COVID-19 raises demand and competition for study places

More than 150,000 have applied for a study place at Norwegian universities this autumn, which is an increase of 8.7% on 2019. At the same time the pandemic has significantly increased the competition for popular study places. Of the 150,000 applicants, 63,000 or 42.7% did not get their first priority when the first round of selections was published this week.

Henrik Asheim, Norway’s minister of research and higher education, said the higher application numbers are “good news for Norway because Norway is in need of higher educated people in all sectors in the year ahead”.

The Norwegian Universities and Colleges Admission Service coordinates the admission to 1,300 undergraduate study programmes at all universities, university colleges and some private colleges in Norway.

The most popular studies are bachelor degrees in economics at the Norwegian School of Economics or NHH (2,112 applicants), bachelor of law at the University of Bergen and University of Oslo (1,968 and 1,888 applicants respectively), nursing at Oslo Metropolitan University or OsloMet (1,365 applicants), medicine at the University of Oslo (1,236 applicants) and nursing at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology or NTNU (1,140 applicants).

Other extremely popular studies are architecture at the Oslo School of Architecture and Design (1,133), psychology at the University of Tromsø (1,129) and criminology at the University of Oslo (1,120 applicants).

The highest number of applicants are to NTNU (56,305), the University of Oslo (49,379) and OsloMet (45,778).

At NTNU the year course in economics had a 120% increase, while the bachelor degree study in economics saw an increase of 92%. Also, the University of Oslo experienced strong interest in economics, but also an increase of 62% in history, while economy and administration saw an increase of 27%. A newly established bachelor programme in philosophy, politics and economy had 37.5 applicants per study place.

Compared to 2019 there is a more than 20% increase in applicants in history, economic-administrative studies and media sciences and in agricultural studies, natural sciences and information sciences. Teacher training has seen a decrease in interest of 6.9%. Health fields are experiencing a 4.1% increase after falling last year by 4.7%.

Admissions to higher education institutions are selected from two applicant groups. The first is secondary school graduates, where the assessment is based on the grade point average from upper secondary school. The grade points are either given by the teachers or in normal years would be assigned by sitting for a written exam in a number of subjects.

The other applicant group collects additional competitive entrance points based on taking university level courses and points for time since completing secondary school.

Normally a certificate from a Norwegian secondary school has grade marks in 25 subjects where all marks are counted equal in the calculation of the average. Five of these marks are given based on written exams. In 2020 these exams were not held due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Increased competition

The pandemic has hence significantly increased the competition for popular study places due to both the increased number of applicants and the tendency of students to get better grades when these are given by their teachers compared to results obtained in the written or oral examinations.

At the Norwegian School of Economics or NHH the entrance level rose from 52.7 points in 2019 to 54.6 points in 2020, and from 56.4 points in 2019 for the second group, having collected average points, to 57.8 points in 2020. This happened even though NHH was awarded 70 extra study places in the government’s allocation of additional study places due to the coronavirus pandemic in the spring of 2020.

The most difficult area of study to get into in Norway is medicine at the University of Oslo, demanding 69 points for entrance for the ordinary quota, with additional entrance points.

One effect of the pandemic is that the influx of exchange students to Norway has been suspended for 2020-21. This has led to 1,700 rooms for students in Oslo being made available for Norwegian students, easing the pressure on the housing situation in the capital.

Andreas Trohjell, president of the National Union of Students in Norway or NSO, told University World News that the union was “pleased to see that more and more people are applying to and entering higher education. When more students enter higher education, we of course need to look into universities’ resources. We are therefore challenging our minister of higher education to look into how universities are funded and the overall dimensioning of student numbers.”