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NUS Norway greets ISU Norway’s national assembly

Anders Kvernmo Langset's speech during the International Students' Union of Norway's national assembly October 16th.

My name is Anders Kvernmo Langset, and I have the honour of being President of the National Union of Students in Norway – Norsk studentorganisasjon. Our organisation is the umbrella for the local student parliaments and student councils in 43 universities and university colleges across this country, representing more than 220 000 students from the University of Tromsø in the north, till the University of Agder situated 2000 kilometers south of that.

Our goal as the largest student interest organisation in Norway is to improve students’ academic, social and economic rights. Our most important principle is that everyone shall have the equal right to take higher education in Norway. Ultimately we aim to make it impossible to discuss higher education without hearing the voice of students.

Since the foundation of NSO in 2010 and for nearly eight decades before, we have fought to increase the international aspect of higher education. Why? Because, simply put: an international education is a better education. We are not interested in university rankings, but firmly believe that the more international higher education is, the better.

About halfway through the history of the student movement here in Norway, an organisation called the International Students’ Association was formed by a small but dedicated group of motivated activists to protect and improve the special rights and demands of international students. Since then, your organisation has grown and flourished – ensuring that international students are at the heart of the student movement itself and higher education more generally. Let me assure you, in our daily work in NSO it is impossible to forget you.

In the last years ISU has grown to be one of our most important partners, and our partnership agreement enriches NSO’s work every day. It cannot be stated clearly enough how important it is for us to hear your voice when we begin to work over the finer details of whatever policy area we happen to be working on, and Abbas has excelled himself this year in being that voice in our National Board, and in our offices over coffee (or tea, off course).

Together, NSO and ISU, we have made higher education in Norway truly international, and our student movement even more so. We have slowly begun to hold more of our events through English, for example, when what we discuss is particularly relevant to your expertise, and this has begun likewise to filter down to our local member organisations. Just this week the student parliament of the university college of Oslo and Akershus held their entire parliament meeting in English, right here in this room!

When NSO and ISU work together, the product of our labour is immensely more than either organisation could have produced alone. And we are firmly committed to making that cooperation even stronger, and deliver even greater results during my team’s term of office and beyond.

Tuition fees for international students – a bad idea

However – as you know – not everything is perfect here in Norway for international students right now.

In the last few years there has been a mood, not inside, but outside of our universities and university colleges, that international students are somehow – a luxury. That while it is great and good to have interesting foreigners adding some diversity to our higher education, it is not something we really need to spend any time or money on.

This attitude has been particularly strongly diplayed by the Conservative Party and the Progress Party – the two parties that make up our minority government. Torbjørn Røe Isaksen, the minister for education and research comes from this tradition.

For the second time now, his ministry has proposed the introduction of tuition fees for students who come to Norway from the greatest distances. Those who give us the greatest diversity. Those who – by just their presence – instil a sense of worldliness and global conscience in us.

As a teaching-student myself, I know that the easiest way for our children to gain a comprehension and appreciation of the diversity of the world, and of modern Norway itself, is to spend time side by side with those who come from a completely different world-view and background.

This diversity, this nuancing of our view of the world – this bravery to see a problem from multiple angles and solve it in a way that fits for everyone – this building of a Norway that is conscious of our failings, active in solving them and passionately interested in making not just Norway but the world a better place for our children and grandchildren to live in is the driving force behind all modern education policy. And if this is true in our high schools, our primary schools and even in our kindergartens, then it is doubly so, even triply, valid for our universities and university colleges.

You have probably heard this before, we Norwegians like to call ourselves the world’s richest country. But there is a poverty which cannot be solved by oil money, and that poverty is the very misunderstanding and lack of emapthy that leads people to make these short-sighted and futile attacks on the fundamental principles that are slowly making Norway a truly rich country – both socially and financially.

Let me say it very clearly. The entire Norwegian Student Movement stands against this.

We in NSO have been working night and day since the announcement of the budget proposal just last week to stop this idiotic idea. Likewise, you in ISU have been working — if anything — even harder.

And we are beginning to win. The Liberal party has stated clearly again and again that they will not allow tuition fees in Norway.

The Christian Democrats, however, have been less clear. We know that we have many allies in the Christian Democrats, but the question that remains is how high a priority this campaign is for them.

Next week I will be presenting NSO’s case to the Education committee in Parliament and our opposition to tuition fees will be the primary argument we will present. Our aim is to ensure that by the time the budget is voted through the Parliament in December there is no evidence that tuition fees had ever been proposed in the first place.

This is a marathon, not a sprint. To win we must sustain our efforts all the way to December.

This is a broad campaign – and though we will be primarily focusing on certain vital elements of political life, it is not enough that this conversation takes place on Karl Johans Gate and in the Government Quarter. We aim to make a loud and clear declaration that international students are crucial to higher education and that we are prepared to fight to protect them.

International Students’ Day

Since the Second World War, the 17th of November has been known around the world as International Students’ Day. The history of this day’s celebration is diverse, and the many different ways of celebrating students in different countries are too many to name today. But here in Norway, this rememberance has been slowly shrinking to the point that it is almost forgotten.

This year, we are bringing it back!

On Monday the 17th of November, we have challenged every student union, in every insitution of higher education in Norway to mark International Students’ Day. In cooperation with ISU, with the Erasmus Students’ Network, and the Students and Academics International Help Fund this year’s International Students’ Day in Norway will be one to remember.

We will see our entire student movement stand up on this one day to celebrate our international students, our international colleagues and friends and clearly demonstrate the vital role you play in our education. To win the argument, we must demonstrate not just the negative effects of imposing tuition fees, but also show how much richer we are to have you all here with us.

Three days later – on the 20th of November, the Finance committee will present their budget report to Parliament. We will make it impossible for them to do so without thinking about us.

For this day I challenge you to work closely with your local student union in your local campuses to make sure that the 17th of November is the best celebration of international students that it can possibly be.

Together, NSO and ISU will stand shoulder to shoulder. We can, and we will, win this debate so thoroughly and completely that it doesn’t rear its ugly head again for a generation.

I thank you so much for having me, likewise for the excellent cooperation we have had this year, and more, I thank you for the richness you bring to the student movement. Congratulations to Abbas, May, Leah, Daniel, Gagan and Silje for a fantastic term of office. Best of luck to the new team, and we look forward to yet another year of friendship and solidarity between both of our excellent organisations.

Have an excellent National Assembly and let’s “Stopp skolepenger!”

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