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EACEA National Policies Platform:Eurydice
Organisation of the education system and of its structure


2.Organisation and governance

2.3Organisation of the education system and of its structure

Last update: 27 November 2023

Structure of the education system in Norway

Overview of the Norwegian education system:

Kindergarten, primary and secondary education:

  • Kindergarten (age 0-6)
  • Compulsory primary school (7 years, starts at age 6)
  • Compulsory lower secondary school (3 years)
  • Upper secondary education (3-5 years)
    • General studies
    • Initial vocational education and training (IVET)

Tertiary/continuous vocational education and training (CVET) (EQF level 5):

  • Vocational college

Higher education (EQF level 6, 7, and 8):

  • University
  • Specialised university institution
  • University college

Adult education:

  • Primary and lower secondary school
    • Upper secondary education
    • General studies
  • Initial vocational education and training (IVET)
  • Tuition for adult immigrants
  • Education and training for working life 


All children are entitled to a place in kindergarten from the age of one year. The municipality is responsible for fulfilling the right to a kindergarten place and facilitates a coordinated admission process. Both public and private kindergartens in the municipality must cooperate on the admission of children.  

The Government has set a maximum parental fee for a place in the kindergarten. This applies to all types of kindergartens, public and private. Additional fees for food may apply. If a family has more than one child in any kindergarten, there is a sibling moderation of at least 30% for the second child, and for the third child and upwards there is a 50 percent reduction in the parental fee. Low-income families may also get a reduction in parental fee.  

Compulsory primary and lower secondary education

Education in Norway is free and founded on the principle of equity and adapted education for all pupils. The compulsory education is ten years, divided in seven years of primary education and three years lower secondary education. Children enter school the year they turn six years old.  

The objectives and quality framework for primary and secondary education and training are laid down in the National Curriculum. The pupils in grades 1-7 and 8-10 are entitled to a minimum number of hours in school, and the hourly distribution of subjects is specified in the National Curriculum.  

Upon entering lower secondary education, the pupils must choose between employment subject, foreign language, or specialization in English, which will be a choice they make for all three years. In addition, they each year choose between at least two elective subjects that the school offers. 

There are competence requirements to be employed in a teaching position, as well as competence requirements for teaching subjects in primary and lower secondary education. These also include requirements to be appointed as headmaster.


Upper secondary education

Pupils who have completed primary and lower secondary education, or the equivalent, are entitled to three years’ upper secondary education. They are entitled to admission to one out of three alternative education programs. The right to upper secondary education is indebted until the age of 24. Upper secondary education is free. The county authorities are legally obliged to follow up young people between the ages of 16 and 21 who neither attend a course of education nor are employed. Pupils who have a right to special needs education have the right to an extra two years two-year tuition of upper secondary education or training if it is necessary to achieve educational objectives. This right also applies to pupils who have the right to education in sign language or the right to education in Braille.


The objectives and quality framework of upper secondary education and training are laid down in the National Curriculum (Kunnskapsløftet). These are regulations to the Educational Act and govern the content of the training.


Upper secondary education includes general studies, and initial vocational education and training (IVET)

General studies

General studies lead to general university admissions certification. Normally, general studies take 3 years and has the main emphasis on theoretical knowledge.

General studies education programs:

  • Study Specialisation
  • Music, Dance and Drama
  • Sports and Physical Education
  • Media and Communication
  • Arts, Design and Architecture

Initial vocational education and training (IVET)

Vocational education and training lead to vocational competence or trade/journeyman’s certificate. Depending on the program, the duration is 3-5 years. The main structure of the education is 2 years in school, and 2 years apprenticeship in an enterprise. There are a few deviations from the main structure where the total training lasts 4,5 or 5 years.

After finishing the in-school part of the vocational education, the pupils may take a supplementary one-year programme in school to achieve general university admissions certification.


Vocational education and training programmes: 

  • Electrical engineering and computer technology 
  • Crafts, design and product development 
  • Healthcare, child and youth development 
  • Building and Construction 
  • Agriculture, Fishing and Forestry 
  • Restaurant and Food Processing 
  • Sales, service and tourism 
  • Technological and industrial production 
  • Hairdressing, floral, interior and retail design focuses 
  • Information technology and media production

Tertiary/continous vocational education (CVET) (EFQ level 5)

Tertiary vocational education is a short vocational alternative to higher education and based on upper secondary education and training, or equivalent informal and nonformal competence. Higher Education Entrance Qualification is not required.  

The education is regulated by national legislation and is offered partly by county authorities and partly by private providers. Tertiary vocational education usually lasts from six months to two years full-time, longer if part-time. The education is often offered with high flexibility, making it possible to combine with being employed.  

All courses must be accredited by the Norwegian Agency for Quality Assurance in Education (NOKUT).  

Education categories are: 

  • Creative subjects 
  • Finance & Administration  
  • Technical subjects 
  • Healthcare and welfare subjects 
  • Transport subjects 
  • Other vocational school studies 

Higher education

Higher education is generally free in Norway, and admission is facilitated through multiple pathways:
  • Upper secondary school certificate based on one of the general studies education programs 
  • Upper secondary vocational qualification (IVET), plus successful completion of a one-year bridging program. The bridging program is also available after completing the in-school part of the upper secondary vocational education. 
  • Completion of 120 ECTS credits within one education program of CVET 
  • The 23/5 pathway: Applicants aged 23 or above with at least five years of work experience, or a combination of education and work experience, and who have successfully passed the course in six key subjects (Norwegian, English, social science, history, mathematics, science) 
  • Recognition of prior learning: Individual assessment of formal, informal, and non-formal qualifications is open to applicants aged 25 or above. Applications for admission are processed locally at each institution. 
  • The VET pathway (Y-veien): Specific relevant vocational qualifications from the upper secondary level satisfy the admission criteria to tailor-made engineering programs at the bachelor level in higher education.  

Most institutions of higher education are state-run and are responsible for the quality of their own instruction, research, and dissemination of knowledge. The different study programs and academic degrees are described below.  

  • One-year, supplemental and shorter studies. These can become part of a bachelor's degree. 
  • College candidate. A two-year degree at university colleges. 
  • Bachelor’s degree. A three-year degree of 180 ECT.  
  • Master’s degree. A five-year degree taken either as a continuous race or on top of a bachelor’s degree.  
  • Ph.D. degree. A three-year degree, often combined with 25% teaching or other related work over four years. 
  • Professional studies. Three to six years of education that leads to a certain profession, e.g., nursing education (3 years), primary and lower secondary teacher education (5 years), or medicine education (6 years). 

The grading scale conforms to the European Credit Transfer System (ECTS) rating scale with the letters A (best) to E for pass and F for failed.  

The differences between the types of higher education institutions are mainly related to their self-accreditation rights. For example, universities can without external accreditation offer study programs at all levels, while university colleges must apply for external accreditation (by NOKUT) for study programs at masters and PhD levels. There is also a wide range of private higher education institutions without any self-accreditation rights. These institutions provide study programs that are accredited (by NOKUT). Apart from instruction and dissemination of knowledge the universities and specialised institutions at the university level have a special responsibility for research and the education of researchers through their doctoral programs. 

The state is responsible for universities and university colleges, which are directly subordinate to the Ministry of Education and Research. Each institution has a board that is responsible for the direction and organisation of operations. Accredited institutions have been awarded extensive academic powers and may establish and terminate their own courses of study. University colleges decide for themselves which studies and topics they are to offer at first-degree level. Universities determine for themselves which subjects and topics they wish to offer at all levels, including doctoral programs. 

The Norwegian Agency for Quality Assurance in Education (NOKUT) and the Norwegian Directorate for Higher Education and Skills are also instrumental in the governance of the universities and university colleges 

Adult education

There are adult participants at all education levels in Norway – from primary school to Ph.D. level.  

Primary and lower secondary adult education is administered by the municipalities while upper secondary education, both vocational education, and general studies, is administered by the counties. 

Newly arrived refugees and immigrants can – or are obliged to – participate in language tuition and social studies. 

In 2017, a pilot of modularized, flexible curriculums for adults was initiated. The pilot, which lasts until 2023, includes both language tuition and social studies for adult immigrants and refugees and primary, lower secondary, and upper secondary adult education. The Norwegian Parliament (Stortinget) has decided that this system will be the main model of adult education in Norway. 

For working life, employers may apply for funding for skills development for their employees. While the Skillsplus program (Kompetansepluss) offers basic skills training, the Skills Programme (Kompetanseprogrammet) offers further education relevant for working life mainly at upper secondary and tertiary vocational education levels.