The University of Bergen (UiB) seems far more positive towards a potential merger with the Bergen-based Norwegian School of Economics (NHH) than NHH does. News of exploratory talks between the two proud institutions of higher education have drawn both frowns and support, while NHH students are firmly opposed.
“We don’t want a merger with UiB,” Dina Mikalsen, leader of the NHH’s venerable student union NHHS, told newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) on Monday. She said the students have sent a clear message of opposition to NHH’s administration, where she seems to have support.
“NHH is today a large business school with a strong and integrated professional and academic milieu,” the dean of NHH, Frøystein Gjesdal, wrote in an email to DN over the weekend. “The list of professional synergies with UiB is surprisingly short.”
NHH’s assistant dean, Helge Thorbjørnsen, was assigned to represent the school at the exploratory talks in response to an assignment from the state Ministry of Education in May. The ministry wants all colleges and universities to evaluate their programs in an effort to streamline Norway’s education sector in the future. DN reported that among other things, the schools are supposed to evaluate whether there are too many overlapping programs, and whether some schools could be shut down. The goal is to have fewer but better colleges and universities in Norway.
NHH ‘better off on its own’
Thorbjørnsen has already stated that he thinks NHH, founded in 1936 and long enjoying prestige as a top business school in Norway, will be best-served by staying independent. “That opinion is shared by most employees at the college, and evaluations (of a potential merger) so far have not weakened that view,” Gjesdal wrote.
Reports of a potential merger with UiB emerged Friday in the student newspaper at UiB, På Høyden. The paper reported that a “working group” had been set up between UiB and NHH to discuss possibilities for closer cooperation or a merger. The talks that have been going on since are being held in response to the education ministry’s assignment in May.
Officials at UiB see far more synergies than NHH does. “Mergers are always challenging, that can’t be denied,” Dag Rune Olsen, dean of UiB, told DN. He sees possibilities, though, for further “cultivating” NHH’s core studies tied to accounting, auditing and finance. “They’re also good at economics and management, where we also have a strong professional milieu,” Olsen said. “There can also be administrative advantages (to a merger), but that’s not something we’ve been asked by the ministry to examine.”
Protecting the brand
Olsen stressed that any fusion must take care of NHH’s “brand,” which he said must not only be retained “but also strengthened.”
Asked what will happen if NHH doesn’t want to go along with any merger, Olsen noted that the ministry has assigned schools to “find out how they can voluntarily find new partners.” That means the boards of both schools must support a merger. Mikalsen of the student union thinks the opposite will occur.
“The reason I started at NHH was its position,” she said, calling NHH “the most attractive business school in Norway, that’s why people want to go here.” A merger with UiB “can absolute weaken its position,” Mikalsen added.
The issue is due to be discussed at an upcoming UiB board meeting. Newspaper Bergens Tidende reported that the board will discuss a proposal to tie NHH to UiB as its own business school.