Internationalizing Higher Education in Norway: A Conversation with the New Norwegian Minister of Education and Research

Last month I met with Torbjørn Røe Isaksen, the new Minister of Education and Research in Norway, who was in Washington, DC, for the annual Transatlantic Science Week organized by the Royal Norwegian Embassy. We spoke about higher education internationalization in Norway and the priorities for academic collaboration with the United States. Mr. Røe Isaksen, who holds a MA in Political Science from the University of Oslo, also spent one year in the United States as a student at Carl Junction High School in Missouri.

Below is an excerpt from our conversation. The full interview will be published in the upcoming Spring 2014 edition of IIENetworker magazine. The current edition, which focuses on “The Next Big Thing in International Education,” is available as a free flipbook.

“Norway has a long coastline, and we have always been a very international country, even if it is not necessarily a very well-known country in the rest of the world. Sometimes I will joke and I say that it first became international when the Vikings went to plunder in Ireland and Britain. But the truth is that Norway has always been built on trade and openness towards the world. For a time, the second greatest percentage of migrants entering the United States came from Norway, after Ireland. We have churches all over the world and are the Scandinavian country with the most embassies. So, we are a very international country, and I think that higher education in Norway is very international as well.

“But, we have tended to think of internationalization as our favor to the world—as part of Norway’s altruistic policies. Also, as an interesting side note, the Norwegian Association for Students Abroad was founded in 1956 with one specific purpose: to stop students from studying abroad. It was considered a disgrace that people had to leave Norway to study. My point is that this has all changed now. Today we see that, as an open and competitive economy, we are dependent on internationalized higher education institutions—and not just because Norway has something to offer to the world. We are dependent on it in order to be an open, wealthy economy and to continue developing.

“We want more Norwegian students to go abroad. To accomplish this, we have set up a very good student-financing scheme—perhaps the best in the world. We have given them every financial incentive to do it. Six or seven years ago the financial incentives were almost as good as they are today, but still only a thousand students studied in America. We need to do something more to encourage other students to go abroad. So far we have had a special focus on the United States and Canada.  I think the next step is to concentrate on other places as well. Asia is also important for Norway. Asian countries are significant trading partners, and politically they are interesting. So that might be the next step.”

To support the cooperation with the United States and Canada, Norway launched a North America Strategy for Higher Education Cooperation for the period 2008–2011. According to the Ministry, “The status assessment of the 2008–2011 strategy shows an upward trend in student mobility between Norway and North America, and the transatlantic partnerships established under the strategy have become models of best practice for institutional collaboration. The status assessment also points to the need for increased efforts regarding meeting places for cooperation with Canada, mobility at the Master and Ph.D. levels and the recruitment of North American students to Norway.” A new strategy was launched in October 2011 for the 2012-2015 period. Learn more about Norway’s North America Strategy here or about the Partnership Program with North America, which funds a number of academic partnership projects between U.S. and Norwegian universities.