Local study assocations and study circles in a Nordic perspective

In a research project funded by the Nordic Council of Ministers, researchers from Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Finland will map the organisation, financing, activities, and legal framework for local study associations and study circles in the Nordic countries.

In all Nordic countries, adults meet to gain new knowledge and skills in local study associations and study circles. However, despite many shared values, there are major differences in the way that the systems for folkbildung and non-formal education have developed and are organised in Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Finland.

The project 'Local study associations and study circles in a Nordic perspective' has received support from the Nordplus Adult programme to map the systems for local study associations and study circles in the four countries. The objective is to build shared and comparable knowledge that can inspire across borders but also inform political discussions about regulation, funding, and organisation in the field.

The project is undertaken by six partners:

  •   Danish Institute for Non-Formal Education (DK)
  •   NORCE - Norwegian Research Centre AS, Health and Social Sciences (NO)
  •   Linköping University, Department of Behavioural Sciences and Learning/Mimer (SE)
  •   University of Gothenburg, Department of Education, Communication
      and Learning/BESt (SE)
  •   Åbo Akademi University, Education and Welfare Studies (FI)
  •   Finnish Study Centres (FI)

For each country researchers will use existing documents, statistics, and desk research to map the national characteristics for the local study associations and study circles including

  • the legal framework
  • financial support systems
  • the way activities are organised
  • the types and number of activities

The project runs from September 2023 to late 2024 and will be concluded with a report and a conference for practitioners, public authorities, politicians, and academic researchers working in the field of non-formal education of adults in the Nordic countries.

Meet the partners

The Danish Institute for Non-formal Education is a self-governing research institution set up by the Danish Ministry of Culture to collect, analyse and share knowledge in the area of non-formal education and democratic voluntary activity. 

The institute primarily focuses on non-formal adult education and non-formal youth and children's leisure activities and has conducted a number of different studies on local study associations and their activities. An important part of the work of the institute is to disseminate the results to practicians in the field through conferences, seminars and publications.

The institute will be responsible for data collection in Denmark and will also coordinate the project and have the main responsibility for developing a common framework and producing the final report.

Norwegian Research Centre AS, Health and Social Sciences (NORCE) is an independent research institute that conducts research for both public and private sectors to facilitate informed and sustainable choices for the future.

The Health & Social Sciences division is a partner in the Centre for Research on Civil Society and Voluntary Sector funded by the Ministry of Culture and administered by the Institute for Social Research.

The centre conducts independent and socially relevant research on voluntary engagement and voluntary organisations in Norway. This includes research on local voluntary associations as learning arenas and their relations to study associations and the educational system.

With a core competence in qualitative and quantitative mapping of regulations, funding, organisation and activities in the voluntary sector in Norway, NORCE will be in charge of the collection of data in Norway.

Mimer is the Swedish network for research on popular education and its secretariat is hosted by Linköping University, Department of Behavioural Sciences and Learning. Mimer is governed by an interdisciplinary advisory board (Mimerrådet) consisting of leading researchers and popular educators across Sweden in the broad area of popular education.

Since it was founded in 1990, Mimer has been one of the central institutes for research on popular education in Sweden and Scandinavia. Besides research, Mimer organises research conferences and postgraduate education and publishes anthologies and research reviews both at the national and Nordic levels. 

Researchers from Mimer will be responsible for data collection in Sweden together with partners from the University of Gothenburg.

The research group Bildung in education and society (BESt) is hosted by the Department of Education, Communication and Learning at the University of Gothenburg.

BESt focuses on adult education in a broad sense and on bildung, teaching and learning in formal and informal settings. BESt is one of the organisers of the PhD School for Folk High School teachers, an externally funded activity conducted in collaboration with Jönköping University and Linköping University.

Researchers connected to BESt collaborate with local, regional and national actors in the field of popular education, as well as other institutions in civil society. 

Researchers from BESt will be responsible for data collection in Sweden together with partners from Linköping University.

Åbo Akademi University (ÅA) is the Swedish-language multidisciplinary academic university in Finland. The university's Faculty of Education and Welfare Studies has a broad responsibility for teacher education including the education of teachers for folkbildning institutions.

The faculty's research within adult education has a specific focus on research in folkbildning.

Through cross-border collaboration, ÅA strives to serve as the gateway to Finland for the Nordic countries. Adult education researchers at the faculty have throughout the years been involved in Finnish networks for research and practice within the field of folkbildning and also actively engaged in Nordic networks.

Researchers from Åbo Akademi will collect data in Finland in collaboration with the Finnish Study Centres.

The organisation Finnish Study Centres acts as an umbrella and advocacy organisation for twelve Finnish study centres. 

Study centres in Finland are educational organisations which are maintained by private civic organisations and NGOs. In general, they provide education independently or in cooperation with their member organisations. Their objective is lifelong learning, well-being and active citizenship, as well as the promotion of democracy and the activities of civil society.

As an umbrella organisation, Finnish Study Centres supports the development of operations and promotes cooperation of study centres. Finnish Study Centres also carry out research, development and innovation activities about study centre activities and civil society. 

Finnish Study Centres will contribute to the project by offering knowledge about liberal education in Finland and data about the educational activities of study centres.

 The project is funded by a grant from the Nordplus Adult   programme in the amount of 54,060 euros.

Articles about the project

Presentation adult learners
Research project sets out to map the characteristics of local study associations and study circles in the Nordic countries