International platform – English
Adopted at the fifth national board meeting of NSO 2013/2014.
Science knows no country, because knowledge belongs to humanity, and is the torch which illuminates the world. – Louis Pasteur
The National Union of Students in Norway (NSO) represents approximately 220,000 students and this platform addresses the union’s requirements and objectives concerning the international perspective in higher education and research policy. Other policy documents will supplement and expand on the policy outlined in this platform.
Higher education in Norway must be internationally oriented, research-based and socially relevant. Internationalised higher education provides increased social benefit, both domestically and overseas.
By internationalisation we mean delivering an education that is internationally oriented and relevant. By internationalising education we increase our knowledge and understanding of the world and other people’s perspectives and situations. Internationalisation facilitates increased dissemination of knowledge, professional development and innovation in a global community. A global knowledge community will, to a greater extent than knowledge-based communities in individual countries, contribute to overcoming mankind’s challenges and jointly deliver increased social benefit.
Access and diversity are the foundations of any modern education system. Students, irrespective of their background, must be guaranteed equal rights and equal access to higher education. This applies both to students’ access to an internationalised education and mobility, and to people’s access to education outside of Norway. International diversity in the student and research population enhances the quality of academic environments and provides a firmer foundation for the dissemination of knowledge.
The possibility for students to organise themselves and become change-agents in their communities must be ensured.
2. International academic processes
In order to ensure high-quality knowledge development, higher education and research in Norway must build international networks, as well as make use of knowledge through global academia, while making relevant and useful contributions to society. The aim of international cooperation should be increased learning outcomes in studies, dissemination of knowledge and increased understanding of other approaches and perspectives. NSO believes that international processes set in motion should also contribute to formal and substantive equality, and that students should be involved in development of and work on these issues.
Each supranational process within higher education that Norway participates in must be founded on a comprehensive approach to the function and role of education. This includes:
- Preparation for working life.
- Preparation as active citizens in democratic societies.
- Personal development.
- Maintaining and developing an advanced, comprehensive and diverse knowledge base.
- The financing of education being a public responsibility.
- Equal rights and equal opportunities to enter and complete higher education.
- Academic freedom for students and Academic staff.
The Norwegian higher education system must act in accordance with its international obligations and lead the way in terms of implementing these. Implementation should reflect the Norwegian context. Supranational structures for higher education are important because they contribute to the understanding of systems. With a transferability and a level of quality assurance that can be generally accepted. This guarantees a trust-based structure. The work to develop these structures must be performed by democratic and representative bodies. Student participation must be formalised in order for the process to be legitimate.
Academic freedom must be preserved, and a high ethical standard must be applied in all processes.
The Bologna Process aims to improve the scope for mobility by harmonising degree and grade systems and establishing a common European education area. Although great strides have been made in this work, it will take some time to get the European Higher Education Area (EHEA) working effectively. NSO recognises Bologna as the most important arena for the harmonisation of European higher education systems at the present time. NSO will work towards further developing the Bologna Process, ensuring that it remains attractive to member states, institutions and students.
Quality assurance of student-centered learning, predictability in terms of recognition of degrees and the equal rights to education should be among the principal visions in the Bologna Process and it is therefore in these areas that implementation work should progress apace.
A permanent Bologna secretariat should be established financed jointly by all the member states. Ministerial meetings and conferences should continue to rotate between the member states. Simultaneously, a fund should be set up to finance joint projects within the EHEA, in order to encourage a broader participation in development work.
Varied and poor implementation of the Bologna Process is the main challenge facing the EHEA today. The overall aim of the EHEA is to have one coherent higher education system. It is therefore important for both countries and institutions to discharge their obligations and implement all measures, not just their preferred elements. National implementation plans should therefore be developed, in which the member states undertake to implement the measures in a national context. Minimum standards should also be set within the EHEA for education systems and institutions in order for a country or institution to be able to call itself a “Bologna” country or institution. Any lapse in Bologna status should have consequences.
The Bologna Process has previously been mis-used during attempts to introduce a different policy from the one to which Bologna is committed. This is particularly ill-judged and undermines the development of the EHEA.
In order to prevent the mis-use of reforms in the name of Bologna, a central control mechanism should be established. One of the most positive aspects of the Bologna Process is greater openness and comparability between countries. Any control mechanism should be combined with objective reporting and country visits organised by the Bologna secretariat. There have been problems with official reports on the status of Bologna implementation deviating from the reports submitted by the student unions.
The Bologna Follow-up Group (BFUG) should be given a more prominent role in the process and the ability to make minor implementation decisions, while the ministerial meetings determine a general path for the EHEA and make more general decisions. NSO believes that it may be a good idea to expand on themes discussed by the EHEA. Education systems that achieve the minimum standards set out in the Bologna Process must set themselves additional development goals in collaboration with the BFUG and ministerial meetings. Automatic recognition of degrees is one example of such work.
Improved access to information about the EHEA, instruments such as the quality framework and the scope this provides, is vital if the process is to succeed. Access to and the dissemination of information about commitments and systems must be passed on to national bodies, institutions and employers. Information about study opportunities in the EHEA, study grants and recognition must be passed on to both potential and current students.
NSO believes that Norway must make use of its membership of the European Association for Quality Assurance in Higher Education (ENQA) in order to lead the way in observing European Standards and Guidelines. Norway should be a full member of the European Quality Assurance Register for Higher Education (EQAR) through the Norwegian Agency for Quality Assurance in Education (NOKUT), ensuring greater openness and trust between the registered members.
Rankings that measure quantitative parameters with little or no real correlation with the quality of education at the institutions in question should not be recognised as tools for the assessment and comparison of institutions. Nor should such rankings be used in governing the education sector. Traditional international rankings are based on selection and emphasis of various quantitative criteria and a comparison of institutions that have markedly different profiles. NSO believes that we should continue to develop more qualitative indicators, but not aim to use these for ranking purposes. Use of indicators will contribute to improving the quality of institutions. Indicators should be included that address diversity, equality and corporate social responsibility.
The EU has been an important driving force for the Bologna Process. NSO believes that the EU should continue to support the Bologna Process rather than develop its own higher education policies under the control of the EU. The EU should be supportive and provide organisational assistance for the national states and the processes that have been agreed between them. Through framework programmes for research and mobility programmes for education, the EU can make a positive contribution to achieving aims set out in the Bologna Process.
The Erasmus programmes have perhaps been the most important economic aid to unifying education systems in Europe. The absence of tuition fees for Erasmus students and the awarding of genuine grants is crucial for mobility, particularly from countries where students do not receive tuition fee grants or have to bring with them their own study grants. Norway and Norwegian educational institutions must be smarter when it comes to arranging for Norwegian students to utilise this scheme, particularly in the case of foreign placements.
There is also scope for improving Erasmus+. Currently, the grant amount is set by the country of origin. This makes it incredibly difficult for students from countries where costs are lower than in Norway to come here on an exchange. The Erasmus grant should be adjusted for the receiving country, not the country of origin, as the case has been. The grant should be set at a level that covers all costs associated with the student’s stay. The loan guarantee scheme should be wound up or replaced with a genuine grant. NSO is fundamentally opposed to any scheme that is likely to increase the overall debt burden on students in Europe. The organisational support funding within Erasmus should be re-organised, providing the European Students’ Union with increased and more long-term funding.
After 2020, institutions should meet EHEA minimum standards in order to be included in any future developments of the Erasmus+ programme.
Participation in European research projects, such as the EU’s eighth framework programme, Horizon2020, is vital to ensuring knowledge development in Norway. The thematic priorities, open access requirements and emphasis on gender balance are among the actions supported by NSO.
2.2.5 Placement mobility
An important knowledge policy objective is for more students to be able to undertake a practical placement abroad, for example, as an intern at an embassy. Educational institutions in Norway must arrange for individuals to undertake foreign placements, which includes the granting of study leave. Current interns at the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ embassies must also be entitled to Erasmus Placement grants.
Norway should make use of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) analytical capabilities to produce a frame of reference, without the OECD becoming a player that can influence the direction of higher education in Norway. The OECD has a narrow view of higher education. For the OECD’s advice to be relevant and their recommendations independent, their view of higher education must change.
NSO believes that education is not a commodity. Institutions should not view students as a means of making a profit. Education must be protected from commercialisation and the desire for financial gain. NSO is opposed to international trade agreements that regard education as an opportunity for financial gain.
3.1 International branch campus
An international branch campus is a branch of an institution that has been established in another country. NSO believes the current trend of establishing such campuses is problematic because it creates confusion over legal frameworks, responsibility for quality assurance and employment terms. Norwegian educational institutions should not be able to set up campuses abroad, and it should not be possible for non-Norwegian institutions to establish campuses in Norway. Study grants should not be awarded for studying at international branch campuses.
NSO does not regard study programmes run by Norwegian institutions abroad that do not have links to a national institution in the country in question as internationalised education. Tuition fees should not be charged for such studies, and they must be subject to Norwegian legislation and supervision guidelines.
Diversity in the mobile student population increases the social benefit of internationalisation. This mobility must be a reflection of the student population and the population as a whole. A number of countries are investing solely in attracting international “top students”. NSO believes that this is a misguided approach. Interaction with international students makes all students better, not just top students. NSO is therefore opposed to programmes and attempts to make internationalised education and mobility another elite phenomenon.
Advice and mobility prior to higher education is a prerequisite for achieving these objectives. The Association of Norwegian Students Abroad (ANSA) and the Norwegian Centre for International Cooperation in Education (SIU) should be given more state funding for their work to provide information to potential students. In order to internationalise higher education, the school system must be internationalised. Pupils with international experience often go on to gain more international experience. The Norwegian Directorate for Education and Training should formulate a plan for the internationalisation of schools in cooperation with the SIU.
In the case of mobility, the host nation or the host institution should have overall responsibility for arrangements for international students. In the meantime, SIU should cover extra costs for an exchange lasting up to 12 months per level of study for students with disabilities.
Genuine internationalisation must build on exchanges involving people and ideas. Mobility results in the internationalisation of higher education by enabling interaction between students, researchers and academic environments. Different perspectives and academic approaches need to be experienced if you are to understand them properly. Mobility ensures mutual social benefit for both the country of origin and the host country. A country profits both from students who remain in the host country and those who go elsewhere. It is Norway’s best interests that the international competence of other countries also includes competence about us. International academic interaction ensures quality in education and enhances its social benefit.
At the same time, there is a great deal of informal learning associated with an educational experience abroad. Adapting to other systems, cultures and practices is one example of international competence that is attained outside of the actual education process.
There is a lack of concrete plans and objectives for Norwegian internationalisation of higher education. There has been little follow up on the Norwegian parliamentary report from 2009, which is now outdated. NSO hopes for a parliamentary report on higher education to set out concrete objectives for internationalisation.
NSO believes that Norwegian educational institutions should be set an objective whereby a minimum of 30 % of the students at those institutions should gain international experience by studying abroad. There should also be arrangements in place to enable more students to complete a full degree abroad. In order to encourage increased international experience among students, no studies should be accredited without having at least one certified exchange agreement.
One objective of any mobility initiative should be to achieve a balanced flow of students. Another should be to achieve balance in the following areas:
- Macrobalance: How many we send in total compared with the number we receive.
- Regional balance: Where Norwegian students end up going and the places around the world where we have educational and research cooperation agreements.
- Bilateral balance: How many we receive compared with the number we send to each individual cooperating country.
- Diversity in mobility: The mobile student population must reflect the population as a whole.
NSO believes that specific investment in some countries and regions should not feature in the mobility strategies of Norwegian institutions. Breadth and variation increase the value of student mobility by encouraging new perspectives.
Norwegian study grants must be neutrally formulated and be awarded for studies in any country.
For students from selected cooperating countries with inadequate grant schemes, Norway may finance mobility grants if this is deemed necessary to safeguard mobility to Norway. Shorter study periods abroad must involve cooperation with local educational institutions.
There should be a connection between studies for which grants are awarded and the courses accredited afterwards. Foreign degrees must be recognised in Norway, provided clear differences cannot be demonstrated between the foreign degree and an equivalent degree in Norway. In some instances, it may be appropriate to offer a conversion course in order to ensure recognition of a foreign degree.
In order to gain access to grants from the Norwegian State Educational Loan Fund, the applicant must have a connection to Norway. This also applies for studying outside of the Nordic region. Receipt of study grants from the Norwegian State Educational Loan Fund or other parties before a connection has been established must not result in exclusion from access to grants.
The rules for awarding grants for education abroad must be made more flexible. Use of the educational institutions’ ranking as a basis for awarding study grants must cease immediately. The restrictions on first-year grants are regarded by NSO as an obstacle to a successful Norwegian BRICS strategy (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa).
Grants for summer schools and language teaching abroad should be expanded and made more flexible. The scheme which provides for two orientation semesters should be expanded to cover all non-Western countries, including India and South Africa. In order to promote increased double competence, grants should be given to language schools abroad for the following languages, in addition to the student’s normal course of study: German, Russian, Chinese and Portuguese. The schools must be recognised in their home country.
For NSO the principle of free education is universal: No country should charge tuition fees or application fees, regardless of the nationality or background of students. In order to safeguard the principle of free education in Norway it is especially important to preserve or re-introduce this in countries with which Norway often compares itself.
In the meantime, the Norwegian State Educational Loan Fund should provide a 70 % tuition fee grant for both Bachelor and Master degrees abroad. Norway and SIU should promote the principle of free education in their educational cooperation with other countries. Balanced mobility splits the costs equally between the countries. Nordic mobility agreements, where the sending country is partially responsible for financing study places, are a good secondary solution to particularly notable cases of asymmetric mobility. Norway should enter into similar agreements with countries to which it is structurally necessary to send students. Norway should obtain EU status for Norwegian students in the United Kingdom when setting tuition fee rates.
Universities and university colleges must be strategic in their approach to work to promote cooperation and link international research and education to one another. The UTFORSK Partnership Programme is an excellent instrument for achieving this and should be strengthened. The objective for all academic environments must be for all educational activities to offer at least one pre-approved exchange opportunity by 2020.
Partnerships involve closer institutional cooperation. Partnerships involve both research and educational cooperation, with both student and researcher mobility. Advisors/student counsellors must be familiar with a partner’s profile and study options. Administratively, it must be as easy for the student to study at a partner institution as at their own institution, and grades achieved at partner institutions must appear on degree certificates.
Choice of strategic partners and the number of partnerships must be based on the institution’s ability to maintain and develop the partnership, and should be used to further develop the ordinary educational opportunities and research at the institution. Sudents must participate in the selection of partners and throughout the cooperation process. Student representatives at partner institutions should meet regularly and be represented in bodies that plan partnerships. There must be student participation in decision-making bodies at the partner institutions.
Norwegian educational institutions should require their partner institutions to be autonomous, to hold and respect student elections, and to give students an opportunity to demonstrate on campus.
NSO believes joint degrees formalise cooperation and provide a safe and predictable opportunity for students to gain international experience. More joint degrees should be established provided that the principle of free education is observed. Tuition fees must not be charged for Norwegian students taking joint degrees; the same applies to international students taking part of their degree in Norway.
Joint degrees of a satisfactory standard are attained through mutual and stable funding solutions, and by the institutions working from transparent methods of cooperation and establishing double degrees and joint semester solutions where appropriate.
NSO believes that Norwegian universities and university colleges must adapt in order for students specialising in the same field to be able to make use of existing exchange agreements with other institutions. This will help to improve quality assurance and resource utilisation of the available opportunities by not forcing each individual institution to have its own agreements within the same study programme.
6.1.2 The knowledge triangle and placements
Institutions should aim to incorporate the entire knowledge triangle in their internationalisation work. Relevant public bodies, companies and organisations should be involved and provide constructive assistance in terms of content, placements and utilisation of studies. This should be a requirement for Norwegian state-owned companies operating overseas.
Norwegian universities and university colleges are continually developing their research cooperation with institutions abroad. Research cooperation of this kind will result in increased mobility for academic staff. The aim is for all academic staff to be able to take part in a number of exchanges throughout their career. NSO believes that research cooperation and exchanges of this kind should aim to encourage student exchanges as well as staff exchanges.
For Norwegian students who choose not to participate in an exchange, encountering international students here in Norway makes an important contribution to their own internationalisation during their time at university. In order for meetings between Norwegian and foreign students in Norway to contribute to academic, cultural and social development, it is essential that foreign students in Norway are properly integrated into the study environment. The integration of international students in Norway contributes to important elements in education through, for example, study groups, group work and similar activities. In their work to promote integration, it is important that the institutions encourage diversity in the international student population and create the conditions for integration, irrespective of language, financial capacity or cultural background.
Social integration of foreign students in the student environment is important. The institutions must provide good framework conditions for organisations that actively encourage the integration of international students, such as, for example, the Erasmus Student Network, the International Students’ Union and similar organisations.
The institutions must contribute to integration and encourage participation by adapting teaching plans and employing buddy groups (also at Master-level), mentor schemes for new arrivals, modified advice, and a way of starting the semester to ensure that there is good interaction between Norwegian and international students.
Higher education institutions must also encourage the social integration of international students into student life and student organisations by ensuring that the organisations have the financial means to organise multilingual and internationally oriented activities.
Higher education institutions must encourage participation from international students in democratic processes and bodies, quality assurance and curriculum development. Translation must be offered with assistance from the institution if required.
Norwegian institutions should develop at least one programme (both at Bachelor and Master level) in a language other than Norwegian (not including language subjects). This aims to encourage better and more deeply rooted internationalisation at Norwegian institutions and in academic environments. Experience from Finland indicates that there is particular potential in English-language professional programmes at Bachelor level.
All universities and university colleges should offer a free Norwegian course to all international students and staff. Norwegian language proficiency is essential if students and staff are to integrate and interact, and so contributes to increased dissemination of knowledge and better social and cultural mediation. It also affords the possibility of remaining in Norway after the end of one’s education.
6.3.2 Language courses for exchange students/staff
Language courses for exchange students/staff are not currently offered extensively, although summer courses are available at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) and University of Oslo. The geographic distribution of such courses must be increased, with the aim being to offer similar summer courses at more higher educational institutions in Norway. For the same reason, more institutions must consider organising TOEFL tests (Test Of English as Foreign Language), which are currently only available in Drammen and Moss.
Exchange students coming to Norway should automatically receive a work visa as part of their student visa, provided they can demonstrate an active student status and progression.
NSO believes that the rules for renewing visas should be changed so that visas can be granted for longer periods based on income flows as opposed to available funds at a particular point in time. Applications for residence permits from students and staff on shorter exchange programmes should be dealt with quickly.
The experiences of students who have participated in an exchange before should be gathered and shared by the institutions in order to benefit future exchange students. Based on feedback from previous exchange students, exchange agreements between institutions should be reviewed regularly to ensure that a high academic standard is maintained.
The core activity of the Norwegian Centre for International Cooperation in Education (SIU) is to promote international cooperation throughout the entire educational pathway. Through its work SIU will promote the dissemination of good practices and solutions among the institutions, assist them in their work to improve the quality of internationalisation, and provide expert help in highlighting and fostering discussions about the internationalisation of higher education in the public sphere.
NSO believes that SIU should disseminate information about exchanges to and from Norway to a greater extent than at present (including to academic staff) and educate the sector about internationalisation. SIU should be involved to a greater extent in the training of board representatives within the sector. SIU should also increase the volume of data on mobility, so that international degree students in Norway can be differentiated from exchange students or foreign citizens receiving an education in Norway.
Human rights provide basic guidelines of importance for higher education and research. This applies in particular to freedom of speech and the actions of oppressive regimes in their dealings with students and researchers in terms of research topics, research results and scope for social involvement.
The Norwegian authorities should contribute to the development of conventions that safeguard equal access to higher education, democratic participation, freedom of speech, the right to unionise, cultural, social and economic rights for students and researchers, as well as tackling discrimination. The foremost convention to be observed is the UN Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Norwegian universities and university colleges should have ethical guidelines for cooperation with the business community and foreign institutions that are in keeping with these objectives.
A more educated world is a better world, including for those who already have access to education. It is therefore important for everyone to have equal access to and equal opportunities within higher education and academia, irrespective of their socio-economic background.
All countries should have efficient, independent and democratic student bodies. Students must be represented in all decision-making bodies and relevant advisory bodies. A lack of student participation damages the quality of education and thus also the societal benefit of higher education.
Nordiskt Ordförande Möte (NOM), a Nordic forum for cooperation, must be ensured a role as observer where appropriate at meetings of the Nordic Council and the Nordic Council of Ministers.
The European Students’ Union (ESU) is an important representative actor in European civil society and an important channel for both Norwegian and other European students. The Norwegian authorities should contribute one million norwegian crowns (NOK) annually to fund ESU and make particular efforts to secure and safeguard regular funding for a global student body. The task of the global student body should be to express opinions on behalf of the world’s students in global arenas and support other forms of international student cooperation.
Students are entitled to be change-agents in society. Student movements are often on the front line in the fight to bring about reforms and development. Cooperation across national borders is important for passing on experience and information about democratic work by students, and strengthening and motivating student democracies in countries where the opportunities for students to unionise and get involved are constrained. Cooperation of this kind produces mutual benefits for the parties involved and also strengthens the capacity of each individual movement.
The Student Peace Prize, which is awarded every two years during the International Student Festival in Trondheim, recognises the efforts of students who are working to promote peace, democracy and human rights. The prize is an important means of raising awareness about student solidarity both in Norway and internationally. Information and knowledge about the prize should be disseminated further.
Academics and students should be guaranteed academic freedom and the opportunity to participate in debates in society. Political oppression and attacks on academic freedom have a detrimental effect on the quality of education and research and confidence in these processes. NSO backs schemes that support researchers and students during times of oppression, crisis and war.
The international Scholars at Risk network shines the spotlight on academic freedom and freedom of speech. The network’s most important activity is providing temporary employment opportunities for academics who cannot carry out their academic work in their homeland because of threats or censorship. A number of Norwegian educational institutions have played host to persecuted researchers who have travelled to Norway to continue their research work. More Norwegian institutions should accept researchers through this network and include this work in their strategic plans.
Students at Risk is a pilot scheme that enables students expelled for political reasons to complete their education in Norway. It is important to NSO that these students return to their homeland as soon as the situation there allows. If the pilot scheme achieves prompt results and generates interest, NSO believes that it should be widened. The requirement concerning English proficiency and the limited number of English-language study programmes in Norway limits the number of students helped by the scheme. For this reason, NSO aims to help to introduce the scheme in more countries. The aim is to introduce Students at Risk in France, Spain and one English-speaking country, with a long-term objective being to introduce the scheme at European level.
7.4 Educational aid
Educational aid is the most effective form of aid for addressing social inequality. However, the growing interest in easily measurable and purely short-term results is damaging this education. Aid work must be a long-term measure and be used to improve the scope for participating in higher education of a high standard.
The majority of Norwegian educational aid is spent on compulsory education. This is important for ensuring that the UN’s Millennium Development Goals are met. However, NSO believes that sustainable development cannot be achieved if higher education and research are neglected. The proportion of the Norwegian aid budget spent on promoting higher education and research environments must increase if strong academic environments are to evolve in developing nations.
The Quota Scheme – Kvoteordningen – should continue with a primary emphasis on development, followed by internationalisation, and there should be more focus on the need for institutions to develop. The flexibility of the scheme must be improved, for both students and institutions. The Norwegian State Educational Loan Fund’s role in the Quota Scheme should be curtailed, with administrative responsibility transferring to SIU.
NSO aims to work to introduce higher education as a goal in the UN’s next round of millennium development goals for education. Higher education is a fundamental factor in development. In order to ensure access to primary and secondary education, well-trained teachers are required. A good public health service relies on health professionals who have completed higher education, while construction and infrastructure maintenance demands engineers.
The objective should be greater access to higher education, as well as diversity in the student population. Diversity indicators can include, for example, gender, minority backgrounds and place of residence.
 The combination of expert knowledge and language. The term “double competence” is used by the Confederation of Norwegian Enterprise (NHO).
 Interaction between education, research and innovation. An important element of the EU’s 2020 strategy.