The differences between types of higher education institutions are mainly related to their selfaccreditation
rights. Universities can without applying for external accreditation establish study
programmes at all levels. University colleges must apply for external accreditation by the Norwegian
Agency for Quality Assurance in Education (NOKUT) for study programmes at master and PhD level.
There is also a wide range of private higher education institutions without any self-accreditation rights,
all their study programmes must be accredited by NOKUT.
The different categories of higher
education institutions in Norway are as follows:
● Universities (public)
● Specialised university institutions (both public and private)
● University colleges (both public and private)
● University colleges of arts (public)
● Other university colleges (public, but not under the Ministry of Education and Research)
● Higher education institutions that provide accredited study programmes (private).
The university sector consists of universities and specialised university institutions. The non-university
sector consists of university colleges, university colleges of arts and private higher education
institutions which provide accredited study programmes. Norway is among the countries with the
highest share of students in the non-university sector, approximately 60 %.
Transfers between the institutions are encouraged and simplified by the degree system.
Norway does not have a separate open university. All universities and university colleges are expected
to offer flexible ICT-supported courses. Norway Opening Universities (NOU) was established in 1999
as a national collaboration and networking agency, supported by the Ministry of Education and
Research. NOU provides on its web site a comprehensive database with search engine on continuing
education courses, both ICT-supported and on-campus courses, on offer from all universities and
university colleges. A national distance education network in higher education (SOFF) was established
in 1990, located in Tromsø. SOFF was responsible for distant ICT-supported learning, working with
stimulation through public grants for development and networking. In 2004, SOFF was merged into
Norway Opening Universities. Represented in the NOU board are organisations of public and private
universities and university colleges, national student organisations, employers’ and employees
The Norwegian Association of Higher Education Institutions (UHR) was established in 2000 by
merging the former associations of the university sector and of the university colleges. Its mission is to
coordinate the activities of the member institutions, and to contribute to a national policy on higher
education. Private university colleges have a separate association, but the accredited private higher
education institutions may beome members of UHR as well.
More than 85 % of students attend state institutions, although there are as many as 33 private
institutions with recognised study programmes, compared to 38 state institutions.
Universities are broad institutions covering most branches of study; they have both professional
programmes and general disciplinary programmes. They have the main national responsibility for
research training. Since 1969, Norway had four universities located in eastern, western, middle and
northern Norway. 1 January 2005, two new universities were established after passing the new
institutional accreditation process, and in 2007 a third new university was approved .
seven universities are:
● University of Oslo (founded 1811) is the oldest and largest university in Norway, with the
widest range of study programmes. The Norwegian College of Special Education (founded
1961) was 1990 incorporated into the University.
● University of Bergen (founded 1946), including the Bergen Museum (1825).
● Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) in Trondheim (founded 1996) is the
second largest university. Its predecessor, the University of Trondheim (1969) was a merger
of the College of Arts and Science, formerly the Norwegian Institute for Teaching (1922), the
Norwegian Institute of Technology (1911) and the Museum of the Royal Norwegian Society of
Science (1760). Included in the 1996 merger were the Faculty of Medicine, the Trondheim
Academy of Fine Arts and Trøndelag Conservatory of Music. The Norwegian Institute of
Technology (NTH) was until 1984 the only institution in Norway offering a higher degree in
● University of Tromsø (founded 1968) is the northernmost university in the world. The
Norwegian College of Fishery Sciences (founded 1971) was 1988 incorporated into the
● University of Stavanger (founded 2005) was a former university college (founded 1969).
● Norwegian University of Life Sciences (founded 2005) was a former specialised university
institution in agricultural studies (founded 1897).
● University of Agder (founded 2007), a former university college (founded 1994)
Specialised University Institutions
There are six specialised university institutions (vitenskapelige høgskoler) in 2007. These institutions
offer professional programmes at master and postgraduate level and doctoral degrees. They have a
national responsibility for research within their fields. The institutions are:
● The Norwegian School of Veterinary Sciences (founded 1935) in Oslo
● The Norwegian School of Economics and Business Administration (founded 1936) in Bergen
● The Oslo School of Architecture and Design (founded 1961) in Oslo
● The Norwegian School of Sport Sciences (founded 1969) in Oslo
● The Norwegian Academy of Music (founded 1972) in Oslo
● The Norwegian School of Theology (founded 1907) in Oslo, a former private higher education
institustion was accredited as specialised university institution from 1 January 2005.
University colleges predominantly offer 3-year professional bachelor programmes (engineering,
nursing, social work etc). There are also professional programmes of varying lengths from one to five
years, for example in teacher training and business administration.
University colleges also offer some master’s and a few doctoral programmes, they have research
responsibilities in fields where they award doctoral degrees. With the Quality Reform, they offer more
master’s programmes (professional, multidisciplinary, management), often flexibly organised to be
used as continuing education for working professionals.
In addition, most university colleges offer some programmes which parallel university subjects at
undergraduate level, mainly one-year programmes. These programmes allow students to transfer to
universities, but are also popular as continuing education for adults.
On 1 August 1994, 98 regional colleges and vocational colleges were reorganised and merged to
become 26 state colleges, each offering a broader range of subjects but with their own particular
specialities. The purpose of the reorganisation was to raise academic standards and to make better
use of the available resources. The term ''state college'' was changed into the term ''university
college''. This reflects a general academic upgrading of these institutions since 1994, with more
members of the faculty holding doctoral degrees and more master level degrees being offered. In
2005, Stavanger University College was accredited university status.
The growth and development of the former regional and vocational colleges was closely related to a
government policy in which higher education was regarded as an important contributor to the local
economic, social and political life. The colleges played an important role in the decentralisation of
higher education in Norway, and they have had a strong commitment to their respective local
communities. The most important categories before the 1994 merger were regional colleges, colleges
of education, colleges of engineering, colleges of nursing, colleges of social work and health care
education, and conservatories of music. These institutions form the core of the faculties within the new
university colleges, with a long history - in some cases going back to the 1860s. The names of the 25
public university colleges refer to their location, in a county (often multi-campus) or in a town. An
exception is the Sami University College. University colleges with county names are Akershus,
Buskerud, Finnmark, Hedmark, Nord-Trøndelag, Sogn og Fjordane, Sør-Trøndelag, Telemark,
Vestfold and Østfold. University colleges with town names are Bergen, Bodø, Gjøvik, Harsted,
Lillehammer, Molde, Narvik, Nesna, Oslo, Stord/Haugesund, Tromsø, Volda and Ålesund.
University Colleges of Arts
There are two university colleges of arts, as the result of mergers 1 August 1996: The Oslo National
Academy of the Arts covers visual arts and crafts and performing arts, after merger of five colleges.
The Bergen National Academy of the Arts covers visual arts and crafts, after merger of two colleges.
Other Public University Colleges
The Norwegian Police University College and military university colleges are not under the authority of
the Ministry of Education and Research, but the Act of 1 April 2005 No 15 on Universities and
University Colleges partly applies to these institutions as well.