WENR, September/October 2003: Norway



There are two laws specific to higher education: the 1995 Act on Universities and Colleges and the 1986 Act on the Recognition of Study Programs at, and State Funding of, Private Higher Education Institutions. All institutions of higher education are subject to the authority of the Ministry of Education, Research and Church Affairs. Higher education in Norway is mainly offered at state institutions, notably universities (four), university colleges (six), state colleges (26) and art colleges (two). They are all covered by the same act, which came into force on January 1, 1996. In 2001, two legal bills and five white papers, under the combined title “Quality Reform [2],” provided amendments to these laws. With the Quality Reform Bill’s ratification in 2002 and 2003, many of the assumptions of the Bologna Declaration could be implemented in Norway. Amendments to the 1995 act include provisions for quality assurance, the introduction of an independent organization for accreditation and evaluation, the introduction of an ECTS grading scale and credit points, and recognition for study periods. The stipulations in the revisions, discussed below, have been fully operational since this academic year (2003-04).

1. Easily Readable and Comparable Degrees

• Norway ratified the Lisbon Convention on the Recognition of Qualifications in April 1999.

• The Diploma Supplement was introduced in 2002. Institutions of higher education are required to issue diploma supplements to every graduate upon his/her request.

• The Norwegian Agency for Quality Assurance in Education (NOKUT) acts as the ENIC/NARIC center in Norway

2. Degree Structure

• A new degree structure is being introduced in Norway that consists of an undergraduate and graduate cycle of three years and two years, respectively. This 3+2 structure replaces most existing degrees in Norway with few exemptions. In addition, the old doctorate degree has been replaced by a three-year Ph.D. degree. Transfers between institutions are encouraged and simplified by the degree system.

• The bachelor’s degree is a three-year degree consisting of 180 ECTS-equivalent credits (studiepoeng – see below); the master’s consists of 120 credits. However, there are exceptions, with some master’s degrees weighted at 90 credits (1½ years) with at least two years of relevant work experience. In a few exceptional cases, some institutions have been allowed to continue awarding a one-year master’s degree, but strict rules apply in relation to the subject area of the degree, language of teaching, etc.

• Students enrolled in such areas as odontology, engineering and pharmaceutics participate in five-year integrated degree courses.

• Some degrees from the former structure remain, including degrees and titles in medicine, theology, psychology and veterinary science.

• Most institutions incorporated the new degree structure in academic year 2002-03. All were required to do so by the start of the current academic year (2003-04). The old and new degree structures will co-exist for one to three years (depending on study program) to ensure a smooth transition.

• In addition to the master program requiring 120 European Credit Transfer System (ECTS) credit points, there is an international master’s degree (60 to 90 ECTS credits) and an experience-based master’s degree (60 to 90 ECTS credits). All public higher education institutions offer the new degrees.

3. Credit Transfer/Accumulation

• The former credit system (vekttal) allotting 20 credits per year has been replaced as of academic year 2003/04 by a system of credits (studiepoeng) in line with ECTS, where a full academic year equals 60 credits. Both the original and ECTS credit systems are student workload-based and used for accumulation and transfer.

• The new law on higher education acknowledges the ECTS credit system, and all institutions must by law complete the implementation process by the end of 2003. A majority of institutions have initiated the necessary changes, although there is variation to the degree of implementation both within and between institutions.

• A new, standardized grading system has been introduced, with a descending scale from A to E for passes and an F for fail. The new system of credits and the grading scale are equivalent to those of the ECTS.


HiA Grading Scale

ECTS Grading Scale
Very Good






* Agder University Faculty of Health and Sport [3] grading scale


4. Mobility

• Higher education institutions (HEI) are working on their international strategies as well as reviewing and renewing their cooperation agreements with partner institutions abroad.

• As a means of facilitating and encouraging student mobility between higher education institutions in the country, degrees can be conferred on the basis of studies from a combination of higher education institutions.

• Institutions are encouraged to increase the number of academic courses offered in English at their institutions to attract more foreign students to Norway.

• New funding for HEIs incorporates measures designed to promote the internationalization of Norwegian higher education. Institutions receive 700 euros per incoming and outgoing exchange student.

• To encourage stays in non-English speaking countries, the National Educational Loan Fund awards grants for language courses.

• Every Norwegian student is entitled to a study period abroad as an integrated part of their degree program. It is the responsibility of the Norwegian institutions to arrange study periods abroad.

5. Quality Assurance

• Norwegian higher education is regulated by two laws: the Universities and Colleges Act, which regulates state-owned institutions and their right to establish programs and award national degrees; and the Private Colleges Act, which regulates private institutions’ right to award national degrees and their access to public funding. Both laws were amended in 2002 in connection with the government’s “quality reform” of higher education. The amendments are the first step toward merging the two laws and thus creating greater equality between state and private institutions.

• The government established in 2002 the Norwegian Agency for Quality Assurance in Education (NOKUT), which commenced activities Jan. 1, 2003. NOKUT is an independent government body performing evaluations, accreditations and recognition of quality systems, institutions and course provisions.

• NOKUT assesses the quality assurance system of higher education institutions, accredits private institutions as well as state-owned institutions applying for a change of status and accredits academic courses when such accreditation is not within the authority of the individual institution. (All state-owned colleges and universities in Norway have the right to establish bachelor programs without applying to NOKUT or the ministry. Universities can establish new programs at all levels, while state-owned colleges that have the right to award doctoral degrees can establish master programs within the doctoral subject area. Private colleges still have to apply to NOKUT, but a revision of the law has opened the accreditation door – as of Jan. 1 — to some of the larger private institutions with similar freedom of establishment as state-owned colleges.)

• NOKUT is introducing accreditation procedures to its quality assurance system. A prerequisite for status as an accredited institution will be the existence of an internal system of quality assurance that complies with nationally set criteria. Institutions are expected to have such systems in place by Jan. 1, 2004.

• Full details of Norwegian accreditation can be found here: http://www.nokut.no/sw455.asp

6. Promotion of European Dimensions in Higher Education

• The development of joint degrees and cooperation between Norwegian HEIs and others in Europe is strongly encouraged by the ministry.

• Institutions are also strongly encouraged to participate in European and other international education and research programs. Norwegian institutions are also increasingly participating in various European networks of cooperation.

• Norway views the establishment of joint degrees as a rapidly growing trend and small number of joint bachelor degrees exists.

• There are joint arrangements between Baltic and Nordic countries in, for example, technical and agricultural disciplines, but these often lead to the award of the home institution degree only.

• In awarding joint degrees, a “double degree” (separate degrees from both institutions), appears to be the common practice.

Nick Clark
August 2003


Survey on Master Degrees and Joint Degrees in Europe, Christian Tauch and Andrejs Rauhvargers, September 2002

The State of Implementation of ECTS in Europe, European University Association, October 2002

Diploma Supplement – State of Implementation, European Commission, June 2003

Lisbon Convention Status Reports, Council of Europe, Aug. 29, 2003

The Information Network on Education in Europe – Eurydice [4], European Union

Implementation of the Elements of the Bologna Process, Ministry of Education, 2003

ECTS Grading Scale, Faculty of Health and Sport, Agder College