A Nordic comparison shows that Finnish universities improved their productivity and efficiency

Finnish universities improved their productivity between 2011 and 2016. Furthermore, in 2016, Finnish universities used their resources substantially more efficiently than in the preceding years.

There was room for efficiency improvements in the Nordic universities between 2011 and 2016. The universities could have increased their outputs (such as the number of bachelor and master degrees and scientific publications) by an average of 10%.

Finnish universities were notably inefficient, especially in the years before 2016 when they lagged significantly behind other Nordic countries in particular when compared to universities in Denmark and Sweden. However, in 2016, the potential for efficiency improvements in Finnish universities was roughly at the same level as in Swedish universities (about 6.8%).

The results are presented in an audit report published by the Swedish National Audit Office on 20 June 2019, in which efficiency and productivity in Nordic universities between 2011 and 2016 were assessed.

During the period 2011–2016, Nordic universities improved their productivity by an average of 0.4% each year. The improvements were caused by technological changes, such as the introduction of information technology. At the same time, however, efficiency decreased by an average of 0.4% each year. Efficiency differences between the universities increased and their ability to maximise the outputs with the given inputs weakened.

There were differences in the productivity trends between Nordic countries in the period 2011–2016. Denmark and Finland achieved the highest productivity increases (annual growth of almost 2% in both countries), while in Norway, productivity declined by 0.6% each year.

Universities in nearly all Nordic countries have taken measures to enhance efficiency and productivity by making better use of digitalisation and introducing changes in the funding system. This probably explains why improvements have been achieved.

How was the audit carried out?

A total of 68 universities from all Nordic countries (13 of them from Finland) were included in the audit carried out by the Swedish National Audit Office. The universities of applied sciences in Denmark and Finland were not included in the assessment. The National Audit Office of Finland took part in the audit by providing data on Finnish universities and by having representatives in working groups.

The audit was based on quantitative methods, which are widely used in many countries to assess efficiency and productivity in education. In the audit, efficiency was estimated using Data Envelopment Analysis, which is an application of linear programming. The advantage of the method is that it is possible to depict units that are using several inputs to produce multiple ouputs such as universities with one indicator. In this method, the most efficient units are identified and used as benchmarks for less efficient units. Therefore, the results are relative and depend on the data used. Changes in productivity were calculated using the Malmquist index.

The number of students enrolled in bachelor and master degrees, number of doctoral students, number of teaching and research staff and number of other staff as well as the total office space of the facilities were used as university inputs for the analysis. The number of cost-adjusted ECTS credits, number of doctoral degrees, number of scientific publications and the number of highly cited scientific publications were used as outputs.

Finnish memorandum of the audit carried out by the Swedish National Audit Office