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A historical overview of Osloforskning

This historical overview is taken from Øyunn Høydal's master's thesis "Osloforskning. En evaluering." ("Oslo Research. An evaluation.")

In the spring of 1986, the Academic Collegium of the University of Oslo (UiO) was working on a prospective analysis for the period up to 2011 and the university's 200th anniversary. Central to this work was the university's ambition concerning more outreach activities. It wanted to make the social importance of research-based knowledge clear and therefore wanted to work extensively with external partners. The strategy work also included a clear ambition to improve its relationship with the City of Oslo, which according to the previous rector of UiO had long been uneasy. The first signs of contact between the university and the city appeared in the spring/summer of 1986.

Osloforskning was originally a forum in which the capital city's senior leaders could meet representatives of the leadership of the country's largest university. Naturally, both sides were most interested in tending to their own interests and had to take into account the structures behind them and the bureaucracy in their own organisations.


The city as a research theme

The city was a relatively untouched research theme in Norway until the end of the 1970s. And, to the extent that cities had been researched, most of the attention had been devoted to housing and urban planning. However, towards the end of the 1970s, interest in the city as a research object grew among researchers, politicians, and administrative staff in the local government sector. It appears that the basis for this new interest was relatively pragmatic. City municipalities had traditionally enjoyed good economies, but during the 1970s the largest municipalities saw the lowest economic growth or stagnation due to reduced tax revenues and smaller grants. The perception emerged that the state's wealth distribution policy treated smaller municipalities and sparsely populated areas more favourably. At the same time as cities were being affected by tightening public budgets, they also experienced strong price rises for housing and the emergence of various social problems that put a greater strain on the social sector in the cities than before. The result was that the cities meant that they were left with less money to cover ever increasing expenses. However, the cities had difficulties documenting the need for more money to the state. In 1976, Oslo's treasurer at the time, Bernt H. Lund, was behind the initiative that would later become the City Commission. The commission's mandate was to prepare a report on the structural and financial challenges faced by Oslo and Bergen. The report was completed in February 1979. However, the state refused to be persuaded of the cities' need for larger grants. Its attitude was rather that the cities' problems were inefficiency and a lack of control, and that the cities would have to solve their own problems. This contributed to the cities' increased interest in their own administrative and political control systems, and in Oslo this process resulted in two major local government reforms in the 1980s: the city government reform and the district reform.

In 1986, the initiative was taken to start a programme of city research under the auspices of Bergen, Trondheim, Stavanger and Oslo. The purpose of the programme was "(...) to improve the municipalities' knowledge about their activities and factors that affect these and to strengthen the municipalities' internal conditions in order to make better use of research results than has been the case so far." In other words, behind the interest in research was the notion that research-based knowledge could document the cities' special needs to the state. The focus was on both special characteristics that justified bigger government grants, as well as on help with solving government challenges and improving insight in order to resolve other special problems faced by the cities.

The cities' newly awoken interest in research-based knowledge was also a part of the general social trend. The countercyclical financial policy practised in Norway until the end of the 1970s was replaced by a belief in innovation as the best way out of the economic trough. And it was science-based innovation that would build up new industry.

America's Silicon Valley was a shining example and a source of motivation, and the first plans for a new research park at the University of Oslo appeared. At the same time, the sixty-eighters' dreams of cats and rabbits and smallholdings far from Sinsen junction were replaced by a more urban focus. The yuppie era of the 1980s was closely linked to life in the city and in 1986 the first phase of Aker Brygge, the yuppie monument, was completed.


A blank spot on the map

Even though the interest of the senior leaders of Oslo City Hall in research was growing, there were no formal contact channels between the city and its university, nor had there been for the university's entire 175-year history. The University of Oslo was literally a blank spot on the city map for many years. It took several decades before signage was put in place that helped new students or visitors find their way to the Blindern campus. The campus did not get its own tram stop until the new National Hospital was completed in 2000.

The leadership of the University of Oslo became all too aware of the lack of contact with the city in the 1980s. The competition for students and state grants was becoming steadily tougher and the need for alliances was growing. From Blindern they could see how other universities and university colleges had close contact with their respective cities and associated regions. The lack of such an alliance in the capital city became especially clear when UiO and the city had conflicting interests in political questions that were being considered. According to the former Rector Lønning, the city viewed the university as a state institution and thus not a local partner. This was clear in, among other things, zoning cases where the city and university could "argue for years".

As mentioned in the introduction, Osloforskning was established as part of the university's strategy work in the mid-1980s. In general, the university wanted a greater degree of external collaboration and improving its relationship with the City of Oslo was particularly important. OSLOFORSK, later Osloforskning, was established in 1987. The City of Oslo's financial director, Viggo Johannessen, and a head of department, Nils Karlgård, participated in the first liaison committee. The university was represented by Rector Inge Lønning and Professor Tor Fr. Rasmussen. The form of the liaison committee was amended a year later and in subsequent years it became a permanent forum for meetings between the City of Oslo's financial director and the university director. Rasmussen functioned as the committee's secretary.

The committee was Osloforskning's supreme body and laid down strategic guidelines for the organisation. In 1988, an academic committee was also established that was intended to "(…) encourage and initiate more research about and for the Oslo region within the prioritised subject areas." In other words, this committee was responsible for academic factors and considered incoming applications. The committee had four permanent members: two from each organisation. Rasmussen became the committee's chair and from that time until 1994 functioned as the head of Osloforskning. Tor Fredrik Rasmussen retired in 1994.

Administrator Ragnvald Kalleberg of the Department of Sociology was asked to produce a study of proposals concerning the reorganisation of Osloforskning and in November 1994 a five-point recommendation was presented:

  1. Osloforskning should be turned into a programme at the University of Oslo (UiO).
  2. The programme should be based, led and administered at and by the Department of Sociology, Faculty of Social Sciences.
  3. The programme should be headed by a permanent staff member of the Department of Sociology.
  4. The overall purpose and management model should be continued and adapted to the form of a programme. There should continue to be a steering committee with equal representation from the City of Oslo and the University of Oslo. This unit should be called the "Programme Board".
  5. The academic profile should be developed with a stronger focus on staff and doctoral degree research. There should also be a focus on developing more larger study initiatives (such as credit earning subjects at second degree level related to urban research and doctoral degree courses) and improving dissemination activities (such as media seminars, report series and collections of articles).

The university and city agreed to start work, on a provisional basis, from January 1996 and Kalleberg took over as the academic director. In 2000, Osloforskning gained a new, permanent board. The board members were chosen for a period of three years, and the City of Oslo's planning and analysis manager, Pål Hernæs, became the new chair of the board. At the same time, an academic committee was established that would consider applications for second degree level grants. Professor of sociology Trond Petersen succeeded Kalleberg as the academic director in 1997. Petersen was in turn succeeded by human geographer Terje Wessel a year later. Gunn E. Birkelund became the academic director in 2001 and, in 2002, professor of sociology Lime Kjølsrød took over the academic responsibility. Kjølsrød has been the academic director since then.

Source: Øyunn Høydal (2009) Osloforskning. En evaluering, master's thesis in sociology, UiO.

Published Mar. 9, 2017 1:22 PM - Last modified Mar. 13, 2017 2:30 PM