Denied Norwegian courses

International students who come to the University of Oslo to study of their own accord do not have the right to take Norwegian courses.

På norsk

FOTO: Robin Røkke Johansen

International students who enter into a study agreement with the University of Oslo (UiO) are not entitled to take a course in Norwegian, yet exchange students who stay in the country for just one term are.

-It seems like those who already live here and who want to continue living here after they have completed their studies, have less of a right to Norwegian courses than those who will be leaving again shortly, says Estonian Kadri Tammur.

She is not entitled to a Norwegian course at UiO, because she is a so-called guest student. UiO regulations state the following concerning this group: «We have no duty to give these students places on Norwegian courses, and one should be careful about giving these students the same rights and privileges that are awarded to students from institutions that UiO has agreements with.»

-We think that there is a satisfactory range of courses in English for international students at the master’s level, and therefore we do not feel that the need for a Norwegian course is as strong, states Director of Academic Affairs at UiO, Monica Bakken.

Lacks academic Norwegian

Kadri Tammur came to Norway to study Scandinavian politics in 2006, and does not rule out the possibility of settling here after she has completed her studies. The college she attended in Estonia did not have an Erasmus agreement with UiO, and Tammur is therefore not defined as an exchange student. She has learnt Norwegian alongside her other studies, follows subjects that are taught in Norwegian, and has a strong wish to write her master’s thesis in Norwegian. In order to write a good MA thesis, she needs an advanced course in academic language.

Her student’s residence permit means that she is not eligible for a student loan and scholarship, and it also limits her opportunities to work alongside her studies. This means that she cannot afford the language courses she needs, which would cost 9000 kroner in total.

-It is unfair that only those of us with rich parents can afford to take more advanced courses in Norwegian, Tammur says, and adds that she knows other students in the same situation.

One of them is Sven Gehnen. The German completed his master’s degree in political science at UiO in 2008. He came to Norway as a self-financed student, and says that he was informed that he would be able to take a Norwegian course. However, this turned out to be wrong.

-If somebody asks, I will never recommend studying at UiO. The information and the treatment that I received in connection with the Norwegian courses were hopeless.

Not enough places

Director of Academic Affairs Monika Bakken explains that there has been a rise in applicants to the Norwegian courses in the last few years. In 2006, a priority list was made regarding who should be able to take the Norwegian courses.

-It is unfortunate that we are unable to offer more places on these courses. The priority list was something we were forced to make due to financial limitations, as well as an increased number of international students taking our programmes.

She thinks that the university has to prioritize undergraduate students.

- Students at the bachelor level are prioritized partly because we want to recruit international students to undergraduate studies in Norway, Bakken states.

Jens Kihl, member of the Left Alliance and leader of the Norwegian Language Youth thinks that it is too easy to simply refer international students to subjects in English.

-What is a satisfactory offer? Is it enough to have Norwegian skills that allow you to get from A to B on campus? In order to take part in a larger process of integration, both academic and social, it is not enough to rely on English as an academic language. There are a lot of issues that cannot be mediated through any other language. For example, it would be pointless for an international student to read Henrik Ibsen in English while in Norway.

Naomi Røkkum, international officer at the Student Parliament (SP), wants to secure the rights of international students to attend Norwegian courses.

-Internationalization of UiO is something that is often discussed in complicated words, but it is important to follow up on this with solid investment. This is why the Student Parliament wants to secure the rights of international students to take Norwegian courses, including students who are not currently prioritized.

When SP had a debate on whether the work for internationalization at UiO should be coordinated with the work to preserve Norwegian as an academic language, it was claimed that the preservation of Norwegian had no place in the work for internationalization. SP voted against the preservation of Norwegian in this area.

More flexibility in Bergen

Head of section at the University of Bergen, Judith Morland, says that they use a similar system of prioritization as at UiO, but that the course capacity is adjusted according to the demand from the previous term.

-Everyone who comes as an exchange student can demand a Norwegian course, and this is something we can guarantee. Guest students fall outside this category, but this is a small group of students who have to come to individual agreements with the programme that they belong to. We do not view a lack of capacity as a problem on our Norwegian courses, Morland states.

Kadri does not believe that she will have the opportunity to write her MA thesis in Norwegian, but hopes that attention can be drawn to the lack of capacity.

-I think that UiO should do more to make the situation easier for international students, especially if it is a goal to attract more sharp minds to Norway. More Norwegian courses must be offered, and for international students on a master’s level as well.


Norwegian courses at the University of Oslo (UiO)
  • UiO offers approximately 700 places on its Norwegian courses.
  • The places are shared out according to a priority list.
  • Guest students who have not been admitted through exchanges or programmes are not offered a free Norwegian course.


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