NORWAY: State to fund more study abroad in BRICs

The Norwegian parliament's committee on education has asked the Ministry of Education to fund more Norwegians to study in Brazil, Russia, India and China - the four original BRIC countries - from 2012.

Kyrre Lekve (pictured), junior education minister, said funding would be focused on attendance at "good quality" institutions listed in international rankings.

"We are working on a model, where the eligibility criteria will be coupled to the international ranking lists. We know that these lists have many weaknesses, but we have to try out some selection instruments," Lekve said.

"We will use a simple rule: higher education institutions in the BRIC countries on the Academic Ranking of World Universities 400 or the Times Higher Education 500 ranking will be eligible for support for Norwegian students."

The ministry is now working on how this will be implemented. Significant numbers of Norwegian students already travel to South Africa, which joined the bloc to create BRICS in 2010.

The Association of Norwegian Students Abroad (ANSA) welcomed the focus on emerging countries.

"There were 165 exchange students in India, 94 in Russia and 279 in China, but only eight bachelor students were studying for a degree in China and none in India," said Kristiane Roe Hammer, president of ANSA.

"This proposal from the parliamentary committee is something ANSA has been working for over many years."

But she said ANSA opposed the government's decision to concentrate funding at elite universities, as set out in the white paper on internationalisation of higher education 2008-09, and the use of rankings to decide who gets funding.

She said: "Such rankings are research-based and not a good instrument to measure the quality of teaching."

ANSA thinks that all higher education institutions recognised by the Norwegian authorities should be eligible for support.

"To ensure as many Norwegian students as possible have the opportunity to study abroad, it is important that not only elite institutions are eligible", Hammer told University World News. "It is not only students with the straight As that are benefiting from going abroad to study."

ANSA said that NOKUT, the government body responsible for approving quality in education, has a list of approximately 1,200 approved institutions around the world where Norwegians studying there are eligible for student loans through the Norwegian Government Loan Board. These institutions had already been evaluated and found to have high standards.

According to ANSA, NOKUT, in approving higher education institutions, already works as a guarantor for quality in the education, and another 'quality list' would be redundant.

Hammer said the next step after extending funding for study in emerging economies would be to include "other countries of strategic importance for Norway, like Japan, Chile, Argentina, Malaysia and the US".

This year 21,811 Norwegian students studied abroad, compared to 221,123 students studying in Norway, either for a full degree or as exchange students, with comparatively generous support from the Norwegian Government Loan Board.

The number of Norwegian students financed by the Government Loan Board in 2010-11 was 21,811, of whom 14,154 studied for a degree abroad, and 7,657 were exchange students or students taking part of their degree abroad.

Three-year bachelor and masters students get grants and study loans to cover living costs and tuition fees to study abroad.

ANSA has for many years called for Norwegian students abroad also to be supported in the freshman year of a bachelor degree in the US and in non-Western countries. These countries often have a four-year bachelor degree, and if Norwegian students want such study, they have to pay for the first year themselves.

US Ambassador to Norway, Barry B White, wrote in the Norwegian newspaper Dagens Næringsliv that it would be strategically sound to extend the eligibility of freshman studies to countries like Japan, Chile, Malaysia and the US. "The number of Norwegian students in the US has been almost halved over the last 20 years," he said.

"We have worked for funding of the freshman year since it was removed from the loan scheme," Hammer said. "It is important to have more Norwegian students in these countries."

But Lekve denied that there has been a sharp reduction in the number of Norwegian students in the US, or a lack of support for the freshman year.

"Both ANSA and ambassador White are focusing on the number of degree students in the US, which correctly has been reduced. But at the same time the number of exchange students has increased every year, with a top in 2009-10. This is positive," Lekve said.

"The government has not had as a policy to reduce the number of degree students, but we are satisfied with the results that the total number of Norwegian students in the US is increasing."

This article was amended on 16 December.