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General information about education in Norway

NOKUT is responsible for quality assurance of higher education and tertiary vocational education in Norway. Such education is part of a more comprehensive education system, however, and builds on primary and secondary education.

Children and young people in Norway have a right and an obligation to complete primary and lower secondary education, and adults are also entitled to primary and lower secondary education. Everyone who completes primary and lower secondary education is entitled to upper secondary education qualifying for further studies or a vocation. The Higher Education Entrance Qualification qualifies students for admission to university or university college programmes. Higher education is offered at bachelor, master and PhD level and should be research-based. Tertiary vocational education is a short vocational alternative to higher education.

An overview of the Norwegian education system follows below.

Kindergarten is an educational service for children under compulsory school age. It is voluntary, and children can start attending kindergarten at different ages, but all children are entitled to a kindergarten place in their home municipality from the age of one. The purpose of kindergarten is to help families and to contribute to children's social and educational development. It is also intended to make it possible for parents and guardians to work or study while having responsibility for young children. The Framework Plan for the Content and Tasks of Kindergartens contains guidelines for values and work methods in kindergartens, and it is intended to ensure that all children receive equal provision of high quality.

Since January 2011, municipalities have had sole responsibility for funding the building and running of municipal kindergartens, which account for just over half of all kindergartens. Non-municipal kindergartens can also receive municipal operating grants. All kindergartens must have a pedagogical leader and a head teacher, both of whom must be qualified preschool teachers.

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Primary and secondary education in Norway normally lasts for 13 years. This includes primary and lower secondary education (years 1–10) and upper secondary education (years 11–13). The Norwegian Directorate for Education and Training is responsible for supervising the quality of primary and secondary education.

Primary and lower secondary school

There are two main parts: primary school (years 1–7) and lower secondary school (years 8–10). Pupils start primary school in the calendar year when they turn 6, and they normally complete lower secondary school in the year they turn 16.

Most schools in Norway are municipal, and the running and administration of these schools is a municipal responsibility. Primary and lower secondary education is free of charge and mandatory, and it is based on the principle of equal and adapted education for all in an inclusive comprehensive school system. The goal is that all children and young people shall acquire certain fundamental skills, be included in a common knowledge, culture and value base, and experience mastery and challenges at school.

No grades are given at primary school level. At lower secondary school, pupils are awarded grades in mandatory subjects before the Christmas holidays and at the end of the school year. On completion of lower secondary school, pupils receive a certificate listing their assessment grades. After completing lower secondary school, they are entitled to three years of upper secondary education.

Before and after school programmes are not part of primary education, but all municipalities are required by law to offer before and after school care in years 1–4 for all pupils, and in years 1–7 for children with special needs.

Upper secondary education

Upper secondary education consists of either a general studies programme preparing pupils for further studies, or a vocational programme. The education is intended to qualify pupils for work or higher education. The county authorities fund upper secondary education and have a high degree of freedom as regards how it is organised. Everyone who completes primary and lower secondary education or an equivalent education is entitled to upper secondary education. Adults over the age of 25 are entitled to upper secondary education for adults upon application.

Upper secondary education is divided into twelve programmes; four general studies and eight vocational programmes. General studies programmes are three-year programmes that emphasise theoretical subjects and lead up to the Higher Education Entrance Qualification.

Vocational programmes usually lead to a trade or journeyman's certificate, normally after two years at school and a two-year apprenticeship period. Vocational programmes for vocations that are not recognised trades will consist entirely of school-based tuition. It is possible to achieve the Higher Education Entrance Qualification by supplementing a vocational education (by taking the Upper Secondary Level 3 programme Supplementary programme for general university admissions certification).


General studies programmes:

  • Specialisation in general studies with programme areas for media and communication, natural science and mathematics; arts, crafts and design; and languages, social sciences and economics
  • Sports and physical education
  • Music, dance and drama

Vocational programmes:

  • Building and construction
  • Design, arts and crafts
  • Electricity and electronics
  • Healthcare, childhood and youth development
  • Agriculture, fishing and forestry
  • Restaurant and food processing
  • Service and transport
  • Technical and industrial production
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Folk high schools are boarding schools with no examinations. They are an alternative and supplement to the formal education system. The Directorate for Education and Training is responsible for administering the folk high schools. There are no tuition fees, but students pay to live in the halls of residence and also for their board, course material and study trips.

Folk high schools have existed in Norway since the late 19th century, and they are based on a philosophy of education developed by the Danish educationalist and theologian Grundtvig. Each school is free to choose its own values and profile. There are both independent, liberal folk high schools and Christian folk high schools owned by or closely affiliated to churches and Christian organisations. The schools offer different programme subjects that are normally taught over one school year (33 weeks), but some also offer shorter courses. Most schools have an 18-year age limit, and many choose to take a year at a folk high school after completing upper secondary school.

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Tertiary vocational programmes are short programmes of vocational study that build on upper secondary education or equivalent prior learning and work experience. No Higher Education Entrance Qualification is required. Tertiary vocational programmes vary in length, but they should have a scope corresponding to between six months and two years of study. In autumn 2015, 15 150 students attended vocational schools in Norway.

There are both public and private vocational schools. Among other things, the county authorities offer publicly funded technical and maritime programmes as well as health and social work programmes. Private providers offer many different programmes in the areas of creative, commercial, service, media, multimedia and ICT studies. Tertiary vocational education is intended as an alternative to higher education that imparts knowledge and skills that are directly applicable in the workplace.

Tertiary vocational programmes must be accredited by NOKUT. Such approval entitles students to financial support from the Norwegian State Educational Loan Fund (Lånekassen). See an overview of accredited vocational schools here (only in Norwegian).

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There are a total of 38 accredited (approved) higher education institutions in Norway (January 2017). There are 8 universities, 8 specialised university institutions and 22 university colleges, 2 of which are art academies. In addition, there are 17 non-accredited university colleges offering approved first degree programmes. Overall responsibility for accreditation rests with the Ministry of Education and Research, and it is regulated in the Act relating to Universities and University Colleges and in NOKUT's regulations, among others.

The universities and most university colleges are run by the Norwegian state, and studying at these institutions is free of charge. Students at private institutions pay tuition fees, but many of the institutions also receive financial support from the state. The Ministry of Education and Research has overall responsibility for higher education in Norway. See a list of accredited higher education institutions.

The Norwegian Universities and Colleges Admission Service (NUCAS) administers admission to first degree level programmes (bachelor's, university college graduate or one-year programmes) at universities and university colleges. The Higher Education Entrance Qualification or a corresponding qualification is a requirement for admission to higher education, but the programmes can have different additional admission criteria. Some programmes require certain grades or certain combinations of subjects from upper secondary education. If a programme has many applicants, admission will normally be based on points calculated on the basis of the applicants' grades from upper secondary school and any relevant work experience.

Some programmes admit applicants without the Higher Education Entrance Qualification. This is called the vocational pathway ('y-veien'). Admission to these programmes is based on a relevant craft or journeyman's certificate or upper secondary vocational qualifications. It is up to the institutions to choose whether to admit students via the vocational pathway, and they must apply to the Ministry of Education and Research for exemption from the ordinary admission procedure (Higher Education Entrance Qualification).

Some private educational institutions have their own admission procedures, and applications to such institutions must be sent directly to the institution.

Credits, grades and degrees

Completed courses are measured in credits that comply with the European standard. A full-time study programme corresponds to 60 credits per academic year. Examination grades are awarded on a scale from A (best) to F (fail), where E is the lowest pass grade. Some examinations are only assessed as Pass/Fail.

Since 2003, higher education has been structured as three-year bachelor's programmes, two-year master's programmes and three-year PhD programmes, with some exceptions.

Bachelor's programmes

A bachelor's degree programme is a three-year course of study (180 ECTS credits). After completing your bachelor's degree, you can continue to a master's degree and a doctorate in accordance with certain rules.

Some bachelor's programmes have a fixed structure, while others allow you to choose between different courses after completing the first part of the programme. In study programmes where you have more freedom of choice, the combination of courses must comply with the guidelines of the educational institution in order to confer a bachelor's degree.

University college graduate programmes
There are some two-year bachelor-level programmes at university colleges that confer the title university college graduate.

One-year programmes/supplementary programmes/short programmes
There are also many one-year programmes, supplementary programmes and short programmes. Many of them can form part of bachelor's degrees, and some can also form the basis for programmes of professional study in the subject, for example in psychology.

Master's degree programmes

A master's degree programme is usually a two-year course of studies (120 ECTS credits). The programme builds on academic specialisation in the bachelor's degree and includes independent work.

Some master's degree programmes are based on relevant work experience in addition to academic specialisation in the bachelor's degree. Such programmes are called experience-based programmes, and their scope can be either two years (120 ECTS credits) or one and a half years (90 ECTS credits).

Doctoral degree (PhD)

This degree is based on a master's degree or equivalent qualification and is the highest academic degree in Norway. The study programme must be based on independent research conducted in cooperation with academic supervisors and other researchers, and it can be carried out within the framework of a researcher training programme.

Programmes of professional study

Programmes of professional study are characterised by fixed course plans over several years in a subject area.

Three-year programmes of professional study lead up to a bachelor's degree. Examples include nursing training and social work programmes.

Many university colleges offer four-year teacher training programmes. Candidates can be awarded the bachelor's degree after three years if the programme meets the requirements for a bachelor's degree set out in the regulations for the university college. Teaching qualifications for primary and lower secondary school can only be achieved after four years.

Five-year programmes of professional study (integrated master's degrees) are most common at universities and in the following subject areas: pharmacy, fisheries science, informatics, engineering, law, odontology, teacher training and economics.

Six-year programmes of professional study lead up to special degrees. Programmes in medicine, veterinary medicine, psychology and theology result in the degrees of cand.med., cand.med.vet., cand.psychol. and cand.theol.


Number of students in higher education (2013)

Table: Number of students in higher education
Table: Number of students in 2013 | Source: DBH (2013)*


Students by type of institution (2013)

Illustration: Students per type of institution 2013

Figure: Percentage of students by type of institution | Source: DBH (2013)

* The figures from the Database for Statistics on Higher Education (DBH) are the most up-to-date figures available, but they do not include the Norwegian Police University College or military university colleges.

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Adult education in Norway aims to enable adults to acquire necessary basic skills and allow them to formalise and develop their qualifications. The municipalities and county authorities are responsible for providing primary and secondary education for adults.

Continuing and further education programmes allow people to update their competence and improve their ability to adapt. Such programmes are intended to ensure that enterprises and organisations have employees with the necessary knowledge and skills.

Further education programmes lead to new formal qualifications at university and university college level (programmes for which ECTS credits are awarded). There are many further education programmes in healthcare subjects, for example in anaesthetic nursing and oncology nursing. Some further education programmes require relevant work experience in addition to a bachelor's degree/authorisation as a nurse or similar.

Continuing education updates existing qualifications, and no ECTS credits are awarded.

Under the Norwegian Working Environment Act, all employees are entitled to full or partial leave for up to three years in order to attend organised courses of education. Vocational schools provide flexible and vocationally oriented courses that can be used in the workplace without further education being required. The range of tertiary vocational education offered will therefore be governed by the demand for qualifications in the labour market. The higher education institutions also play an important role as providers of continuing and further education.

Close contact between the education sector and the labour market is necessary in order for the institutions to be able to develop continuing and further education programmes that correspond to the needs of enterprises and the individual employees.

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The Norwegian educational grant and loan schemes are intended to help to ensure that everyone has equal educational opportunities. Another goal is to ensure that society has a labour force with the necessary qualifications. The Norwegian State Educational Loan Fund (Lånekassen) manages the different grant and loan schemes. There are two main support schemes: one for young pupils in ordinary upper secondary education, and one for higher education and other types of education, including primary and lower secondary education for adults, tertiary vocational education, folk high school studies etc.

As a rule, student loans are interest-free for the duration of the studies. Students in higher education receive a fixed amount as a loan. Students who do not live with their parents can have part of their loan converted to into a grant as they complete their education.

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