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Norway is well known for its mountains, fjord coastline, sea-faring history, unique coastal life, midnight sunlight during the summer months, brilliant Winter Olympics performance and, of course, its higher education.
Norway's highest ranking university, the University of Oslo, features in the top 100 of the 2013/14 QS World University Rankings® – great news if you want to study in Norway.
Due in part to its offshore oil and gas deposits, Norway has the fourth-highest per capita income in the world and one of the highest standards of living. Norway is a member of many international organizations, including the UN, NATO, the Council of Europe and the Nordic Council, the WTO and the OECD. It’s also a part of the Schengen Area, and maintains close ties with the US and the European Union (EU), despite rejecting full EU membership.
Norway is also renowned for contributions to art and culture – it is, after all, the homeland of hugely influential figures such as playwright Henrik Ibsen and painter Edvard Munch (creator of The Scream, one of the most recognizable paintings in the world). While Norway retains much of its old architecture (of particular note are its stave churches from the Middle Ages), Norway is also distinctive in its innovations in contemporary design and architecture, and for being a world leader in research and development.
Norway’s natural offerings include its renowned fjords – Geirangerfjord in the Sunnmøre region is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Sognefjord is the longest and the Hardangerfjord is the second-largest and one of the most visited. Another major source of tourism to Norway is the stunning natural Arctic Circle phenomena known as aurora borealis (or the northern lights), which can be easily seen from Norway.
If all that appeals but you’re worried about losing a digit in the freezing cold, worry no more! The warm Gulf Stream means Norway isn’t actually as cold as you might imagine. With coastal areas being relatively mild and average winter temperatures rarely dipping below -4oC (24.8oF) in capital city Oslo, one can venture around comfortably (in layers, yes, but without turning blue).
Higher education in Norway is comprised of a mixture of both public and private universities. Some are specialized, some comprehensive, and some – known as ‘university colleges’ – concentrate mainly on providing undergraduate level education in a range of more vocationally focused subjects.
Four universities in Norway feature in the 2013/14 QS World University Rankings, all of them large public universities. These are the University of Oslo (ranked 89th in the world), University of Bergen (151=), Norwegian University of Science and Technology (251) and University of Tromsø (306).
Norway is signed up to the Bologna Process, which aims to make European higher education systems more compatible. The Bologna Process includes the European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (ECTS) which means students who complete degrees or courses at universities in Norway will hold certifications that are recognized by other countries worldwide.
Bachelor’s degrees take at universities in Norway take three years to complete, master’s degrees take two years and PhD degrees a further three years. You can also opt for a one-tier master’s degree which allows you to combine your bachelor’s and master’s degree over a total period of five years, culminating in a master’s degree – this is usually for architecture, business management, engineering, dentistry and law programs.
While you study in Norway, you can also choose a traditionally Scandinavian ‘professionally orientated program’ which is exempt from the Bologna system and includes six years of study and subjects such as Candidate of Medicine (cand.med), Candidate of Veterinary Medicine (cand.vet.med), Candidate of Psychology (cand.psychol) and Candidate of Theology (cand.theol).
Students wishing to study in Norway in English can now choose from more than 200 master’s programs taught in English, and many English-taught undergraduate programs. For example, English language programs offered at the University of Oslo include subjects in humanities, social sciences, law, theology, mathematics and natural sciences, education, medicine, dentistry, energy, development, gender studies and ‘Norwegian for Academics’ which requires no previous knowledge of the Norwegian language.
Find the world’s top universities in Norway with the QS World University Rankings >
Find out more about life in some of Norway’s top student cities...
The economic and governmental center of Norway, capital city Oslo is also a thriving trade hub which includes the banking and maritime industries. Oslo has several times earned the title of the world’s most expensive city – most recently in 2012, in a report by Swiss bank UBS. But, if you can handle the expense, it has also been ranked number one for its quality of life.
Due to its fast-growing immigrant population, Oslo is known as the ‘melting pot’ of Norway, with continuous influxes of people from all over the world (the largest groups coming from Sweden, Poland and Pakistan). The resulting cultural and ethnic diversity has meant that there’s no end to variety in Oslo’s cuisines, arts and shopping experiences. Full of life and culture, Oslo’s city center is easy to travel around on foot, and offers a good selection of museums, galleries, cafes, music venues, festivals and nightlife and is home to some of Norway’s wealthiest celebrities. It’s also easy to access the great outdoors from Oslo – popular pastimes include hiking, fresh water swimming (just don’t swim in Maridalsvannet lake – it provides drinking water for the city!) watersports, cross-country skiing, ice-skating and cycling.
The University of Oslo is Norway’s highest ranking university, reaching 89 in the 2013/14 QS World University Rankings®. Also of note among universities in Oslo are BI Norwegian Business School, Oslo University College (which offers many courses in English including the European Project Semester), the Norwegian School of Sports Sciences, the Oslo School of Architecture, the Norwegian Academy of Music and the Norwegian University of Life Sciences.
Norway’s second-largest city, Bergen is located on the west coast, and is a popular base for visitors exploring the country’s famous fjords – long, narrow stretches of water bordered by steep cliffs (this might not sound much, but they really are spectacular). The city is surrounded by mountains (earning it the nickname ‘the city of seven mountains’), making Bergen perfect for hiking in summer and skiing or sledging in winter.
As well as being ‘The Gateway to the Fjords’, Bergen itself is an attractive coastal city, with its historic harbor area, Bryggen, included on the UNESCO World Heritage list. Hanging out at the beach is also a popular summer activity, with clean, fresh and comparatively warm waters and plenty of sandy beaches.
The city is also an international center for aquaculture, shipping, offshore petroleum subsea technology, tourism, finance and higher education. Bergen’s cultural contribution is also of note, having supported the growth of many of Norway’s indie bands and artists. Bergenfest music festival runs from April to May and is joined by the week-long Bergen International Film Festival, the Bergen Reggae Festival, the Bergen International Festival and the two-week long Nattjazz – the longest jazz festival in Europe. And, where the Bergen nightlife lacks in grandeur, it makes up for with variety – plus its range of smaller venues often make for a better atmosphere.
Bergen is home to the third-largest and second-highest ranked university in Norway: the University of Bergen, 151= in the 2013/14 QS World University Rankings. Other universities in Bergen include Bergen University College, the Norwegian Institute of Marine Research and the Norwegian School of Economics (NHH), one of Norway’s leading business schools.
If you’re really looking for a study destination with a difference, Tromsø could well catch your attention. This relatively small city is mainly located on the island of Tromsøya, close to the northern tip of Norway, and well within the Arctic Circle – which puts it in prime position for those wishing to view the famous aurora borealis (northern lights) in all its glory. Promoted as the ‘capital of the Arctic’, Tromsø is a popular base for those exploring this region – and yes, you guessed it – there are plenty of fjords and mountains nearby (bored of all this natural beauty yet?) and it is in the northernmost part of Norway, meaning it gets the midnight sun during the summer months.
Although small, the city is bustling, with a renowned nightlife (make sure to visit Ølhallen, the Beer Hall), plenty of art, museums and history to soak up, and lots of choice in cuisine, particularly seafood. Architecture students might also enjoy northern Norway’s greatest concentration of wooden houses in Tromsø’s city center, along with northern Europe’s oldest cinema still in use, the Verdensteatret, and the striking design of the modern Arctic Cathedral.
The city is also home to the world’s northernmost university, Tromsø University, which is ranked 306 in the 2013/14 QS World University Rankings. While there aren’t many universities in Tromsø, it does have plenty of research institutions and a highly skilled population. Tromsø is also where the indigenous Sámi population and culture are most visible.
Being an old city in Central Norway, Trondheim has a rich cultural heritage. It’s the oldest of Norway’s major cities, meaning there’s lots to explore in and around the city center. Major attractions include the Nidaros Cathedral, the second-largest church in Northern Europe, historic rock carvings, and Trondheim’s characteristic mansions and harbor houses. Trondheim’s is also known for its mercantile history and for being the religious center of northern Europe during the Middle Ages.
Although small, Trondheim has plenty to offer in terms of student life, with choices including music, arts, theatre, film fests, alternative politics and sports (skiing and football). You should also venture out to the islet Munkholmen in the north, which has served as a place of execution, a monastery, a fortress, a prison and a World War II anti-aircraft gun station, and is now a popular tourist and recreation site.
In terms of universities in Trondheim, the city is dominated by the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), which is ranked 251 in the 2013/14 QS World University Rankings. Sør-Trøndelag University College is also based in Trondheim, with other technology-orientated institutions including the SINTEF and St Olav’s University Hospital. NTNU has more than 25,000 students – equal to a fifth of the city’s 170,000 inhabitants. The city is therefore heavily influenced by student culture, at the heart of which is the large Studentersamfundet i Trondhjem, the student society building where concerts, political debates, wine tasting, discussions, discos, football matches, choirs and orchestras are regularly hosted. As you might expect, Trondheim also has a vibrant nightlife, with many pubs and bars open all week and all night.
Kristiansand (sometimes called Kristiansand S to avoid confusion with Kristiansund in western Norway) is the fifth largest city in Norway by population. Located on the south coast, the city is a favorite summer holiday destination for Norwegians, with the sea and surrounding fjords perfect for enjoying Norwegian coastal culture. You may also enjoy the Kristiansand Zoo and Amusement Park east of the city, its active music scene or its many festivals such as the Protestfestival (to address apathy and indifference in politics), the Bragdøya Blues Festival and the International Children’s Film Festival.
Previously important as a military stronghold, Kristiansand is now known as the business capital of southern Norway, and has a large urban area populated by factories (nickel, ice-cream and beer and soft drinks), a refining plant, shipbuilding and repair facilities, and an industrial area known as the Korsvik. It is also an important transport and communications node, connected to continental Europe by air, sea and rail. Despite this, you’ll never be far from a forest in Kristiansand, with popular activities being swimming, fishing, sailing, golfing and enjoying the archipelago near the city called Skjærgården, or Markens Gate, a mainly pedestrianized shopping street.
The University of Adger (UiA) is just east of the town center and relocated from its old military camp campus into a new building in 2001. UiA teaches many subjects, but only a few are taught in English, despite most of Kristiansand’s citizens being fluent English speakers. Other universities in Kristiansand include the Noroff University College, music education at Musikkens hus (House of Music) and several small, private higher education schools including a Christian journalism school and the regional branch of BI Norwegian Business School.
See where Norway’s capital, Oslo, ranks in the QS Best Student Cities >
Applying to universities in Norway is fairly straightforward. To be accepted into a degree program, you must have attained a general university admissions certificate (generell studiekompetanse), which you can achieve by completing upper secondary school. International students can find out if their foreign qualifications are recognized using the country-specific GSU-list.
You may instead apply for universities in Norway through the law of 23/5 – you must be above 23 years of age and have 5 years of combined schooling and work experience, and have passed exams in several key subjects (namely Norwegian, mathematics, natural sciences, English and social studies). Some degrees may also ask for qualifications in specific subjects depending on the degree program (such as mathematics and physics for engineering). Keep in mind that each course and university will have its own specific admissions requirements.
When applying for programs taught in English, you will need to apply directly and individually to each institution you are interested in. You’ll usually need to fill in an application form, which is typically available on the institution’s website or by request. Undergraduate courses taught in Norwegian can be applied to using the Norwegian Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (NUCAS).
Public education in Norway is free for both local and international students, with the Norwegian Ministry of Education and Research responsible for fees and in general for education. You may be required to pay a small semester fee, typically around NOK300-600 (US$48-96). The semester fee grants you membership to the student welfare organization, access to health services, counselling and sports facilities, an official student card which can give you reduced fares on public transport and lower ticket prices to cultural events, and eligibility for exams. Private universities in Norway do charge tuition fees, and public universities do for a few specialized programs/courses, typically at postgraduate level.
Keep in mind that living costs in Norway are considerably higher than in many other countries, and you will need to cover living expenses including housing, books, food and travel. If you need financial assistance, there are various scholarships, fellowship schemes and student loan schemes available for local and international students. Make sure to check funding in your country of origin before leaving to study in Norway to ensure you’re aware of the full range of options that apply to you.
Students from other Nordic nations who intend to study in Norway are entitled to access the Norwegian National Insurance Scheme if they are registered in the National Population Register in Norway. If you are not a member, you are still entitled to healthcare in Norway under the National Insurance Act, without needing a European Health Insurance Card.
Students from countries within the EEA and from Switzerland should apply for a free European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) from their country of origin. If you are not entitled to one, you’ll need to purchase private medical insurance.
Students from outside the EEA are also eligible to access healthcare in Norway under the National Insurance Scheme. If your course is longer than a year, you should automatically be registered; if your course is between three and 12 months, you’ll need to apply for membership via your local insurance office. If you do not become a member of the National Insurance Scheme, you must have social security coverage from your home country. If in doubt, seek guidance from your university’s student support services. Don’t forget, also, that your student card may entitle you to free medical treatment from your institution’s student health services.
Find out how to get a student visa for Norway >
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