In the last decades, there has been increased recognition of the importance of lifelong learning in Norway. Reform 94, an education reform in 1994, resulted in a statutory right to upper secondary education for everyone who completed lower secondary education in 1994 or later. Another reform in 1997, called Reform 97, introduced school start for children at age six, instead of at age seven, as it had previously been. Simultaneously, the compulsory Norwegian school, i.e. primary and lower secondary school, was extended by one year, from nine to ten years.
The two educational reforms for children and youth-led to a renewed focus on adult education in Norway, initiated by the social partners. A consequence of this new lifelong perspective on education was the Competence Reform (1998–2003). The social partners were heavily involved in this reform. The reform resulted in statutory rights to study leave for employees, free lower and secondary education for adults, and recognition of prior learning.
In the white paper Meld. St. 16 (2015–2016) Fra utenforskap til ny sjanse (Social inclusion and a second chance – Coordinated efforts for adult learning), the Norwegian government presented proposals to develop developing a new, comprehensive policy scheme for adults with low basic skills.
The current system for training adults is fragmented, with responsibility split between various ministries, directorates, and levels of government. The goal of the white paper was to develop integrated policies taking into account the challenges people face, whether they need to strengthen their basic skills or Norwegian language skills, participate in vocational education, have their qualifications recognized, or have their prior learning validated. The Ministry of Education and Research, the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, and the Ministry of Children, Equality and Social Inclusion prepared the white paper jointly, to address the need for collaboration and coordination between key stakeholders adequately.
Norway was the first country to sign an agreement with the OECD on the OECD Skills Strategy. The Norwegian Skills Strategy project aimed to get a strategic evaluation of the national skills policy and the total administration of the human capital of the Norwegian population. OECD published OECD Skills Strategy Diagnostic Report Norway 2014 (pdf) and OECD Skills Strategy Action Report Norway 2014 (pdf) as a part of the project.
A consequence of the OECD Skills Strategy was the Norwegian Strategy for Skills Policy 2017–2021 (Nasjonal kompetansepolitisk strategi), where the social partners are involved, and the Skills Policy Council (Kompetansepolitisk råd), which has the responsibility of monitoring the implementation of the strategy.
The OECD Skills Strategy also led to the establishment of a project committee on future skills needs (the Official Committee on Future Skills Needs (Kompetansebehovsutvalget) to develop a national system for analyzing, discussing, and communicating future skills needs. The purpose of the committee is to provide the best possible evidence-based assessment of Norway’s future skills needs, as a basis for national and regional planning, and strategic decision making of both employers and individuals.
In 2020, the white paper Lære hele livet (Meld. St. 14 2019 – 2020; Learning throughout life) launched a new skills reform, focusing on the upskilling of the Norwegian workforce at all education levels.
To meet the labour market challenges today and in the future, the Norwegian Government is developing adaptive adult education to increase participation in learning activities for groups with particular needs. In the white paper Meld. St. 16 (2015–2016) Fra utenforskap til ny sjanse (Social inclusion and a second chance – Coordinated efforts for adult learning), the Government proclaims an ambition of developing “… a knowledge society where adults that have problems in getting a permanent connection to working life get access to education that gives the skills that working life needs”. To meet this ambition, three pilots of module structured adult education are established. The training in these pilots is supposed to be flexible, effective, and adapted to each participant’s needs. The participants get an evaluation and documentation after each module they have accomplished.
In a pilot at the level below upper secondary education, called Adult Preparatory Education (“Forberedende voksenopplæring”; FVO), module structured curriculums have been developed in Norwegian as a second language/Norwegian, social studies, mathematics, science, and English. Also, a curriculum is developed for participants who need literacy training. The competence aims in the subjects include both subject and language skills, to secure that the participants learn Norwegian while learning the content of all the subjects. The target group is adults who are entitled to adult education according to the Education Act and/or the Immigration Act. Provision initiated by the Labour and Welfare Administration (NAV) is also part of this pilot. The module structure in the curriculums facilitates flexible and adapted training to meet the needs of each adult participant. The curriculums are piloted in 41 municipalities that participate in the FVO program.
At the same time, module structured curriculums have been developed in some subjects in vocational education for adults who has accomplished lower secondary education (or similar). This program aims to pilot a flexible way to a certificate of apprenticeship for adults.
The third module pilot is called the Combination Pilot (“Kombinasjonsforsøket”). In this pilot, training in Adult Preparatory Education (FVO) is combined with vocational education in one common scheme. The target group of this pilot is adults who want to get a certificate of apprenticeship but also need training below the upper secondary level. The Combination Pilot aims to pilot consistent and adaptive training by combining modules at various levels in one common education scheme.
The trial period of these three pilots lasts until July 31st, 2023. The overall aim of the program is to allow adults to learn skills and qualifications that give them a foundation for a more durable connection to working life.
In 2006, the Norwegian government established a national program called Basic Competence in Working Life (BCWL; Program for basiskompetanse i arbeidslivet (BKA)). This program aims to reach the adults most in need of training, those who lack basic skills, by organizing courses at the workplace. The program also aims to contribute to social inclusion, increased self-esteem, and increased motivation for further learning among the participants. The training is flexible, adapted to the needs of both the enterprise and the worker, and contextualized to ensure that all the tasks are relevant to the particular sector, branch, or workplace. In 2015, the Norwegian Government extended the basic skills training to other target groups with a similar program for the voluntary sector (Basiskompetanse i frivilligheten (BKF)). From 2016, the two programs were merged into one program entitled SkillsPlus. Since 2018, workers who need an apprenticeship may combine upper secondary vocational education level with basic skills training.
The majority of refugees and immigrants who get a residence permit in Norway have a right and an obligation to attend an introductory course in Norwegian and social studies. The Integration Act (2020 - in Norwegian) replaced The Introduction Act (2003) on January 1st, 2021. The act regulates the governing introduction program, Norwegian language training, and social studies for newly arrived immigrants. The new act is a result of the current Government’s integration strategy, which implies a higher focus on getting the qualifications that are needed for a permanent connection to the labour market, such as better Norwegian language skills and more use of formal education in the introduction program. Thus, the new legislation poses several major changes in the Norwegian language and social studies tuition, as well as in the introduction program.
According to the Integration Act, foreign nationals between 18 and 67 years of age who have a residence permit in Norway that forms the basis for a permanent residence permit, will have a right and an obligation to participate in Norwegian language training and social studies. The mandatory number of tuition hours is replaced by the requirement to reach certain language skills levels according to the CEFR. Based on the immigrant’s prior education level, the training will be given free of charge until the immigrant reaches the required minimum level or for a maximum of three years or 18 months. Immigrants who have completed upper secondary school receive the shortest amount of time in Norwegian language training.
Many different actors in Norway provide career guidance, which created a need for national coordination, professionalization, and overarching guidelines. Therefore, in 2011, the Norwegian Ministry of Education and Research established a National Unit for Lifelong Guidance as a department in the Directorate for Higher Education and Skills. The main objective for the department is to promote high-quality, all-age career guidance services across the country. The overall strategy is based on the conviction that career guidance is relevant and necessary in all the different phases and transitions a person faces throughout life. Today, there are free, public career guidance centers in all counties, and free, online guidance services are established (karriereveiledning.no).