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EACEA National Policies Platform:Eurydice
Higher Education


7.Higher Education

Last update: 27 November 2023

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. For more information, see chapter 6.

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 11 June 2021 No 81 on Universities and University Colleges is common to all higher education institutions, both public (state) and private institutions. 

The Act states that the purpose of universities and university colleges is to:

  1. offer higher education at a high international level

  2. carry out research and professional and artistic development work at a high international level.

  3. disseminate knowledge about the activities and spread understanding of the principle of professional freedom and the application of scientific and artistic methods and results, both in the teaching of students, in their own work in general and in public administration, cultural life and enterprises.

  4. contribute to environmentally, socially and economically sustainable development 

The Act is valid for higher education institutions that have been accredited by the Norwegian Agency for Quality Assurance in Education (NOKUT, an independent expert body under the Ministry of Education and Research). Tasks of universities and colleges: a) offer higher education based on the foremost in research, professional and artistic development work and experiential knowledge b) carry out research and professional and artistic development work c) contribute to disseminating results from research and professional and artistic development work d) contribute to lifelong learning and offer continuing and further education e) facilitating employees’ and students’ participation in the public debate f) contribute to innovation and value creation based on results from research and professional and artistic development work, and g) collaborate with relevant actors at international, national, regional and local level to strengthen the institution’s quality and relevance. The Act legislates the academic freedom and responsibility of the institutions and staff, and the responsibility to develop Norwegian as an academic language. NOKUT’s work on accreditation and on approval of diplomas and educations for individual students arriving from abroad is given scope in chapter 2 and 3 of the Act, along with provisions for acceptance to higher education for all prospective students. In chapter 4 the students’ rights and duties are outlined. There are also chapters on employment, on the governing boards and rectors in state owned institutions, and some provisions for private institutions. Among the most important provisions can be found:

  • The institutions are divided 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 on the same basis as state-owned institutions.

  • The institutions must have satisfactory systems for internal quality assurance.

  • An independent (from the ministry and the institutions) governmental agency for accreditation and evaluation, NOKUT, is included in the act.

  • 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.

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 (in Norwegian).

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 policymaking, not least through general political backing from the Storting (Norwegian Parliament). According to these aims, higher education should:

  • Contribute to enhancing 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 workforce
  • Improve the quality of 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.