Multidisciplinary ‘bachelor honours’ degree sparks interest

Norway’s University of Oslo has launched an innovation in its study programme – a three-year multidisciplinary, mentor-oriented ‘bachelor honours’ degree course for 20 “especially motivated and gifted students” from 2019 to 2022. The programme has sparked a great deal of interest.

The new degree will offer 210 credits under ECTS – the European Credit Transfer System – which is 10 credits more than ‘ordinary’ courses.

In the centrally-directed admission system to all Norwegian higher education institutions, the University of Oslo ‘bachelor honours’ course became the most competitive this year, claiming school-leaving scores above medicine, law and dentistry – traditionally the most sought after studies in Norway.

The programme has one science strand, selecting a major orientation in physics, astronomy or mathematics-informatics. There is also a humanities strand selecting philosophy, or linguistic or music sciences. Students will also be free to choose courses across science and humanities fields – and the core theme for all courses starting this year is artificial intelligence.

Each student selected will have a mentor and the 20 students will form a special study group that will meet regularly and interact during the three study years.

All the students will be offered study abroad during the fifth term at a wide selection of international collaborating partners. And they will all have access to the Washington Semester Program where they will spend three days a week in either a public organisation, the United States Congress, a newspaper, a private organisation or an NGO.

Elitist accusations

Universities do not normally make newspaper headlines during the summer holidays in Norway. When the success of the University of Oslo bachelor honours programme was published in mid-July, there were mixed reactions.

Some of the selected students were interviewed by the press and said, not surprisingly, that they were very happy to be offered access to the interesting new study programme.

Some newspapers, like the left-wing oriented Klassekampen – The Class Struggle – accused the university of prioritising elitist studies that would siphon resources from ordinary studies.

This view was endorsed by the National Union of Students in Norway or NSO. Its leader Marte Øien said all Norwegian students should have a quality lift, not only a selected few.

She referred to a resolution – taken by the NSO when the course was decided on by the University of Oslo board – stating that such elitist studies “are channelling resources to those students that have the least need for it”, and warning against the creation of an A-group and a B-group of students at Norwegian universities.

Rector responds

University of Oslo Rector Svein Stølen attracted major coverage in the newspaper Morgenbladet on 2 August. “I am very engaged in the egalitarian education,” he said.

“This is an education that is going to serve as a model that other courses will follow. We are using a little more resources to give these students more follow-up and mentoring, and in a way we are using elements of the teaching already used in professional degree studies in medicine, dentistry and psychology,” Stølen said. “But we are not at all near the level of resources used on these professional degree students.”

“This study programme will lead to some Norwegian students staying in Norway instead of going abroad,” he argued.

Next year the university will launch Norway’s first study programme in philosophy, politics and economics, popularly known as PPE, which Stølen said was launched at the University of Oxford in the 1930s. “This is all a matter of thinking of new ways of organising our studies,” he explained.

Following news of the Oslo initiative, Vice-Rector for Education at the University of Bergen Professor Oddrun Samdal said it would launch a similar honours bachelor degree in 2020, which would also be multidisciplinary based.