Government seeks dramatic increase in study abroad

The government of Norway has long-term plans to raise the proportion of students studying abroad from 16% to 50%. But it will require a ‘cultural change’ and improved regulation and funding models to achieve, plus inclusion of mobility in strategic planning to strengthen quality.

The tools advocated for higher education institutions are pre-recognised courses abroad as a defined part of the curriculum for the degree, a more transparent timeline for when a study period abroad can be taken during the courses and pilot projects for professional degrees, for which study periods abroad are currently far below the average.

Norway’s Minister of Research and Higher Education Henrik Asheim on 30 October presented the proposals to parliament in a white paper entitled A World of Opportunities: International student mobility in higher education, drafting policy until 2027.

The white paper was planned for the spring session in parliament but had been delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“The needed cultural change will take time,” the white paper states.

It says five factors will contribute to the changes:

• Inclusion of student mobility in strategic work to strengthen quality and relevance in higher education.

• Basing student exchanges upon institutional collaboration abroad where both research and student mobility are involved.

• Regulations and funding models stimulating increased student mobility.

• Agreement from leadership at the institutions, the academic and administrative staff and the students themselves to contribute to cultural change.

• Employers demanding and appreciating students’ international experiences.

Shorter exchange periods to be funded

“Shorter exchange periods are better than no exchange and might inspire longer stays abroad later,” Asheim said at the launch.

“This is particularly important for professional degrees and I do hope that the proposed changes will contribute to more students having their compulsory practical periods abroad,” he said.

The current rate in Norway of 16% of students taking study abroad periods is 4% below the Bologna target for 2020.

The white paper examines student exchange patterns over time and found that in the period 2010-19 a total of 60,799 students had spent a period of three months or more abroad and that the number increased by 47% over the decade to reach 7,422 in 2019, up from 5,050 in 2010.

Just over half of these exchanges (52%), however, were with six countries: the United States (10,657), Australia (8,457), the United Kingdom (4,993), France (2,800), Denmark (2,708) and Spain (2,247).

The greatest increases over the period were in study visits to Italy (+254%), Japan (+128%), China (116%), Portugal (115%) and Spain (102%).

“Today, too many students head from Norway to Australia and too few to Germany. At the same time most of the foreign students coming to Norway come from Sweden, Syria, Nepal, China and Iran,” Asheim said.

“The government wants to send more students to countries such as Japan, South Korea and Brazil and we also want more students from these countries to come to Norway.”

In the white paper the government envisages that all institutions will introduce an opt-out arrangement in their courses where study abroad periods are automatically included and the students themselves actively have to withdraw from taking a study period abroad if they want to avoid it. The institutions themselves can decide on when this can be introduced in the curriculum.

Positive reactions

Harald E Nybølet, director general of the Norwegian Agency for International Cooperation and Quality Enhancement in Higher Education (DIKU), said the white paper has great ambitions that will demand a cultural change in the Norwegian higher education sector.

“The government’s long-term goal of 50% of students having studied abroad by the time they graduate will demand much of many higher educations,” Nybølet said. “And the bulk of the work will have to be done by the institutions themselves.

“To make student exchanges something that the students themselves have to withdraw from can contribute to the cultural change needed,” Nybølet argued.

He also said that DIKU would announce funding to support the work with increased student exchanges during the winter.

“Internationalisation of higher education is important for society and for unity and cultural exchange across borders. It is therefore very good that the government is now continuing to set very ambitious goals for student exchanges and that these goals are followed up by concrete actions,” Andreas Trohjell, president of the National Union of Students in Norway (NSO), which has 240,000 members, told University World News.

“NSO is glad that the government now proposes to introduce an active withdrawal from exchange for Norwegian students. This will make it easier for students to go abroad. Universities and university colleges have to make it easier for students to go on student exchanges and this will heighten the quality of the education,” Trohjell said.

The Association of Norwegian Students Abroad (ANSA), representing 10,000 Norwegian students in 90 countries, is very happy with the white paper but is disappointed that the government is not continuing the expansion of study support for Norwegian students abroad.

President of ANSA Morgan Alangeh said: “Especially at a time when polarisation is increasing, strengthened international cooperation becomes more important. We have to build bridges between people of different ethnicity, sexual or religious backgrounds.

“Higher education is the key and ANSA is content that student mobility is being strengthened through Erasmus+ and Panorama [Norway’s strategy for higher education cooperation with BRICS countries],” Alangeh said.