Huge increase in funding for students from the Global South

Norway’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Education and Research will next year together commit to a huge increase in funding for an academic cooperation and student mobility programme with developing countries.

Funding for the NORPART programme will be increased to NOK70 million (US$7.7 million), a rise of almost NOK30 million from 2019, according to the daily newspaper Vårt Land (Our Country).

The move was welcomed by rectors, professors and student organisations.

It partially reverses a decision in 2016 to end the Norwegian Quota Scheme, which over the period 1966 to 2016 funded 1,100 student grants from the Global South each year.

Even the Crown Prince of Norway, Haakon Magnus, had intervened, requesting a reinstatement of funding for scholars from developing countries.

Minister of International Development Dag-Inge Ulstein, in På Høyden, the University of Bergen’s news magazine, said recently that during a visit to Fiji this summer the Crown Prince had asked him why Norway could not accept more students from the Global South.

Jokingly, Ulstein told Dag Hellesund of På Høyden that since the Crown Prince had lobbed the ball into his court, he could not disappoint the monarchy. He then leaked the news one month before the government budget was published that the NORPART programme would be significantly strengthened.

Ulstein said the programme would be boosted each year until 100 students per year from the eligible countries could be funded through the NORPART programme. This programme is founded on an agreement of collaboration between an accredited institution in an eligible country and an accredited institution in Norway.

The announcement of the programme is published on the web pages of the Norwegian Agency for International Cooperation and Quality Enhancement in Higher Education (DIKU) – which is administering it.

Some 39 countries are eligible for sending in applications, together with a Norwegian institution.

Jan Tore Sanner, the minister of education and integration, said the programme will now also fund students from the Global South who take a full degree in Norway, whereas previously it only funded parts of degrees at the home university.

“The programme shall also work for those students returning to their home countries upon graduation,” Sanner said. One of the main criticisms of the Quota Scheme had been that it funded students to study in Norway and they did not return home to contribute to the development of their country after graduation.

Under that scheme every student applied on their own, whereas under NORPART they have to be selected by a partner institution in the South, which makes it more likely that they will land a job at the home institution upon graduation.

The Quota Scheme had been missed. As recently as 23 October, Johanne Sundby, professor of medicine at the University of Oslo, wrote in Uniforum, the University of Oslo web magazine, about her unease at seeing “collaboration and capacity building with the weakest countries prioritised down”.

She said: “We have lost the NORAD [Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation] grant programme and the Quota Scheme and now we see almost no African students in our English-taught student programmes.

“Programmes that foster concrete common oriented research cooperation between universities in the South and research milieus in the North have been eroded and substituted by more general university cooperation,” she added.

Hans Fredrik Grøvan, chairman of the Christian Democratic Party in parliament and a member of the parliamentary education committee, told University World News that the Quota Scheme for students from developing countries was in 2016 changed to accept students from the BRICS countries, the middle-income countries, as the main target group.

“The change that is now in place for the 2020 government budget is that it will be expanded to also include students from the poorest countries in the world, south of the Sahara.”

He added: “This is an important change that will contribute to competence building in the poorest countries and this is development aid at its best.

“In addition, the students who can now take their degrees in Norway will enrich the student milieus in Norway with their different backgrounds and the different challenges that they face in their home countries.”

Professor Ole Petter Ottersen, rector at Karolinska Institute in Sweden and former rector of the University of Oslo, told University World News he welcomed the decision.

“I was very critical of the closing down of the Quota Scheme. This was a political decision that was grounded in a lack of understanding of the great importance of the richness of perspectives that stems from the collaboration with low-income countries and the immense importance that we share the innovation momentum from these countries.

“I see it as a moral imperative to include all countries in our academic community. It is an impressive move of the Christian Democratic Party to have managed this.”

Professor Emeritus Rune Nilsen of the Centre for International Health at the University of Bergen, who worked with the Quota Scheme for three decades, told University World News it was a very good development provided four conditions were met:

  • • That students would come from partner institutions in the poor countries.

  • • That they would be accepted to degrees in Norway or joint degrees.

  • • That they would be accepted in ordinary doctorate placements and not in freestanding externally funded projects.

  • • That the students would be found in academic fields and included as partners in research groups that are big enough and with a good academic standing.

“I am not sure that these basic principles for the Quota Scheme are properly understood and included in the new programme. But if they are, that is very good,” Nilsen said.