (in English and French)

29525 Agricultural sciences 112  Workshops: IT, AT, HU, HU, FR, AT, FR, AT

Web sites


Conferences: IT

Internal meetings: AT

Country reports on forestry (background information for teaching) (PDF on CD-ROM)

Teaching material on the culture of Brachionus Plicatilis (HTML on CD-ROM)

Quality assessment of teaching module on forestry (booklet)

Teacher's manual on forestry (booklet)

Integrating sustainability into agricultural education (conference contribution, paper)

Good practice for international relation offices (paper)

International relations management (workshop contributions, paper)

AQUA-TNET white paper (white paper)

AFANet (conference contribution, paper)

26203 Continuing Education 82 Managers' Handbook (English & German edition) (books)

other things on diskette, CD-ROM and www (see list) (Some material available in English, Finnish, French, Lithuanian and Romanian).

Conference: FI, NO, SE, PT, HU, UK, PL

Workshops, forums: BE, BE, CZ, UK, LT, PL, 

Internal meetings: UK, UK, HU, FR

25846 Chemistry *)

95 Meetings: IE, DE, PL

International conference chemical education: presentation


25905 Philosophy *)

50 Seminars: IT, ES, AT
25931 Social Sciences *)

68 International congress: FI

Meetings: HU, BE, MK, AL, CY, SK, CZ, RO, BG, BA, Universities in Latin America

Workshops: Peace-table in BA, UK

Seminar: IT

Participation in international symposium on Central and Southern Africa

Pre-project study of Joint Master

Development of existing website

Dissemination booklets, publications and data

26029 Medical Technology *)


48 Symposium - satellite to the VIth International Conference on Medical Physics: GR, AT, GR

Participation in conference organized by others: GR, USA

Meetings: GR, BE, GR

Book presenting recommendations TEMPERE "F 2000"

26036 Biotechnology*)

88 Meetings: IT, NO, PL, BE

CD-ROM on biotechnology products


Update and development of website

Update of booklet and publications

Booklet on academic formation in Biotechnology

Publication on education in Eastern Europe

Proposal for international biotech diploma

Bulletin on diagnostic application and publication on "Quaderni Sclavo"

26173 Electronic Engineering *) 31 Meetings: DE, DE, FR

Participation in conferences organized by others: DE, TR, FR

Booklet on INEIT-MUCON and TNP activity

25709 Physical and sports education *) 119 Meetings: IT, IT, DK, NO

Contribution to conferences organized by others: CH, SM

Electronic newsletters

Publication of results (paper)

Workshop: DE, Hungary

25855 Performing arts *)

448 Conference: RO, LT, ES

Workshop: ES, UK

Symposium: UK, DE, PL, RO

Seminar: FR

25409 Speech communication sciences 92 Meetings: NO, NL, DE

Workshop: CZ

knowledge base on materials and tools (www)

knowledge base on institutions and courses (www)

joint recommendations (www)

guidelines on best practice (www)

info on training and retraining (www)

student awareness plan (www)

Joint European Website for Education in Language and Speech (

*) Information based on application.

From Table 5, it can be seen that the content of the outcomes is very heterogeneous and varies strongly from network to network. It must also be noted that two networks, 26030 on Humanities Computing and 25409 on Speech Communication Sciences, decided to work together intensively and have produced a number of joint outcomes; these include in particular a number of joint meetings and a common website with various joint products. Furtermore, these networks together succeeded in handing over the outcomes to another organization (ELSNET) for further exploitation and updating after the end of the TNP period.

A breakdown of outcomes by medium is difficult to put into exact numbers. However, it can be seen from Table 5 that conferences, workshops, forums, site visits and other events where people physically meet are the prime forms of communication in the TNP activities. The Internet is extensively used but still seems surpassed by the use of printed media. Most TNPs maintain a website but they have widely various amounts and types of information on their sites.

Events were held in all sizes, varying from small working meetings to large conferences. A full assessment of the impact of events is not possible. Table 6 presents a breakdown of events per country, including only events initiated by the TNP itself, not contributions to conferences organized by others. Belgium tops the list, followed by the United Kingdom. As a group, the newly associated countries are well represented. This could be due to the fact that meetings in many of the newly associated countries (notably Central and Eastern European countries) are generally less expensive than they would be in most EU countries. Norway hosted five events (including 3 large events), which is more than any other Nordic country.

Table 6: Countries where events were held
8 21 8 1 9 4 10 5 1 8 0 2 3 2 14 0 0 5 27 4

Outcomes in the form of written materials, whether in print or electronic, represent a very wide variety of information, including assessment reports, handbooks, teacher's manuals, teaching materials, conference papers, white papers, research papers, recommendations, guidelines, knowledge bases, newsletters, synthesis papers, reviews, etc. These outcomes are addressed at different audiences including higher education teachers, students, strategy makers at every level, partners in society, and the general public. It is hard to assess the actual distribution and eventual impact of these materials but the potential is significant.

All written project outcomes, whether printed or electronic, are at least available in English. Most TNPs do not disseminate in any other languages at all. We know of only a few TNPs (Continuing Education, Chemistry, Languages) that made any effort to produce materials in different languages, but even in these cases, it is only a small amount of materials that is provided in a limited number of languages. Among those languages are German, French, Finnish, Lithuanian, Romanian and Norwegian. In 1997-1998, the TNP on Humanities Computing maintained its website in Spanish as well as in English with the help of a Spanish trainee under the Leonardo programme, but this could not be sustained.

Summing up, it is found that the results are widespread in content and form; events show a fairly wide geographical distribution, but the dissemination effort was narrow in terms of the languages used. The lack of multilingual written materials can be seen in connection to the tight project budgets in relation to the high costs of translation or parallel production of multilingual materials. We consider this monolinguality an important limiting factor for achieving a broad European impact. At the same time, it must be recognised that English is the most widely known second language of Europeans.

Part III. Assessment of impact

The impact of the TNPs active from 1996 to 2000 is now analysed and discussed further, with particular reference to the networks in which Norwegian partners participated and taking into account the experiences of these partners.

Impact in the eyes of the Norwegian partners

The Norwegian participants in the remaining 14 networks were known by name and were all contacted by telephone or email. They were presented with the questions in Appendix 1. An analysis of the findings is presented below. Two persons were unreachable since they did not respond to either repeated phone calls or to e-mails. In addition, there was one person who was reached and remembered having been listed as responsible for participation in the network, a part of his duties when he served as head of an institute; however, he did no recollect any activities related to the participation. Two networks had the same Norwegian person as participant. In all, 10 persons were successfully interviewed.

In addition, a small meeting was held in Bergen with five academics who have participated in TNP activities: Kjell Brønstad, George Francis, Angela Hasselgreen, Frank Moe and Koenraad de Smedt. Also Bjørn Einar Aas, the SOCRATES coordinator for the University of Bergen, was present. This meeting was the scene for an in-depth discussion of TNP impact.

The conclusions that seem to emerge based on the interviews and the meeting may be covered under the following entries.

1. Impact at the European level

As far as potential impact on a European scale is concerned, two networks stand out, the one in veterinary science and the one in chemistry:

In Veterinary science, as a consequence of evaluations carried out by the network, an informal ranking of European institutions teaching veterinary science has emerged. The north is seen as strongest, then comes the south, and last come the institutions in Eastern Europe. The latter are taking the assessment very seriously, and strive to reach what may be termed a "European level". Not only institutions in Eastern Europe are being criticised: In Spain, a couple of institutions have been subject to severe criticism as well.

The Chemistry network has centred its effort on establishing a core curriculum in chemistry, while other activities (for instance a test database) are said to be spin-offs of this. The effect of the network in Europe is said to be substantial, and membership in the network is increasing. Institutions in Eastern Europe are said to have general problems of adjustment. Also in chemistry, adjusting to a European standard is an issue for Eastern European universities. The network is in the process of establishing a European association.

It is reported that the TNP in chemistry has had enormous impact on chemistry in Europe and represents to best forum for discussing what society needs; this analysis has been carried out in cooperation with industry, represented by the European Chemistry Society and others. The network contributes to a maximal return on mobility actions through increasing compatibility of curricula. Dissemination is secured by 16 groups which are present on the Internet; in these activities, Norway is well represented.

In some TNPs, products have been developed that may lead to the establishment of European standards, but where such a development lies in the future ahead. An example of this is the network in Languages, where European tools for language testing have been developed.

In the other networks, there is a European dimension, but less of a direct impact on the subject itself as it is being taught in the participating countries. In Sports and physical science, the network is seen as a necessary means for contact between academics, to indicate the direction for future development of the discipline. Even though focus is not on the evaluation of institutions, participation in the network has revealed that institutions in Eastern Europe are lagging behind in development. For Continuing education, the network is one of several existing pan-European networks which promote communication across borders, but have quite limited consequences, as perceived by the Norwegian participants.

The network in Advanced computing in the humanities, an interdisciplinary network, has led to increased networking and co-operation both across and within several disciplines. Noteworthy are "small" disciplines in a European context, which have been able to solve some of their common computational problems. In Communication sciences, networking at a European level has increased. The latter two networks have cooperated on joint analyses and proposals concerning language and speech technology in Europe, and have supported the development of European masters programmes. As part of the dissemination and exploitation efforts, they have established links to several other European organisations (ELSNET, EACL, ALLC, ISCA) to further develop and exploit their TNP outcomes. This was seen as necessary for achieving a longer lasting impact, since these fields of study are not covered by professional organisations.

A European periodical has been established by the thematic network in Arts and music. It is interesting that the TNP through its journal accredits institutions that are not recognised as institutions of higher learning in their home country.

The network Immaginare l'Europa, an interdisciplinary network for European philosophy and culture and related fields, is closely linked to the European Commission and to the Parliament, and has Jacques Delors on its board. The network is obviously seen as a source of competence and knowledge for those responsible for forming the policy of the European Union. The network has been established as a permanent European association.

In contrast, the Physics network was considered interesting but otherwise dispensable by the Physics department at the University of Bergen. It was pointed out that there is sufficient international networking between physics researchers, both formal and informal, even though concentrating on cooperation in research rather than education.

For achieving cooperation at a European level, universities generally perceive TNPs as being too big and prefer smaller, more manageable European partnerships such as the Coimbra and Santander groups. Such partnerships are funded by the partners themselves; in spite of this, or perhaps because of this, they are more driven by the institution as a whole and are often more successful in achieving practical co-operation and information exchange between institutions.

2. Impact at national and local level

The effects of participation at national and local level shows substantial variation. Several contacts report no effect at their own institution, and certainly no effect at the national level. There are contacts that have no information on possible impact whether at their own institution or at national level. We take that as an indication that influence is strictly limited. Networks that seem to stand out as having an impact are the following:

Norges veterinærhøgskole has drawn on the experiences and conclusions from the TNP in Veterinary science, especially when introducing problem based learning activities, a teaching method highly recommended by the network.

Participation in the Chemistry network has led to complete changes in the curriculum at the University of Oslo, and adjustments at the University of Bergen. Whereas the universities in Trondheim and Tromsø have been less interested in the recommendations for a core curriculum, University colleges are to some degree informed, and in all probability taking into account the recommendations when reviewing their curricula.

Participation in the network for Sports is said to have been of quite some importance for the institutions concerned. The school has been brought up to date on developments within research, and general developments in the field. Some of the working groups aim to deepen their co-operation to cover the development of common guidelines for quality maintenance, and develop standardised courses.

The Languages network has brought clear benefits to the institutions concerned. The representative at Bergen reports concrete results of international cooperation, for instance the development of useful testing instruments for language competencies. Participation in the network also contributes to the university's international profile and creates a positive breeding ground for continued international cooperation in the future.

Many networks, however, do not report on much effect, whether locally or nationally. Participation in the Humanitarian development studies network is said to be of potential importance locally, as is participation in the network for Philosophy and History. So far, nothing of substantial importance has come of it. Likewise, the University of Bergen's participant in the Continuing Education network reports that, although the meetings have been interesting, they have not had any real impact locally in Bergen. Institutional commitment has been very thin and despite a big TNP conference in Norway, nothing seems to have percolated to local or national level. The TNP on Humanities computing reports little impact beyond the fact that Bergen has strengthened its reputation in this interdisciplinary field.

A worse report is heard from the University in Bergen's participation in the Physics network. Although the Physics department at Bergen started participating, it was denied the support from the faculty that it had sought in order to carry out its planned activities. Subsequently, the department at Bergen chose to cease their participation in the TNP. Although the work of the TNP was deemed interesting, it was by no means a priority for the department. Furthermore, it was pointed out that there are many other formal and informal opportunities for international networking among Physics departments. There is solid scepticism to formal networks, not only to European ones, but to all formal structures which may limit academic freedom and could be used for political rope pulling rather than development of disciplines (Norgesnettet was mentioned in this respect).

Most networks report very meagre impact at national level, even if there have been benefits at local and European level. Chemistry, for instance, contacted the national council on chemistry (fagråd) under the Norwegian Council of Higher Education, but the national council showed little interest and limited its role to one of "being informed". The Humanities Computing network reports communication problems with the Ministry of Education regarding the organization of a conference. Others consider the Ministry of Education too far from reality to know what is going on in the different disciplines.

In Norway, recent drives to reform ('Kvalitetsreformen') have made internationalization an important point, and have placed Norway at the forefront of nations embracing ECTS and the BaMa grade structure. If few impulses have come from TNPs for tackling those aspects of internationalization, one may wonder why. Norwegian institutions have mainly placed the burden on faculties and implement concrete reform initiatives in the different subjects. However, faculty representatives as such have not often been contact persons in TNPs.

Furthermore, it is pointed out that although the universities are the formal partners in the TNP, it is the departments that produce the real effort, often with insufficient resources from their institutions. The complicated balance between power exerted and efforts spent by the various levels of the educational system, from national to departmental, requires a better understanding between the various levels in an institution in order to fulfil internationalization ambitions.

3. How did the Norwegian partner come to join?

Some of the networks have been started by European organisations. Presently only universities may act as central co-ordinator, and the role of these associations has been diminished. Amongst the networks initiated by European associations are the network in arts and music and the network in university continuing education. In these cases, TNP has contributed financially to a network that existed already as well as introduced new types of activities.

Indeed, it may be difficult to differentiate between activities that were initiated by the network as a result of TNP, and activities they would have undertaken anyway. Norwegian participants have been recruited to the networks through their participation either in other networks such as ECTS (Chemistry) or Nordic networks (Sports, Veterinary science).

Several of the academics have been recruited through their personal international networks. Also, just about all of the Norwegian contacts report on participation in the TNP as being personally rewarding. There are few exceptions to this. For most participants, their participation was indeed more of a personal contribution rather than a commitment on the part of their institution. Only few institutions contributed with real personnel resources (often just administration costs; academic staff time was funded more by university colleges than by universities). For the most part, participants travelled to meetings in the weekends, and indeed, some experienced it as a job done in their free time, almost separate from their normal duties. It is clearly felt that the efforts spent on TNP activities lack recognition by the institution; consequently, joining the TNP leads to participants putting in only the efforts they choose to put in, not the efforts that are needed.

Still, there is a general understanding that joining international networks (nearly regardless of their form and funding) is a good thing both for personal academic development and for the departments involved. Academic environments with good international relations can often use these relations to defend the changes they wish to accomplish.

The academic staff's positive attitude towards joining is not always shared by the faculties or universities to which they belong. There is often scepticism to projects that are led from elsewhere. Moreover, considering the limited European financial support to the projects (often in the order of a tenth of the total budget), and the overhead incurred by unfamiliar administrative procedures in joining and reporting, it is small wonder that institutions are hesitating to join, and often give their staff only permission to participate on condition that the contact persons do everything on their own and the institution is not 'bothered' too much.

4. Role of Norwegian partners

Based on the responses of the participants, the various roles of the participants in the activities of the TNPs can be briefly described as follows. All interviewees report on participation in network meetings and conferences. In addition, the following specific roles were reported.

5. Importance of contact person position

Administrators as contacts: Two networks have had administrators as their Norwegian contact. One network reports that the central co-ordinator has been an administrator. It is characteristic that the administrators interviewed talk about their experience with the network as being an interesting one, but that implementation of results reached by the network, or spreading of material produced by the network, seems to be somewhat at fault. The presence of administrators in the networks, seem to indicate a weaker institutional commitment to the network. The network where the central co-ordinator (but not the Norwegian participant) is an administrator, also seems to suffer somewhat from this.

Rectors as contacts: Two single discipline universities have been represented with their rector, the third single discipline university has been represented by changing academics. Where rectors have been actively involved, the whole institution has in effect become involved, and the implementation of results reached through the network are very well visible.

Academics as contacts: Where academics have been the contacts, the impact vary greatly, depending on personal interests and other characteristics. An additional factor may be the institutional role of the academic, whether he/she is later given tasks related to development of courses and curriculum, but again, this seems to vary with the individual and with the results reached by the working groups of the Thematic network. In one case, the network has been a personal commitment, following the academic from one institution to the next, ending up in a third institution where he now works part time. In one network the co-ordinator is employed as a post-doc. This somewhat marginal position at the institute, may help explain why her efforts seem to have been needlessly demanding. The inexpert European representation in her working group has also made her take on responsibilities and leadership beyond that which could reasonably have been expected.

Further discussion

Institutions for higher education in Europe have in the past decade been quite fragmented in their handling of pressing educational matters such as curriculum development and adoption of new technologies. At a time when many universities were trying to cut costs, teaching staff often had insufficient resources to orient themselves properly; instead, they were often left to themselves.

However, higher education has increasingly come under pressure from various perspectives. Politically, the Bologna process in particular has put pressure on national governments. Also, competition in the education market has increased through increasing mobility of students, not only physical but also virtual, through the use of information and communication technologies.

In 2000-2001, Norway started showing a remarkable political drive for an encompassing higher education reform in which internationalization figures prominently. A noteworthy number of institutions for higher education are reassessing their educational strategies. The University of Bergen, for instance, created a pro-rector for education in 2001.

From the present assessment, it is almost superfluous to say that these developments are not directly influenced by the TNP action, which hardly reached the institutional, let alone the national level. While the TNP action was an instrument aimed at analysis and proposals with a European dimension, it had neither the mandate, nor the resources, to translate its results into policy that bore the commitment of its partnership.

The scope and aim of the TNP action has therefore been difficult to grasp by its audience. While TNP projects were not intended to be narrowly focused, for instance towards making a learning tool or awarding student mobility grants, some TNPs have nevertheless made such concrete results, which often proved useful and successful. Other TNPs have produced mainly analyses and proposals which universities and national authorities are free to consider or ignore.

Strategic analysis requires, at the level of the individual institution, a delicate dialogue between the various levels of the academic structure (institution, faculty and department). Furthermore, any realistic tuning of education to changing societal needs presupposes a dialogue with various societal partners, including employers and the government. Setting up effective processes that are at once pervasive in each institution and occur in a coordinated way throughout the whole of Europe presupposes enormous efforts and supporting infrastructures.

In contrast, the extra means that a TNP has to its disposal is typically not even sufficient to send two participants from each partner to an annual conference. On paper, the contribution of the partners in terms of time spent is substantial. In practice, however, the effort amounts to imposing extra tasks on already overworked teaching staff. Thus, most institutions do not spend any own resources on TNPs. Societal partners outside educational institutions cannot be funded at all. Given this lack of incentives, it is not surprising that participation from the societal partners is very weak.

This situation suggests that in effect, the TNPs will often amount to exercises carried out by rather restricted groups of academics focussing on rather narrow academic issues, while any power to restructure the university remains beyond their power. The results indicate that a number of interesting conferences have been held and interesting reports have been written, but we see no results showing institutional commitment. One of the networks originally planned that a 'common ground document' as well as a 'formal agreement' would be formally signed by all partner institutions, but had to abandon this envisaged result.

The position of involved participants in terms of the academic level is significant, especially seen in contrast to other network building exercises such as CRE (Association of European Universities) and multilateral networks such as the Coimbra and Santander groups, which typically involve the higher echelons of the academic structure, which have more power to effectuate changes through their stronger influence on budget allocations. With some notable exceptions, the higher levels of academic structure were hardly involved in the TNP activities.

Even more surprising was the absence of student representation in the activities. Only in a few instances, where students already had achieved a strong prior organization in terms of a European student association in a particular discipline, was there any involvement. In most other cases, student views were absent. It is difficult to achieve any co-operation across borders if the different groups within each institution communicate insufficiently with each other. The same holds for communication with ministries of education and other national organs.

The process of reflection that the TNP action has initiated at the core of SOCRATES/ERASMUS has proved influential also on other European educational programmes, such as Grundtvig and Comenius, which have adopted thematic network actions of their own and taken it further. In Grundtvig, the TNP action is more open; relevant non-educational institutions may be eligible. Certainly, reflection has become an absolute necessity after the 'Bologna' has become more 'real' than institutions initially believed. Furthermore, the TUNING project has taken important input from TNPs. Indeed, TUNING may address more vital and fundamental issues than TNPs have done, by finding out more directly how students and societal partners look at education and what their needs are. Moreover, TUNING cuts across many areas of study, whereas TNPs have been highly dependent on existing traditions and contacts in the different disciplines.

With respect to any theme or discipline, the efforts involved in TNPs represent only a small fraction of the total efforts on innovation in higher education. In general, the impact of the TNP action on curriculum development does not seem to be very strong, even if some networks have produced useful core curricula and European masters degrees. There is a large difference between the curriculum development processes in the professional and the liberal studies. Professional studies are in general highly regulated in every country, and are in need of establishing professional associations at the European level, if they have not already done so. In the liberal studies, there have been no regulatory bodies, and so any cooperation across borders must do a lot of groundwork, including finding a common definition of the field of study itself (for instance, 'humanities computing'). It is for the liberal and especially the new interdisciplinary studies the TNP action could have been most meaningful, but the means have hardly been sufficient for initiating the task.

While the TNP action has created useful fora for academics to ventilate their ideas, there have been no prospects of efficiently implementing these, not even procedures for assessing their suitability. From the start, the TNP has been open to any project idea, but at the same time the action has become increasingly partitioned along the lines of traditional disciplines, thereby hardly stimulating innovation where Europe needs it most. Instead, the action could have been more focused towards questions like "Where does Europe stand with respect to interdisciplinary studies?" Sharpening the focus could have contributed both towards perceiving the objectives of the action and achieving usable results.

This is not to say that the results of the TNPs have been useless. In the first place, we need to distinguish between products and processes. Without doubt, the many meetings and other contacts have been a process that brings people from different parts of Europe closer to each other, and this process does not stop when the projects do. Not unexpectedly, our analysis shows that personal contacts through the TNP are valued immensely; moreover, personal contact tends to promote cooperation even in ways not envisaged beforehand.

Furthermore, we need to distinguish between intended results, useful results and results that are used. It is beyond doubt that many TNP results do present new knowledge and contribute innovative methods. The information provided in the various dissemination exercises, by means of meetings, publications, and web sites, is large and mostly useful for the intended audience. However, it is difficult to assess, for instance, if a handbook or report produced by a TNP in English will be of much use at a university in Greece. It is even more difficult to find out if the publication in question is really used or if it gathers dust on a bookshelf.


It is our conclusion that Norwegian participation in the TNP action was not below that from other European countries. Norwegian institutions were relatively well represented in the partnerships, and one project was coordinated from Norway. Norway has attracted three substantial conferences and a couple of smaller meetings. Norwegian participation brought about useful insights and experiences, mostly at the personal level. Some networks have had significant impact on their targeted fields of study in Norway, but for most networks, tangible impact is less visible. These analyses must be interpreted with caution, because they rely on personal experiences by participants in the projects.

Although the TNP action is formally integrated into the SOCRATES institutional contract, it is different from the other actions in the SOCRATES programme. The intentions of the action are highly compatible with the desire of many European universities, also Norwegian ones, to move international activities from the institution's perifery to its core. However, the TNP action never succeeded in mobilizing institutions, neither in Norway nor in other European countries. Most institutions participating in TNPs did not link these activities to either local curricular innovation or to other internationalisation activities.


[1] Barblan, Andris & Teichler, Ulrich (2000). Implementing European Strategies in Universities: the Socrates Experience. CRE DOC Nr. 6. Genève: CRE.

[2] European Commission (1995-1998). SOCRATES: Guidelines for Applicants.

[3] Documents presented to the Commission's advisory committee on higher education: SCHE 7/96 - Doc 3, SCHE 7/97 Doc 1, SCHE 03/98 - Doc 7, SCHE 03/99 - Doc 12, SCHE 9/99 - Doc 3, SCHE 09/99 - Doc 5/Doc 6, SCHE 3/2000 - Doc 9, SCHE 07/2000 - WP.

[4] Ruffio, Philippe (1998). The SOCRATES Thematic Networks: A tool for collective mobilization and reflection on the future of Higher Education. Report to the EC.

[5] Ruffio, Philippe (2000). Changing the University: the supporting role of the Erasmus Thematic Networks (a three-year perspective). Report to the EC.

Appendix: Guide to telephone interviews with Norwegian co-ordinators

  1. Nettverk/Identification number of network:
  2. Navn/Name of Norwegian co-ordinator:
  3. Institusjon/Institution:
  4. Stilling/Position:
  5. Særlig ansvar for undervisning/Responsibilities for educational programmes and planning of curriculum:
  6. TNP stiftet år/TNP established when:
  7. Med i TNP fra år/Membership in TNP since:
  8. Oppgaver innenfor nettverket/Tasks in the network:.
  9. Eget fagmiljø involvert/Involvement of colleagues:
  10. Motivasjon for deltakelse/Motivation for participation:
  11. Effekt av deltakelse i eget fagmiljø/Effects of participation on institute:
  12. Effekt av deltakelse i Norge/Effect of participation in Norway:
  13. Effekt på europeisk nivå/Effect of participation at a European level:
  14. Personlig utbytte/Personal benefits:
  15. Deltakelse i andre internasjonale nettverk/Participation in other international networks:
  16. Bekymringer/Concerns:

[1] Through the European League of Institutes of the Arts, the following Norwegian members participated: Kunsthøgskolen i Bergen, Universitetet i Bergen: Griegakademiet, Akademi for figurteater, Fredrikstad, NTNU Art and Media, Nordland kunst og filmskole, Kabelvåg, Norges musikkhøgskole, Høgskolen i Agder, Kunstfag og musikk, Agder musikk-konservatorium, Barrat Due, Kunsthøgskolen i Oslo, Kunsthøgskolen i Oslo, Statens håndverks- , og industri, Statens kunstakademi, Statens operaskole, Statens teaterhøgskole, Stavanger college of Arts education, Høgskolen i Tromsø, kunst og musikk, Musikkonservatoriet i Trondhjem, NTNU.