Nordic Centre of Excellence Programme on Welfare Research

The Nordic Centre of Excellence (NCoE) Programme on Welfare Research will, in the space of five years, study the historical evolution of the Nordic welfare model and its ability to adapt to changing external circumstances. Co-financed by NordForsk and several Nordic national science funding agencies, the programme will receive a total funding of NOK 75 million.

Combining competitiveness and growth with a high level of social services, the so-called Nordic model, is attracting international attention. For example, Nordic citizens are among those who are least at risk of poverty and have the highest life expectancy in Europe. However, the Nordic model is under pressure. Against the backdrop of globalisation, European integration, immigration, the ageing society and increased individualisation, many have predicted the death of the Nordic welfare state. There is consequently a need for research in order to assess if the Nordic welfare model can renew itself in the face of global competition.

An NCoE is defined as a well-structured and well-managed network of existing research teams from at least three different Nordic countries forming a virtual centre with joint objectives. The two NCoEs on welfare are aimed at increasing the quality, efficiency, competitiveness and visibility of Nordic welfare research through enhanced collaboration in the Nordic region. The Nordic countries host several outstanding research teams in the field of welfare, but since these ‘hot spots of research’ are scattered in many countries, their international visibility is often limited. Through the NCoE programme, critical mass is built and valuable synergies created.

The programme has two Centres of Excellence:

The Nordic Welfare State – historical foundations and future challenges

The Nordic welfare state is a concept that for decades has attracted international attention. It is at the same time describing the systems of social security and service, the societal patterns and the normative value systems of the five Nordic countries Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden.

Over the last decades it is widely recognised that the Nordic welfare state is challenged through the necessity of responding to major external transformations. However, the accounts of the role of the welfare state in these transformations are controversial. The welfare state is conceived of, on the one hand, as consisting of old national institutions that are likely to disappear in the face of the imperatives of global competition. On the other hand, it is seen as a sustainable model for a consensual response to the new challenges by means of social capital and trust. It is seen as a set of ethical principles and social innovations to be applied not only on the national level, but also in European integration and global governance.

The NCoE will try to qualify this discussion. Firstly, by studying how different historical layers, developed in different periods of time and mediated through mentalities, traditions, values and epistemic practices, are present in the formal and informal rules and norms of the Nordic welfare states. Secondly, by conducting a cross-disciplinary discussion on how these historical experiences and institutions influence the ways in which the current transformations are conceived of and dealt with as political, economic and cultural challenges.

The NCoE is headed by Professor Pauli Kettunen of the University of Helsinki. Visit the programme website at

Reassessing the Nordic welfare model

A group of distinguished Nordic researchers will investigate and critically discuss whether the Nordic welfare model has the ability to renew itself under changing external conditions (European integration, greater mobility across national borders, globalisation, etc.) and internal conditions (ageing populations, changeable patterns of parenting and partnering, individualisation, etc.).

The project researchers will ask whether the behaviour of the Nordic welfare states corresponds to the idea of a distinct Nordic welfare model, or whether these welfare states in practice are moving away from this idea. Ten thematic groups will highlight this overarching question by analysing trends and trajectories in areas such as ageing and the social organisation of care, changes in family, gender and inter-generational relationships, economic security in old age, migration as a challenge for redistributive welfare states, social exclusion and inclusion, e.g. as exemplified by the situation of people with disabilities, new and old forms of governance in the activation of people without work, competitiveness and social equality, drivers of change in the Nordic welfare states, and the impact of such change on the economic and social well-being of citizens in the Nordic countries.

The key activities and instruments in the centre’s work will be the compilation, coordination and joint analysis of available data in the Nordic countries, steps to stimulate Nordic researchers’ motivation and skills in analysing such data, e.g. survey- and register-based longitudinal data, workshops, seminars and larger research conferences, PhD, post-doc and guest researcher fellowships, doctoral training, extensive international publishing and dissemination, and the preparation of joint applications for research grants, e.g. from EU framework programmes.

The NCoE is lead by Bjørn Hvinden, Head of Research at NOVA (Norwegian Social Research).

For more information, go to

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Last modified 4 Feb 2015
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