Oslo objects to holidays masquerading as study abroad

Several Norwegian higher education institutions have been offering study abroad in exotic places in collaboration with companies, partly financed by the Norwegian government loan board but also by comparatively high fees paid by students.

The University of Oslo said in a press release that it had written to the Ministry of Education a year ago to ask if this practice was against government policy or violated university law, which does not allow tuition fees.

The ministry responded that it could not see the study-abroad activities as violating law – but Ole Petter Ottersen, rector of the University of Oslo, was not satisfied.

“We think that there are ambiguities in the regulations, and we need further clarification,” Ottersen told University World News.

He said internationalisation strategic priorities enacted by the government stated that study destinations abroad should have a relationship to study programmes. Commercial actors choosing, for instance, Bali or Brazil as places to study abroad were using activities such as swimming as marketing instruments to attract students.

“For a study period abroad to be considered as ‘internationalisation’, the education must take advantage of local institutions, culture or language so that there is a real synergy between place and education,” Ottersen argued.

The background for the intervention by the University of Oslo is the increasing opportunities offered to Norwegian students to go abroad for study under arrangements worked out in collaboration between a higher education institution and a company.

Høyskolen i Nesna, a college in the northern county of Nordland, has with the company Go Study been offering courses in sports, Spanish, English, Mandarin, marketing, hotel management, Caribbean culture, economics and multicultural understanding.

Go Study is offering a ‘total package’, including travel and board, to study destinations in Australia, Bali, Brazil, Cuba, Hong Kong and Mexico.

One term of study gives 30 ECTS (European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System) points at a Norwegian collaborating higher education institution.

Go Study is charging an application fee of NOK4,000 (US$710) and tuition-travel costs of around NOK60,000 (US$10,644) for five months, but this varies. Go Study does not list prices on its website.

A university college in Gjøvik in eastern Norway is arranging bachelor studies in engineering and management at Udana University in Bali operated by NORCIS, the Nordic Center for International Studies.

NORCIS is running social projects for poor people in Jakarta supporting their children’s education, and with prisoners in Denpasar in Bali, and the Norwegian students are introduced to these projects during their studies.

The number of Norwegians studying abroad is on the rise, and 60% of those going abroad are women.

A representative for Go Study reported that 80% of its participants in 2011 were women. He said 12% of students participating in 2011 came from Nordland, which only accounts for 4.8% of Norway’s population.

In 2011, 23,400 Norwegian students studied abroad, a 7% increase over 2010. Some 14,200 studied at bachelor level and 9,100 at masters level.

The proportion of students abroad is 13% to 14% of Norwegian students receiving support from the government loan board. Around NOK60,000 (US$10,644) can be awarded per year as a grant.

“At the University of Oslo we are receiving many requests from commercial actors that want to cooperate with us. We are declining these requests. And we will continue to do that, even if the Ministry of Education is having another interpretation of Norwegian law than we have,” Ottersen said.

Some of the examples mentioned fall within the criteria of the country’s internationalisation policy, Ottersen told University World News. “I only want to criticise those programmes that do not fit in, and where surfing and bathing might be a primary mover.

“We have to optimise the use of our resources, and then it is international collaboration with a high quality that counts,” he concluded.