9 MOOCs in Norwegian higher education
9.1 Applicable regulations
The Quality Reform introduced a comprehensive system of quality-assurance in Norwegian higher education. The institutions were given more extensive academic authority to establish and terminate study programmes. At the same time, a professional independent body was established for quality-assurance of higher education (Norwegian Agency for Quality Assurance in Education, NOKUT). Systems were introduced for accreditation of study programmes and institutions, and requirements were set for all institutions to have their own quality-assurance systems.
The Act relating to Universities and University Colleges determines the degree levels at which the institutions can offer education.1 Both the Act and associated regulations apply to all higher education institutions, including the private institutions.
Depending on the institution category, the different institutions have different authorisations as regards establishing new study programmes themselves. If institutions are not authorised to establish study programmes, they must apply to NOKUT for accreditation.
The universities, which are all public, are authorised at all levels. Specialised university institutions and university colleges, both public and private, are authorised to establish study programmes at all levels within the disciplines where they are authorised to award doctorates, i.e. the same authorisations as universities within these disciplines. Public university colleges and private university colleges that have been accredited as university colleges, can establish new programmes at the undergraduate level. Private university colleges that are not accredited at the institution level can apply to NOKUT for accreditation of study programmes.2
The same system applies to joint degrees. If the relevant degree level is outside the authority of the individual institution, it must also apply for accreditation of joint degrees. Norwegian institutions that cooperate to award joint degrees must together satisfy the criteria for accreditation of study programmes. Norwegian institutions can award joint degrees in cooperation with foreign institutions. The Norwegian institution will then be responsible for ensuring that the foreign institution's part of the study is accredited or approved in line with national regulations in the cooperating country. The Norwegian part must satisfy the criteria for the relevant degree level in Norway.3
Recognition and exemption
Exams from universities and university colleges that have been accredited, are recognised with the same number of credits between institutions, given that they satisfy the academic requirements inherent in the subject to be recognised.4 This means that a student who has taken a subject at a Norwegian institution, will be credited for this subject as part of a degree at a different Norwegian institution, provided the subject satisfies equivalent academic requirements.
It is also possible that subjects taken at foreign institutions may qualify for exemption in a Norwegian degree. The institutions themselves must consider whether the subjects in question provide a basis for such exemption. This is not something for which a student is entitled to exemption; an academic assessment must be made in each instance.5
Norwegian higher education institutions are responsible for ensuring the quality of their own study programmes.6 In order to safeguard this responsibility, the institutions are obliged to have internal quality-assurance systems. The quality-assurance system is a tool for the institutions to acquire necessary knowledge in order to assess the quality of their own education programmes. The systems aim to ensure continuous improvement, identify deficient quality and document quality efforts. NOKUT is responsible for evaluating and approving the institutions’ quality-assurance systems.
The qualifications framework for higher education
The Bologna Process established a pan-European qualifications framework for higher education in 2005, with learning outcome descriptions for the three main levels of higher education – bachelor, master and Ph.D. The Norwegian qualifications framework for higher education, adjusted in line with the general European framework, was laid down in March 2009.7 The qualifications are described through learning outcomes, not input factors. The level descriptions describe the knowledge, skills and competence that all candidates who have completed education at the relevant level must have.
The Qualifications Framework and its relationship with prior learning and work experience
Documentation, assessment and appraisal of prior learning and work experience is a tool used to facilitate lifelong learning. The right to an Accreditation of Prior Experiential Learning is laid down in the Education Act, the Tertiary Vocational Education Act and the Act relating to Universities and University Colleges. Prior learning and work experience must be assessed in relation to applicable curriculums for primary and lower secondary school, upper secondary education, education plans for tertiary vocational education and national curriculums and syllabi for higher education. The objective of assessing prior learning and work experience is for adults to be able to document and appraise their expertise, as a basis for further training or work. Prior learning and work experience must have legitimacy both in the education system and working life. Individuals’ prior learning and work experience in subjects cannot be placed directly into the Qualifications Framework, but Accreditation of Prior Experiential Learning will indirectly be able to provide learners with a shorter course of study leading up to an approved diploma.8
9.2 The Commission’s considerations
MOOCs in Norwegian education institutions
When Norwegian institutions offer credit-earning MOOCs, the regulations for higher education apply. The universities themselves decide which study programmes and subjects the institution will offer, regardless of educational level. The university colleges and specialised university institutions have more limited opportunities to decide this for themselves, and would have to apply to NOKUT for accreditation on certain levels.
The same will apply as regards quality-assurance. When institutions offer MOOCs with exams and credits, these study programmes must be included in the institution's system for quality assurance.
If MOOC students are to take exams and earn credits, these students must have been accepted in the study programme according to applicable enrolment requirements. This applies both to those who take exams in a course and those who take exams as external candidates.9 Students who take MOOCs with exams and credits at Norwegian institutions, can receive a normal transcript as documentation.10 Such subjects/courses can be included as part of a degree.
A student who has completed MOOCs with exams and credits at an accredited institution in Norway, will be entitled to exemption from equivalent exams at another institution. This means that MOOCs in this form, taken at one institution, can be part of a degree at other institutions as well. In these cases, it is assumed that the MOOCs have been quality-assured at the institutions where the subject has been studied.
The Commission is of the opinion that the institutions’ management of the accreditation system has a potential for improvement. The Commission therefore encourages the institutions to use the latitude inherent in the system to a larger extent by facilitating a more flexible practice of accrediting subjects across Norwegian institutions. The Commission also believes that there is need for an assessment of how the institutions' practice of accrediting subjects can be improved.
It will be challenging to have MOOCs without credits and exams recognised as part of a degree. Likewise, it will be difficult to approve other types of subjects that the student has taken without sitting for an exam. The Commission believes that such assessments must continue to be made by the individual institution exercising its academic judgment.
In Chapter 15.3, the Commission recommends pilots with exemptions from entrance requirements in MOOCs.
MOOCs delivered by foreign institutions
In order to accredit MOOCs with exams and credits from a foreign institution at a Norwegian institution, they must be assessed in the same way as other types of subjects that the students take at foreign institutions. This means that an academic assessment must be carried out, in the same way as is currently done for other foreign education. The academic assessment must be carried out by the individual institution.
How students and institutions should relate to quality assurance of such courses, could be a challenge. If the scope of applications for accrediting foreign MOOCs is significant, particularly from hitherto unknown providers, it is uncertain whether the institutions have the capacity to assess this themselves. In the opinion of the Commission, there may be a need for systems or arrangements to support institutions in their work linked to such assessments, for example national systems for quality-assuring MOOCs.
It will be challenging to grant credits for a MOOC without an exam or credits from a foreign institution toward a degree at a Norwegian institution. For a student who has completed a MOOC without an exam, it could for example be challenging to document that the content of the subject is equivalent to the subject from which the student is seeking exemption. The individual institution must conduct a discretionary academic assessment of such MOOCs.
The Commission believes that Accreditation of Prior Experiential Learning may be more relevant in the institutions’ assessments of MOOCs without exams and credits. It is the case today that one is entitled to have one’s prior learning/work experience assessed for the purpose of enrolment and recognition of this type of expertise in degree studies. If the number of students completing MOOCs increases, this may lead to increased demand for this type of assessment. In that case, the Commission is of the opinion that MOOCs will make Accreditations of Prior Experiential Learning even more relevant than they are today. The Commission believes that this will put pressure on and demand increased attention to good practice of Accreditation of Prior Experiential Learning from higher education institutions. The Commission believes that the institutions must develop good schemes for Accreditation of Prior Experiential Learning involving MOOCs.
Competence assessment of MOOCs without exams and credits
MOOCs without exams and credits can also be viewed as a form of skills acquisition that is not necessarily intended to be incorporated into a degree system. Skills that are currently outside the Qualifications Framework and the formal education system can take many forms, and there is a need for a comprehensive assessment of the state of affairs. Different forms of skills must be assessed in an international context. Norwegian authorities must therefore work closely with European initiatives and organisations linked to quality-assurance of education, and consider such issues in the context of the systems that have been constructed around the current quality-assurance system and international skills recognition.
In this connection, the Commission wants to point out the fact that, in 2013, the Ministry of Education and Research appointed a separate commission to assess skills outside the formal education system, with particular focus on how they can be incorporated into the national qualifications framework. This commission will assess whether there are special challenges related to education programmes offered internationally or in parallel in multiple countries by e.g. companies, industries and organisations. The MOOC Commission believes that MOOCs without exams and credits fall within this type of service, and that the commission appointed by the Ministry therefore also must consider MOOCs as part of their work. The report will be completed by the end of 2014.
9.3 The Commission’s recommendations
MOOCs with exams and credits, both from Norwegian and foreign institutions, may be included in the current degree system. Consequently, the Commission does not see a need for changes to the Norwegian regulations for accreditation and recognition of subjects.
The Commission recommends a national review of how the institutions’ practice of accrediting can be improved.
The Commission feels that the institutions must facilitate a more streamlined practice of accrediting subjects across Norwegian institutions.
The Commission believes that the institutions must develop good schemes for Accreditation of Prior Experiential Learning for people who have completed MOOCs.
The MOOC Commission recommends having the Ministry-appointed commission tasked with inquiring into skills outside the formal education system also assess skills developed through MOOCs without exams and credits.
Available from: http://www.lovdata.no/all/nl-20050401-015.html The Act has been elaborated in a separate regulation providing standards for accreditation of institutions (Forskrift om kvalitetssikring og kvalitetsutvikling i høyere utdanning og fagskoleutdanning). NOKUT's regulations relating to supervision elaborate on the standard laid down in the Ministry's regulations, including the requirements for e.g. scientific production and the research communities' size and academic profile (Regulation relating to supervision of education quality in higher education).
NOKUT (2013) Institusjonskategoriar (Institution categories). Available from: http://www.nokut.no/no/Fakta/Det-norske- utdanningssystemet/Institusjonskategoriar/ (Retrieved: 11 December 2013).
NOKUT (2013) Søk om akkreditering av nye studietilbud og institusjonskategori (Apply for accreditation of new study programmes and institution categories). Available from: http://www.nokut.no/no/Universitet-og-hoyskole/ Kvalitetssikring-og-tilsyn/Sok-om-akkreditering-av-nye- studietilbud-og-institusjonskategori/(Retrieved: 11 December 2013).
The provision concerning recognition and academic accreditation in Section 3-5 (1) of the Universities and Colleges Act.
Section 3-5 (2) of the Universities and Colleges Act.
The Ministry of Education and Research has laid down separate regulations relating to quality assurance and quality development in higher education and vocational college education. Available from: http://www.lovdata.no/cgi-wift/ ldles?doc=/sf/sf/sf-20100201-0096.html (Retrieved: 11 December 2013).
Since then, the Norwegian Ministry of Education and Research has also stipulated a national qualification framework for all levels of Norwegian education – the Norwegian Qualifications Framework, which is in line with the European Qualifications Framework (EQF). Kunnskapsdepartementet (2011) Nasjonalt kvalifikasjonsrammeverk for livslang læring (NKR). Available from: http://www.regjeringen.no/upload/KD/Vedlegg/ Internasjonalt/UNESCO/Nasjonalt Kvalifikasjonsrammeverk200612.pdf (Retrieved: 11 December 2013).
Section 3-10 of the Universities and Colleges Act.
Section 3-11 of the Universities and Colleges Act.