Norway

RegionNorthern Europe
CapitalOslo
LanguageNorwegian
Population5,367,580
Expenditure on higher education3,9 %
Unemployment3,3 %
EuroUniversities in top 1001
EuroUniversities in top 2504
EuroUniversities in top 5009
EuroUniversities in top 100018
Students268,400
Foreigner students3,6 %
Enrollment rate in higher education81,5 %

Norway is a Nordic country in Northwestern Europe. Higher education is in Norway defined as education and training provided at universities, specialised university institutions, university colleges, university colleges of arts, other public university colleges not under the auspices of the Ministry of Education and Research, and private higher education institutions. Since the Quality Reform of 2002, higher education institutions offer 3-year bachelor’s degrees, 2-year master’s degrees and 3-year Ph.D. degrees. A few study programmes are shorter than 3 years, there are some integrated five to five and half year master degrees and some professional study programmes that last 6 years. In addition, there are some master programmes of less than two years duration.

Tertiary education also includes vocational colleges (ISCED 4 and 5) and practical courses of training with duration half a year to two years as alternatives to higher education.

The academic year is 10 months and normally divided into two terms (semesters): Autumn term from mid August to mid December, Spring term from early January to mid June.

Professional study programmes generally start in the Autumn term, disciplinary studies may start in both the Autumn and Spring terms.

Specific Legislative Framework

The Act of 1 April 2005 No 15 on Universities and University Colleges is common to all higher education institutions, both public (state) and private institutions. 

Because of the Quality Reform, the 1995 Universities and University Colleges Act was changed considerably. The revised act entered into force on 1 July 2002 and 1 January 2003. The legislation was changed considerably as part of the Quality Reform, and The main changes, now part of the 2005 Act, were as follows:

  • The institutions are no longer mentioned by name, but by categories: universities, specialised university institutions and university colleges.
  • Institutions can change category if certain conditions are met, for example from university college to university.
  • Private institutions can apply for status as accredited institution belonging to the categories mentioned above in 1,on the same basis as state-owned institutions.
  • The institutions must have satisfactory systems for internal quality assurance.
  • The act introduces an independent (from the ministry and the institutions) governmental agency for accreditation and evaluation, NOKUT.
  •  State (public) universities and university colleges may not charge fees from students neither for regular courses leading to a degree nor for professional training courses. 
  • Private universities and university colleges shall ensure that the state operating grant and fees from the students are used to the benefit of the students. Institutions receiving state funding may not give financial dividends or in any other manner transfer profit to the owner or close associates of the owner.
  • The board of the HEI is made responsible for the physical and psychological learning environment ensuring the health, security and welfare of the student in co-operation with the student welfare organisations.
  • The academic year is stipulated to be 10 months.
  • Full time study for one academic year is normally awarded 60 credits (based on the ECTS).
  • Students admitted for study programmes of more than 60 credits will have a mutual and formal agreement with the institution in the form of an individual education plan outlining the responsibilities and duties of both parties.
  • Recognition of degree or periods of study from institutions not covered by the act is shared between the institutions and NOKUT .
  • The grading scale is unified and corresponds to the ECTS grading scale, from A (best) to E (pass) and F (failed).
  • Issuing Diploma Supplement is mandatory. It is done automatically and free of charge.

In 2007, the 2005 Act was amended in order to include a statutory regulation of individual and institutuional academic rights and responsibilities.

The legislation on loans and grants to students, starting with the establishment of the State Educational Loan Fund in 1947, has been of vital importance for the recruitment to higher education. The act currently in force is Act of 3 June 2005 No 37. The organisation of student welfare (i.e. student housing, canteens, day-care institutions) is also important for the recruitment to higher education, and the latest legislation in this field is Act of 14 December 2007 No 116 (this Act entered into force 1 August 2008).

General objectives

The aims of the national policy on higher education in the past decade were defined through a 1991 White Paper on higher education (St meld nr.40 1990-91 “From vision to work”) and the ensuing parliamentary debate. These aims were reiterated in all the budget proposals during the 1990s, and are still important as an underlying rationale for higher education policy making, not least through general political backing from the Storting (Norwegian Parliament). According to these aims, higher education should:

  • Contribute to enhance the capacities and abilities of the population in such a way that consideration is taken both to the interests of the individuals and to the country’s need for a highly educated work force
  • Improve the quality in higher education and research
  • Ensure that applicants to higher education institutions are given equal treatment (in terms of access)
  • Promote conditions at the universities and university colleges that are favourable to the development and transmission of new knowledge
  • Use the resources of the sector more effectively
  • Reduce the time actually spent by students before graduation, so that the lengths of study periods needed correspond more closely to the formal requirements
  • Encourage increased international cooperation in higher education and research.

In addition, specific goals and objectives are stated for each subject or area of professional education. For the education of health personnel and teachers, there are separate national curriculum regulations specifying study content and general goals.

Bachelor

Branches of study

For all branches of study, bachelor programmes are of three year’s duration (180 credits). The only exception is performing music, in which there is a four-year bachelor programme.

In teacher education, the four-year general teacher education programmes are now being replaced by five-year integrated master programmes for grades 1 – 7 (primary school) and grades 5 – 10 (primary and lower secondary school), respectively. To qualify for teaching in grades 5-13, (late primary, lower and upper secondary school), there is an integrated master program, or a one-year post-graduate program. The one-year post-graduate-program requires a master`s degree in a school relevant subject. There is an exemption from the master`s requirement for candidates from selected subject domains. In addition there are three-year bachelor programmes in specialised teacher education, early childhood education, and vocational teacher education. The teacher education programmes qualifiy for teaching in adult education at the corresponding levels.

Admission requirements

Application to higher education (ISCED 6) is regulated through the Act relating to universities and university colleges and national regulations. Formally, it is the higher education institutions that are responsible for admission. For most study programmes, the application process is centralised, and applications for admission are processed through the Norwegian Universities and Colleges Admission Service (NUCAS). Exceptions to the centralised procedure include applications to study programmes in performing arts and some private institutions (mainly business studies).

For most programmes, it is sufficient to fulfill the  minimum admission requirements, also termed general matriculation standard.

The general matriculation standard includes the following components:

  • successful completion of 3 years of upper secondary education (general/academic)
  • successful completion of 3 years of vocational upper secondary education and training, or else two years of vocational education followed by two years of apprenticeship training leading to a craft or journeyman’s certificate, followed by an additional year with general subjects
  • included in, or in addition to the above, applicants must have a minimum level of achievement in six basic subjects from upper secondary school: Norwegian; English; history, social studies; mathematics, and natural science.

Applicants can also be admitted to higher education without having passed the normal upper secondary final examinations. Such students must, however, fulfil the specific minimum subject requirements mentioned above, be 23 years of age or more, and have at least five years of work experience or a combination of work experience, education and training.

Some study programmes, for instance medicine and engineering have specific admission requirements, in addition to general matriculation standard. These often entail the completion of certain subjects from the upper secondary level, such as mathematics and natural sciences subjects. For teacher education and nursing programmes, there are minimum grade requirements from upper secondary school. For other programmes, mostly in art, applicants must pass an entrance examination or aptitude test.

Applicants without a general matriculation standard, but with a relevant craft or journeyman’s certificate or other vocational qualification from upper secondary education and training (ISCED 3), may be admitted to especially adapted study programmes in certain subject areas, most commonly programmes in engineering. This is called the VET pathway (Y-vei). Applicants with a trade certificate as electrician, for instance, can be admitted to adapted bachelor programmes in electrical or electronics engineering.

Since 2001, applicants aged 25 or above can be admitted to higher education on the basis of recognition of prior learning, i.e. their total documented formal, non-formal, and informal competence (realkompetanse).

For applicants with various types of special needs and requirements, there is an early deadline for application (1 March instead of 15 April). This concerns:

  • people who need to resign their job to start studies
  • people who have to close down business to start studies
  • mature students who need to move with their family in order to take up studies and need places for their children in kindergarten, school, etc.
  • those in need of residence permit to take up studies
  • those with a disability requiring special measures and services.

Admission to many study programmes is competitive, since demand exceeds the number of places available. For such programmes, the ranking of applicants follows the rules laid down in the national regulations on admission to higher education. These are mainly based on the results from the upper secondary level.

Curriculum

Academic freedom is seen as essential to a sound functioning of the higher education system. The Act related to Universities and University Colleges clearly states that the institutions cannot be instructed as to the content of their teaching, research, or artistic and scientific development work. Within the limits laid down by law, the higher education institutions are free to develop and establish new subjects, disciplines, and programmes.

At all Norwegian higher education institutions, all study programmes are described  in credits. 60 Norwegian credits correspond to one year of full-time studies (ECTS credits).

The choice of teaching methods (lectures, seminars, paper and/or thesis writing, laboratory training, etc.) and the number of teaching hours per week may vary according to subject, level, and institution; they are decided by the institutions themselves. Detailed curricula and subject/discipline design are likewise decided by the institutions. Such information is found in student guides or study catalogues which are available on the web sites and the learning platforms of the higher education institutions.

For certain professional programmes, like teacher education, engineering and nursing, there are national framework curricula. These are published on the web pages of the Ministry of Education and Research, and of Lovdata, the official website where all national legislation is published and accessible free of charge.

Teaching methods

Active learning methods, such as collaborative projects and excursions, are becoming increasingly prevalent as a supplement to traditional lectures and seminars. In addition, students are encouraged to write papers or reports. A thesis or other major independent project is a compulsory requirement in all master’s programmes. It is also normal to have some form of independent project at the end of bachelor’s programmes. Theses are more often written in collaboration between students and/or industry than earlier.

Digitalisation of higher education is far from reaching its full potential, with few programmes not based a campus model and few programmes with a blend of free-standing, quality digital education and on-campus education. Most universities and university colleges are in the process of developing these, and there has been significant modernisation over the past decade. Students generally have access to information about their study programme, courses, syllabus, schedule and past lecture slides online, or else that lectures are published as podcasts.

Internationalisation is emphasised in higher education. Universities and university colleges have numerous exchange programmes both on the bachelor’s level and the master’s level and both receive many international students and send many Norwegian students abroad.  In many fields, teaching is primarily done in Norwegian on the bachelor’s level, but with a higher share of courses taught in English at the master’s level. Students may submit written examinations in any of the Scandinavian languages or in English.   

Progression of students

In most areas, students have to pass examinations in order to complete their programme. Students may repeat examinations they do not pass, a maximum of three times. There are regulations on the length of study programmes, but no national regulations on the maximum individual total period of study. However, financial support is only avalable for a limited number of years, including a restriction for students with poor ECTS production.

As a means of facilitating and encouraging student mobility between higher education institutions, degrees can be conferred on the basis of studies from a combination of higher education institutions, and a system of inter-institutional credit transfer is regulated by law. Recognition of prior learning and education from abroad can also form the basis of parts of degrees that are included on the diploma. However, this system is complex and practice has varied somewhat between higher education institutions. To improve the quality of assessments in this regard, new  regulations on inter-institutional mobility and on recognition of other types of competence as part of higher education degrees will take effect in 2019 . .

Employability

Institutions with professional programmes such as nursing and social work educationhave long traditions of interaction with employers i.a. in connection with work placements, which are obligatory for the students in such programmes. Relevant employers’ organisations and trade unions are also regularly consulted in connection with the development of national curricula for professional programmes. These forms of contact mean that HEIs receive continuous feedback from employers on the quality of the students and the content of the professional programmes.

To an increasing degree, work placements are also introduced in other, more disciplinary programmes where they are not mandatory, e.g. business administration and in some cases arts and social sciences. This is especially the case in fields where graduates have experienced difficulties in finding relevant fulltime employment. For instance, a recent white paper on the humanities articulated increased ambitions regarding activities that may serve to enhance the humanities students’ employability, includng work placements and career guidance.

Since 2011 it has been mandarory for all Norwegian public HEIs to host councils for cooperation with working life. Many HEIs have in addition set up special offices responsible for establishing contact between the university and industry. The contact between higher education institutions and industry is also furthered through externally financed research projects at the institutions.

In november 2018, the Norwegian Ministry of Education and Research has started work on a white paper dealing specifically with the cooperation between higher education and the world of work, with an emphasis on work placements. The white paper will be presented to Parliament in 2020 or 2021. 

Students assessment

tudent assessment in higher education is traditionally based on examinations at the end of courses. The diplomas issued at the end of a degree programme document the specialisation, depth of study and interdisciplinary aspects of courses.

Marks are given on the basis of written and/or oral examinations. Universities and university colleges generally hold individual written examinations. Group examinations and home-based examinations are other forms of written examinations used in professional studies at universities and university colleges. In addition, a term paper may constitute part of an examination. Oral examinations are normally individual, but can in certain cases be conducted in groups. Universities and university colleges are largely free to determine what types of examination best suit the course objectives, content and structure. With the Quality Reform, portfolio assessment was introduced.

Use of external examiners to set the marks (alone or in cooperation with the course teacher) has been obligatory for all written and oral examinations. External examiners are recruited from other institutions and/or professional work. With the Quality Reform, external examiners are no longer obligatory for examinations on bachelor level.  Besides, the increasing use of formative examinations instead of summative examinations has left the course teacher(s) more in charge of assessing the students.

Through the Quality Reform in higher education, a uniform grading scale inspired by the ECTS system was introduced from the academic year 2003/04. The grading scale is A-E for pass and F for failed.

National Qualifications Framework for higher education was adopted in March 2009, based on the Qualifications Framework for the European Higher Education Area as well as the principles of the EQF. It was included in the National Qualifications Framework for Lifelong Learning in 2011.

Certification

Section 3-9 of the Act relating to universities and university colleges regulates examinations and assessment. Questions concerning degrees, examinations, and the normal length of a study programme, are decided by the Ministry of Education and Research through regulations. It is the responsibility of the Board of the higher education institutions to issue more specific regulations regarding examinations, tests, and practice periods.

Diplomas for teacher education include the authorisation to practice as teachers in Norwegian school, and for many of the professional programmes for the health sector, the higher education institutions issue the authorisation to practice in the profession with the diploma.

A national registry, or portal, on diplomas and grades has been developed. Graduates from all Norwegian state higher education institutions, and many of the private ones, can now share information on their qualifications with other higher education institutions and potential employers, etc., in a way that ensures authenticity and security of data.

The registry is operated by Unit – the Norwegian Directorate for ICT and Joint Services in Higher Education & Research,  The Diploma Registry has been developed in cooperation with the Erasmus+ project EMREX.

Second Cycle Programmes

Branches of Study

A Master’s degree programme is normally of 120 credits (ECTS), i.e. two years of full-time study. Master’s degrees are awarded by all categories of higher education institutions (universities, specialised university institutions, university colleges, and some private higher education institutions).

There are also experience-based Master’s degrees of 90 or 120 credits, of professional or work life orientation. As a rule, experience-based Master’s degrees do not qualify for direct admission to PhD.

In a few fields, there are integrated programmes leading directly to a second cycle degree (either a Master’s degree of 300 credits, i.e. five years of full-time study, or a second cycle degree where the title of the former degree system is retained, among them: cand.med. (medicine), cand.med.vet. (veterinary science), cand.psychol. (psychology), and cand.theol. (theology)).

Admission Requirements

Admission to regular Master programmes (120 credits) is based on a bachelor’s degree or similar  which includes a major of at least 80 credits (120 credits if the specialisation is a vocational programme). Holders of a bachelor’s degree without a major as required or with a major from a different field than the master’s programme they intend to apply to, must hence take  additional courses or examinations to fulfil the requirements.

Admission to experience-based Master programmes (90 – 120 credits) is based on a bachelor’s degree or similar and two years of relevant work experience.

Applicants from abroad are admitted based on assessment according to the criteria of the Lisbon Recognition Convention.

Applications to Master’s programmes should be directed to the relevant higher education institution.

Curriculum

The Act on universities and university colleges stipulates that the institutions may not be instructed regarding the content of their teaching and their research and artistic or academic development work, and regarding individual appointments. There is hence a high degree of academic freedom in the higher education system.

However, for certain programmes, particularly those qualifying for work in education, training, and the health and welfare sectors, there are National Curriculum Regulations.

There is also a National regulation for Master’s Degrees which lays down the general admission requirements to Master programmes and the credit requirements regarding the mandatory ‘independent work’ (normally a research thesis, but in art programmes, for instance, other forms of independent work can be equally relevant).

For regular two-year and experience-based Master’s programmes, the thesis or other independent work must be of minimum 30 and maximum 60 credits. 60 credit Master theses is the rule in discipline-oriented studies. In integrated Master programmes of 300 credits, the independent work is of minimum 20 credits.

See Curriculum for bachelor programmes for more details.

Teaching methods

See Teaching Methods for bachelor programmes for more details. The writing of a research thesis or other independent work is mandatory for master’s degrees.

An increasing number of English-language programmes are offered to foreign students, mainly for masters’ degrees. An overview of study programmes taught through English is available at the Study in Norway website, which is managed by Diku, the Norwegian Agency for International Cooperation and Quality Enhancement in Higher Education, on behalf of the Ministry of Education and Research.

Progression of students

See Progression of Students for bachelor programmes. 

Employability

See Employability for bachelor programmes.

Student assessment

Student assessment is still normally based on individual written examinations at the end of courses, but assessment is also, and increasingly, done based on project work, group examinations, home examinations, artistic performances, etc.. For master students there is a system of individual supervision of the thesis, which also functions as an evaluation of the student’s work and progression.

The higher education institutions must develop specific assessment guidelines for all examination, and there must be two examiners, of whom at least one is external, for the assessment of the master theses or other independent work for the Master’s degree.

See also Student Assessment for bachelor programmes.

Certification

All graduates automatically receive a Diploma Supplement in English with their diploma.

The diplomas from state higher education institutions, and most of those from private higher education institutions, can be verified through an online diploma registry called Vitnemålsportalen, see www.vitnemalsportalen.no.

Such online verification is only possible if the graduate (i.e. the owner of the qualification) decides to share this information by activating and sending a link to their results from Norwegian higher education.

Third Cycle (PhD) Programmes

Organisation of doctoral studies

Doctoral programmes are offered by all university-level institutions, some state university colleges and a few private higher education institutions. 

Admission requirements

PhD programmes are based on successful completion of two-year master programmes, or five-year integrated master programmes. Higher education institutions are autonomous in determining the criteria to access doctoral programmes. Applicants must present their application directly to the institution offering the programme. Applications to PhD programmes are formally job applications, as all ph.d. candidates have employment contracts either at the university college, university, through the Research Council of Norway, or through a company or public employer.

Status of doctoral students/candidates

Doctoral students in Norway are considered as employees  and enjoy the same rights, including social security, pension rights, maternity and paternity leave etc.

Supervision arrangements

The writing of a research thesis is mandatory for doctor’s degrees. For doctoral students there is a system of individual supervision of the thesis, which also functions as an evaluation of the student’s work and progression.  Usually the university appoints a single senior researcher as supervisor, but there can be more than one supervisor.  

Employability

The length of full-time doctoral studies is three years. The majority of those who follow a structured programme are employed full-time for four years, but perform other duties for the institution (give lectures etc.) for 25 percent of the time (i.e. one man-year equivalent). The time that is spent on taking courses differs from institution to institution, but as a general rule amounts to one term (30 ECTS).

Assessment

A committee of at least three senior academics evaluates the thesis, of these at least one must come from outside the institution, and if possible one from abroad. Then the doctoral student gives one or more lectures and defends his/her thesis in public, where members of the reviewing committee are institutional opponents.

Certification

Questions concerning degrees, examinations, and the normal length of a study programme, are decided by the Ministry of Education and Research. The Ministry is about to introduce a PhD in artistic research. The degree will encompass research  within the field of arts and include an explicit reflection on the artistic work. The traditional general doctorate (dr.philos.) is awarded on the basis of high level research conducted over a number of years, leading to the successful defence of a substantial thesis.

Organisational variation

Interdisciplinary training and transferable skills have been integrated in some programmes. In the last few years interdisciplinary graduate schools have been established connected to centres of excellence.

Two PhD schemes are designed to enhcance interaction between companies or public organizations and research institutions, namely the Industrial-PhD scheme and the public sector-PhD scheme. The PhD candidate must be an employee of the company or public organization and be formally admitted into an ordinary doctoral degree programme. The company or public agency/organization.

Mobility and Internationalisation

Norwegian policy is part of and strongly influenced by the Bologna process, EU policy and Nordic cooperation. Through the EEA agreement, Norway participates in the EU education, training and research programmes. Other multilateral activities include participation in the Nordic Council of Ministers, the Council of Europe, the OECD and UNESCO. There are also national strategies and schemes for bilateral cooperation with North America, the BRICS countries and Japan.

A 2009 government white paper draws the broad lines of current national policy.   To make all levels of Norwegian education more international is defined not as a goal in itself, but as a means to improve education and make it more relevant to work life. Internationalisation is moreover seen as a means to increase individual pupils’ and students’ language and cultural skills. In primary and secondary education, there is less focus on mobility than on developing the international “perspective” or “dimension” in teaching, learning and the curricula.

In a 2017 white paper on quality in higher education, the government outlines its policy in this area, including internationalisation.  All study programmes are required to have measures making them international. This means more than exchange, e.g. cooperation on teaching, tutoring, courses or whole degree studies.

Current policy encourages international cooperation in education to be intertwined with research cooperation, and both areas linked to the labour market. Exchange agreements should exist at the level of study programs, and not only at the institutional level, in order to make exchange integrated into the study programs and more attached to existing research cooperation.

Since the early 2000s it has been a general aim to increase the number of pupils and students going abroad on exchange, preferably within an institutional cooperation framework. The 2017 white paper on quality in higher education defines more specific goals: 20 percent of those taking a degree in Norway in 2020 should have been on an exchange (up from about 15 percent in 2016). The long-term goal is 50 percent.

The Norwegian State Educational Loan Fund provides loans and grants for secondary school as well as exchanges and degree studies abroad. Portability of loans and grants, as well as extra support for admission fees and language courses, have contributed to a relatively high share of Norwegians taking a degree abroad. The generous loans and grants scheme also makes it possible for the majority of exchange students to go beyond Europe, being less dependent on the Erasmus+ mobility grants than other European students.

It is also a policy aim to increase the number of incoming students, although Norway has no national recruitment strategy. More courses and study programmes taught in English is encouraged in order to attract international students. Just as important as increasing the numbers, is to find ways to integrate them better with Norwegian students. International semesters, where all courses are taught in English, is one measure.

More integration of international students is thought to increase “internationalisation at home”, especially important for the Norwegian students who do not go abroad. The “at home” concept and technological forms of cooperation (virtual mobility) is central in primary and secondary education, where physical mobility for the greater numbers is not feasible.

The agency for implementing policies in the field of mobility and internationalisation is the Norwegian Centre for International Cooperation in Education (SIU),  under the Ministry of Education of Research. SIU administers a broad range of bi- and multinational programmes and schemes, including Erasmus+, Nordic cooperation, cooperation with North America, Japan and the BRICS countries, and capacity-building in low-income countries.

In 2018 SIU merges with several other agencies working to promote quality in education. The new organisation will promote mobility and internationalisation within the broader framework of improving education.

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European Higher Education Organization is a public organization carrying out academic, educational and information activities on higher education in Europe.

The EHEO general plan stresses that:

  • Higher education systems require adequate funding and, as an investment in economic growth, public spending in higher education should be protected.
  • The challenges faced by higher education require more flexible governance and funding systems, which balance greater autonomy for education institutions with accountability to stakeholders.

Thus, EHEO plans:

  • improve academic and scientific interaction of universities;
  • protect the interests of universities;
  • interact more closely with public authorities of European countries;
  • popularize European higher education in the world;
  • develop academic mobility;
  • seek funding for European universities.