01 - Norway - Historical overview
Norwegians had to go to Copenhagen or other European cities to study at a university in the period
that the country was under Danish rule (1380-1814). The first academic institution in Norway was
founded 1760 in Trondheim, as the Royal Norwegian Society of Science. The first Norwegian
university was founded 1811 in Oslo and opened in 1813 as the Royal Norwegian Frederik’s
University - Frederik being the name of the contemporary Danish-Norwegian king. The first university
Act in Norway, of 1824, had regulations for this university.
The other universities were all founded after World War II, in 1946 (Bergen), 1969/1996 (Trondheim),
and 1972 (Tromsø). The University of Bergen evolved from the scientific work and teaching at the
Bergen Museum (1825). The University of Trondheim evolved from the Royal Society of Science
(1760), the Norwegian Institute of Technology (1910), the Norwegian Institute for Teaching (1922),
and an independent faculty of medicine (1972); it became the Norwegian University of Science and
Technology (NTNU) in 1996. The Norwegian College of Fishery Sciences (1971) was incorporated
into the University of Tromsø in 1988. Recently, three other institutions have been approved as
general universities. In 2005, the specialised Agricultural University of Norway (1897) became the
Norwegian University of Life Sciences, and Stavanger University College (1969) became the
University of Stavanger. In 2007 Agder University College became the third new university, University
Within the university sector, five public specialised university institutions were founded with study
programmes to the highest level in their respective fields: the Norwegian School of Veterinary Science
(1935), the Norwegian School of Economics and Business Administration (1936), the Oslo School of
Architecture and Design (1961), the Norwegian School of Sport Sciences (1969) and the Norwegian
Academy of Music (1972). The Norwegian Lutheran School of Theology was approved as a private
specialised university institution in 2005.
As part of the policy for equal opportunities to higher education, regardless of social, economic and/or
geographical background, the State Educational Loan Fund was established 1947 to provide financial
support for students in the form of loans and grants.
The Norwegian higher educational system has gone through a comprehensive process of
restructuring. The three main reform phases have been:
● 1970s: Expansion and decentralisation. A non-university sector established, by upgrading
existing vocational schools to colleges and decisions on new regional colleges in all counties.
● Late 1980s - 1995: Network Norway was to connect public university and non-university sector
institutions. Concentration, merger of 98 public colleges to 26 university colleges.
● 1998 – 2005: The Quality Reform with organisational, financial and educational measures.
The Bologna Process.
In the 1960s, attention was first focused on the problem of capacity, because the student population at
the universities grew quickly. Alternatives to the long university studies (4-7 years) were asked for. To
obtain more equal educational opportunities for all became increasingly important. Politicians were in
favour of decentralising higher education and further the democratisation. An official Committee on
Higher Education was appointed and submitted five reports 1966-70. The Government decided to
establish a new type of higher education institutions: regional colleges with 2-3 year mainly vocational
programmes, geared towards the various regional economies. The first regional college was
established 1969 as a separate institution. The Norwegian regional colleges became well known
internationally during the 1970s and 1980s as a successful decentralisation measure. The Committee
had proposed that regional colleges should be comprehensive institutions incorporating existing
vocational education for engineers, nurses, teachers etc. This proposal was too controversial;
comprehensive colleges were not established until the mid 1990s.
In the 1970s and 1980s, the many existing vocational schools of engineering, nursing, teaching etc in
the regions were upgraded to colleges, as a non-university sector of higher education. The upgrading
included admission requirements, academic requirements for staff, length of study programmes (2-3
years) and content of curricula.
In 1981, regional colleges and colleges of engineering, teacher education, social work, librarian and
journalism were given the right to award the lower university degree after 4 years of study. This right
was given in 1989 to conservatories of music and in 1991 to maritime colleges, a college of hotel
management, colleges of nursing and of other health professions.
One aim for the structural reforms in the late 1960s and the considerable expansion in the 1970s was
to create equal access to higher education for all, irrespective of economic, social or geographical
background. As a result, a vast number of colleges developed. At the most, 127 regional and
vocational colleges existed, many of them very small. Most colleges were public (state) institutions,
around 20 were private institutions. There was a certain overlap in the sense that different colleges
were teaching similar subjects within the same region or same town.
At the end of the 1980s, it was decided to review various aspects of higher education. Three different
official Committees submitted reports on the following areas:
● the national structure and organisation of higher education and research
● teacher education
● conditions for foreign students in Norway.
In 1991, the Government presented a White Paper on higher education, which proposed that higher
education institutions should be reorganised and merged. The term Network Norway was coined to
denote a national higher education and research network, based on the principles of specialisation,
cooperation and communication. A governing principle was that new study programmes should be
planned and viewed in relation to an overall national plan. During the 1990s, national responsibility for
several subject specialisations was given to a number of institutions (nodes in the network). However,
the 1999 evaluation showed that the impact of these nodes was not as expected, neither at the
national nor at the institutional level, partly because of disagreements on resource allocation.
In the College Reform of 1 August 1994, the state non-university sector was reorganised. 98 regional
and vocational colleges were merged into 26 university colleges (statlige høgskoler). None of the
former separate institutions were closed down, and some of the university colleges became multicampus
institutions in a county. Each county has at least one university college, as was the case with
the regional colleges. In 1996, seven colleges and academies of arts, crafts and design were merged
into two new university colleges of arts, one in Oslo and one in Bergen. One academy of arts was
integrated into the university in Trondheim. Regional music conservatories were integrated into
universities in Bergen and Trondheim, and into the Norwegian Academy of Music in Oslo.
In 1998, a new process of reform was initiated. The two main reasons were the need for quality
improvements in higher education and research (problems with delays before graduation and student
drop-out), and Norway’s obligations in the Bologna Process. A new official Committee on Higher
Education was set up, submitting its main report in May 2000. A recommendation was that the
institutions should be given a higher degree of autonomy and be organised as public corporations
outside the Ministry, but with the Ministry retaining ownership and having the right to appoint the
majority of the board members. Furthermore, the Committee recommended that the Ministry should
fund activities like teaching and research, not the institutions themselves, and that the funding system
should be the same irrespective of ownership of the institution. A new degree structure was also
A White Paper was presented to the Storting (national assembly) in the spring of 2001. This was the
foundation for the Quality Reform in higher education, implemented from 2003/04. The Quality Reform
encompasses the following elements:
● Changes in governance structure at the institutional level, allowing institutions more autonomy
concerning organisation and management issues
● Increased institutional autonomy, for example concerning the introduction and repeal of
courses and study programmes
● A new funding formula for the institutions, more aimed at the accomplishment of results and
institutional output in teaching and research
● A new degree structure according to the Bologna Process, introducing a bachelor’s, master’s
and ph.d. degree system, and the launching of a new grading system based on the ECTS
● New forms of student guidance, evaluation and assessment intended to improve the follow-up
of students, reduce drop-out and study interruptions, and to stimulate students to complete
their studies at a younger age
● A new scheme for financial support to students, designed to stimulate students to follow
formal study progression and to complete their studies on time
● The establishment of the independent Norwegian Agency for Quality Assurance in Education
(NOKUT). Accreditation of institutional status and study programmes have been introduced,
along with systematic evaluations of institutional quality assurance systems
● More emphasis on internationalisation as a means to improve the quality of Norwegian higher
education, and the establishment of the Norwegian Centre for International Cooperation in
Higher Education (SIU).
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