For some months now, Norway’s Minister of Research and Higher Education Iselin Nybø has been insisting that international student mobility – both outbound and inbound – must be expanded significantly, and in October she sent out a detailed letter asking universities and other stakeholders for their comments on the issue by December.
Her officials are currently busy analysing responses to a nationwide consultation of stakeholders on international student mobility – with a view to drawing up a White Paper for parliament to consider later this year.
Nybø sent out a four-page letter with the consultation questionnaire stating that she has high ambitions for higher education institutions to strengthen their strategic work to improve quality, and that increased internationalisation is one instrument for this.
“The overarching goal is to achieve a cultural change,” Nybø wrote, “so that student mobility to an even greater degree than today is an integrated part of studies” and that it works to increase quality in higher education.
She listed five factors required for achieving such a cultural change:
• International student mobility has to be an integrated part of the strategic work at higher education institutions.
• International student mobility has to be grounded in institutional collaboration with institutions abroad and must include both education and research.
• The regulations and financing opportunities should not be a hindrance.
• Institutional leadership, academic and administrative staff and students all have to contribute towards the cultural changes needed.
• The labour market, including the private sector, has to value and demand international competence achieved by students.
Based on these factors Nybø asked higher education institutions to provide information on their ambition for cultural change; outgoing student mobility; incoming student mobility; strategic cooperation with institutions abroad; national actions taken and how the regulations for studies abroad and the national regulations for funding have to be improved; more flexible academic recognition; increased connection with employability; and in particular how to heighten the value of international experiences for the working life.
She also asked for examples of good practice in all these areas.
Fifty-nine institutions and associations responded, providing comments, some up to 20 pages long, providing the ministry with extensive information to inform the drafting of the White Paper.
The government has published the letter sent out and the comments received on a webpage.
The National Union of Students in Norway (NSO) said a Eurostudent investigation demonstrated that economic factors are the main barrier for students not going on exchanges abroad. The union is demanding that 70% of tuition fees incurred by Norwegian students abroad should be given as a grant.
It also says more should be done to attract foreign students in Norway. This included taking into account that Norway has very high living costs compared to many countries and easing applications by establishing a nationally coordinated system for admission of international students to masters degree programmes at universities and university colleges in place of the current system which requires students to apply individually to each institution.
NSO also said that the scrapping in 2015 of the Norwegian Quota Scheme funding grants for students from the Global South countries had resulted in significantly lower numbers of students from the Global South now studying at Norwegian higher education institutions and that the government should work to reinstate a grant system for these students.
Hanna Flood, president of the Association of Norwegian Students Abroad (ANSA), told University World News she agreed that to make studying abroad a realistic option for everyone, the financial support had to be stronger than it is today.
“We see reorganisation of the loan scheme as an important contribution to this – both increasing the percentage given as a stipend and making the loan scheme easier to comprehend.”
She said another important aspect of international student mobility is good exchange programmes, both in upper secondary school and university, and these need to be more accessible with less bureaucracy involved than there is today. ANSA advocates an opt-out model for student exchange, making internationalisation a natural part of education.
“It is also important to stress that students who have studied abroad need to know that the knowledge they have acquired is wanted and needed, for it to be seen as a benefit to have travelled abroad,” she said.
One country hoping to lure more Norwegian students is the United States, whose embassy in Oslo said the number of Norwegian students studying abroad in the United States has decreased since its peak in 2014-15. The US embassy fears this might be the start of a longer negative trend and is seeking to “encourage the Norwegian government to take appropriate measures to reverse this”.
Jose Antonio De Pool Moran, national president of the International Students’ Union of Norway, said: “Internationalisation is a two-way process that goes hand in hand with exchange, mutually dependent on each other. Goals need to be set for international student recruitments, and investments need to go into internationalisation at home.”
Akademikerne, the Federation of Norwegian Professional Associations, with 200,000 members, raised the issue of the recognition of degrees earned abroad, citing that psychologists, for example, can be authorised after three years of higher education in Greece but it takes 11 years in Hungary. Thus, Norwegians who have studied abroad may find applying for authorisation to work in Norway challenging in some fields.
Growth in international student numbers
The Research Council of Norway highlighted the findings of their 2018 Indicator Report, which showed the number of international students in Norway had quadrupled since 2000. Today there are roughly the same number of Norwegians studying abroad as the 25,000 international students in Norway, accounting for 9% of the total student population.
“The growth in incoming mobility has been stronger for Norway than in many other countries. The balance between incoming and outgoing mobility is a question that should be addressed in the parliament White Paper,” the research council said.
In 2017 a record 581 non-Norwegian citizens were taking doctoral degrees in Norway. The proportion of doctoral students who are foreign citizens has risen from 10% in the 1990s to almost 40% in 2017.
“An important factor in this is the Norwegian arrangement for salaried doctoral education. We now need to look closer at the positive and negative aspects of this system,” the Research Council of Norway said.
Professor Ole Petter Ottersen, former rector of the University of Oslo (UiO), now rector at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, speaking from his own perspective rather than that of UiO, said it was “unfortunate” that the desire for quality was driving mobility towards “our ‘equals’ – universities that are comfortably placed in the top division of international ranking lists”.
He said that although Norwegian universities would benefit from collaborating with universities on the East and West Coast of the United States, “we also need those perspectives we get by collaborating with universities in the Global South. Richness in perspective is a decisive factor for quality both in research and higher education.”
Agneta Bladh, special investigator on internationalisation in Sweden, said Nybø’s five factors for achieving a cultural change are important and the first of them, for student mobility to be an integrated part of the internationalisation efforts at institutions, is the most important one.
“The different perspectives which internationalisation will bring into teaching and research are important to raise quality. Even though I agree that quality has to be the overarching motive for increasing internationalisation, you have to consider more deeply how this will be achieved.
“The quality does not increase if an institution adds a parallel class of only Russian or Chinese students in a masters course; it is the diversity of mixed student backgrounds that brings about new perspectives. In my report to the Swedish government I have, alongside quality, put forward sustainable development, nationally and internationally, as the overarching objective for internationalisation.”
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