Finn Øien - Establishment
In 1943, Finn Øien established BI Norwegian Business School at Akersgaten 56, in offices that he borrowed from his father-in-law. Øien, who had a degree in Physics from the University of Oslo, had developed a fascination for business administration and envisioned how this discipline could be applied in businesses and industry.
BI’s first course was established in the autumn of 1943, lasting three months with two-hour classes one night per week. Three years later, BI launched its first college course held during the daytime. Education outside Oslo started for the first time in 1959. Over the course of 32 years under Øien’s leadership, BI went from being a sole proprietorship to being an education institution worthy of state support in 1969.
BI was established on 1 June 1943, just a few months after Finn Øien first had the idea, and operations were under way shortly thereafter. The idea came to him in 1941 when he left his position as head teacher at the Trondheim commercial college (Trondhjems Handelsgymnasium) to start working in management in the family business, Oslo Bølgepappfabrikk. Øien received a degree in theoretical physics from the University of Oslo in 1936, but became interested in business administration when he started working for the family business. Here he could put his knowledge within accounting, administration and company management to the test.
BI did not start out as a college. The first course in business administration only lasted three months with a two-hour class once per week. From the autumn of 1944, the main course in business administration was expanded to one year of evening courses, and was further expanded to two years the following year. At the same time, BI developed into a supplier of short, independent courses within accountancy, industrial bookkeeping, machine bookkeeping and business statistics.
In the early years, however, BI was as much a consulting firm as a school. In 1944, BI had three owners with different work distributions. Øien was responsible for the company’s administration, education and publishing periodicals. Jens Rosef, the accountant, was in charge of developing the consulting activities and Nils Skott was tasked with developing a department devoted to efficiency. BI participated in continuing the commercial part of the reorganisation/efficiency work that IRAS had started in 1928, but that was not prioritised during the 1930s. BI thus took part in a fundamental change process in Norwegian business and industry.
With the establishment of the two-year daytime course in 1946, the same year that the Norwegian School of Economics (NHH) expanded from two to three years, BI started looking more like a college. Formally, no public authorities approved BI as a college, but BI presented its programme as a college-level course.
The war years created certain opportunities that made it possible to establish private education institutions. Partly because the public study programmes were cut down due to the war, but also because the interest in education increased. Recreational activities like going to the cinema and competitive sports were greatly reduced, and something had to be done to fill the free time. However, these were uncertain times and few knew what the future would bring. Many also had better financial circumstances during rather than before the war, which led to the popularity of the private schools that charged tuition.
In the 1950s, continuing education of managers from various areas became a new area of education. There were also executive education courses tailored to specific companies or occupational groups. BI had the business network through its students and the ambition to offer tailored corporate training. However, the Administrative Research Institute (AFF), which was established by NHH, became the largest supplier of this in the education market. Another development in the 1950s was that the professional and trade union organisations became more involved in education and training issues. During this period, Econa (formerly the Norwegian Association of Masters of Science and Business) and the Norwegian Association of Chartered Engineers, took responsibility for their own continued education. The initiatives for the new education measures rarely came from public authorities, but the organisations stepped up as a third player. BI therefore did not benefit much from the new markets that arose, and was often left out of the new networks that developed in the 1950s.
The typical BI student in the 1940s and 1950s was a man who worked in or near Oslo during the daytime, and attended BI in the evening. There were rarely women in the classes. The evening student was older and had more professional experience than the daytime student. The evening student was on average 28 years old when he started, while the daytime student was four years younger. Many of the evening students had also taken the university qualifying examination or had a background from commercial high schools. This contributed to supporting the perception of BI as a college, and the students’ affiliation to their own workplace helped give BI a profile as a practically-oriented college.
The baby boomers were growing up, and between 1955 and 1966, the number of 19-year-olds increased by 67 per cent. But the growth for high schools was far greater than the demographic development. While every tenth 19-year-old took the university qualifying examination in 1955, every fifth 19-year-old took the examination in 1967. This development spread to the universities and colleges. There were many reasons for this increased interest, e.g. because businesses became more positive towards education, young people’s attitudes changed and the authorities were more willing to invest in education than before.
The number of students attending BI continued to grow in the 1960s. Considerable investments were made in a language laboratory and the school purchased an IBM computer in 1966. The goal was making the ICT programme, which had been offered for nearly ten years, more practical. Another goal was switching the fast-growing student register over to EDP. At the same time, the increasing number of students was met with expanding study programmes offered with a summer school and the option to supplement the daytime course with a one-year full-time course in either Operations Analysis or Finance.
The steadily increasing student body meant that the students were playing an ever growing role in the development of the institution, which made it possible to build up a regular faculty at BI. The basis for operating BI as a sole proprietorship was about to change.
The significant increase in students had created a financial foundation to implement the strategy of developing BI as an independent institution for business administration education. Revenues had increased, and BI did not have financial difficulties financing the expansion.
On 1 July 1968, BI went from being a privately owned limited company to a not-for-profit foundation. The limited company form was becoming an obstacle for BI’s further development. BI depended on a much better relationship with both public authorities and businesses. As a foundation, it would be possible to include representatives from business and industry in the board of directors.
On 20 June 1969, the Storting (Norwegian parliament) decided to grant government support for BI’s daytime programme, as the result of a motion from the floor of the Storting in connection with the debate on the “private school act”. This meant that students attending BI’s two-year daytime programme would have part of their tuition covered. The grant was set at 75 per cent of what the State regarded as BI’s operating expenses. Over just a few years, BI’s position in society was radically changed. The school was bigger and had a lively student community. The government support gave BI a new financial foundation, but also meant that BI had to accept being controlled and governed by the State.