16 The principle of free education and fees
The statutory principle of free higher education is laid down in Section 7-1 (1) of the Universities and University Colleges Act. It stipulates that state universities and university colleges cannot claim fees from students for ordinary courses leading to a degree or for vocational training courses. The principle of free education applies regardless of whether the education is on campus or web-based. Private higher education institutions can, however, charge student fees on certain conditions.
The Ministry of Education and Research has issued its own regulations on the right of universities and university colleges to charge fees in exceptional cases. Section 3-2 of the Student Fee Regulation stipulates that public institutions may charge student fees in the following instances:
for subjects/courses that are normally not part of study programmes that lead to a degree or vocational training
for experience-based master’s degree studies
from students who fill vacant spots in study programmes or subjects/courses that are financed by contract.
Section 3-3 (1) of the Regulations also stipulates that, as regards study programmes or subjects/courses for which institutions cannot charge student fees, the institution also cannot charge students fees beyond actual costs linked to teaching materials.
16.2 The Commission’s considerations
Participants in an open MOOC will have various ambitions, depending on whether they are regular full-time students, are working and want to develop their skills or are simply academically curious of a new field. The emergence of a number of different variants of MOOCs may, in the opinion of the Commission, increase confusion and the room for interpretation in the current student fee rules. In some cases this may create different practices between institutions so that students are not treated equally with regard to fees.
The Commission believes that MOOCs in Norway should, as a point of departure, be free. At the same time, the Commission believes it is appropriate that the current regulations also permit institutions to charge fees, as laid down in Section 3-2 of the Student Fees Regulation. The Commission believes that the Ministry should undertake a review of the Student Fees Regulation so that the institutions’ leeway becomes clearer with respect to any payment for MOOCs.
16.3 The Commission’s recommendations
The Commission believes that Norwegian MOOCs should basically be free.
The Commission recommends that the Ministry evaluate the Student Fees Regulation in order to clarify the institutions’ leeway as regards payment for the MOOCs.