17 Educational support
17.1 Current schemes
The objective of the educational support system is to provide access to education, regardless of geography, age, gender, level of disability and economic and social conditions, cf. Section 1 of the Educational Support Act. The system aims to ensure that society and the private sector have access to skills and that education can take place under satisfactory working conditions, thus ensuring that coursework can be efficient.
Educational support is intended for subsistence during education, cf. Section 5 of the Act. Support may also be awarded for other expenses linked to the education, such as tuition and travel. As regards the award of educational support to individual students, there is a regulatory framework for admission requirements, the right to take exams, academic requirements, limits on how many years for which support may be awarded, application deadlines and age limits.
Framework for the amount and duration of support
Educational support is provided for the prescribed period of study for each programme. As regards combinations of higher education and other education to which the applicant is not entitled pursuant to the Education Act, support can be awarded for up to eight years. Over the course of these eight years, the student can receive support for up to one year, or 60 credits, of delays. The student can receive support for part-time education, with a minimum of 50 % student work load. The education programme must last at least one semester, which is four months in practice. Support will be awarded in proportion to the student work load. The support is disbursed as loans, and students who do not live with their parents can have up to 40 % of their basic support converted into an educational grant, given that they pass their exams. The grant part of the support amount depends on academic progression, which is measured for each semester. If the student takes fewer credits than the norm for a semester, a smaller share of the loan will be converted into grants.
Education programmes that are eligible for support
Support can be awarded for higher education both in Norway and abroad. The main rule for approving support for Norwegian education is that it is included in the Norwegian education system, and has been approved pursuant to an education act. The fact that the education programme must be approved pursuant to an education act, also entails that the education programme has admission requirements. Higher Education Entrance Qualification is generally required in order to be admitted to higher education in Norway. Ordinary admission according to these rules is a precondition for the right to educational support.
The main rule for being entitled to support for foreign degrees is that NOKUT can recognise it as equal to Norwegian higher education at the bachelor’s or master’s level. Alternatively, it can also correspond to Norwegian Ph.D. education. Part-time education is eligible for support in Norway, but not abroad.
As a main rule, the student must be a Norwegian citizen in order to be entitled to Norwegian educational support. Citizens from EU/EEA countries and their family members are on par with Norwegian citizens if they have an employment connection to Norway, or have a permanent residence permit.
Foreign citizens from countries outside the EU/EEA may receive support if they have a special connection to Norway due to their employment, education, spouse, family or other circumstances, or have entered the country for political or humanitarian reasons. This group’s support entitlement does not cover entire study programmes abroad.
Support for education abroad
As regards education abroad that is eligible for support, this support will be disbursed according to the normal rules for subsistence, travel and tuition. The amount for subsistence is the same as in Norway. Larger amounts are awarded for travel and tuition than for education in Norway, and a certain percentage of tuition support is provided as grants.
Further details concerning rules for support to web-based education
Support may be awarded for web-based education offered by Norwegian higher education institutions, but not foreign web-based education. The Norwegian web-based education must correspond to higher education at public education institutions and must conclude with an exam. As regards web-based education in Norway, support is awarded according to normal rules, so the education must, as a main rule, be included in the Norwegian education system. Support may be provided for travel and tuition, in addition to subsistence.
Support for students taking foreign web-based courses has not been a priority. There are two reasons for this; on one hand, the objective of supporting study abroad is that the students, in addition to the formal learning, take part in a different society, and learn culture and language from the inside, which will enrich Norwegian society when the education is completed. Web-based education abroad is not considered study abroad in this context. Foreign web-based education provisions also feature significant variations, which means it is not always easy to have confidence in the quality of this type of education.
The Ministry is working on proposals to open up for support for web-based education offered by higher education institutions in the EU/EEA. This is a consequence of ESA (EFTA Surveillance Authority) pointing out that the distinction between Norwegian and foreign online schools violates the Services Directive (Directive 2006/123), as well as the general prohibition against discrimination in Article 4 of the EEA Agreement, as regards the entitlement to support for tuition. ESA’s opinion is that Norway is obliged to treat both providers and recipients of web-based education equally, regardless of the geographic location of the higher education institution. This equal treatment includes the students’ right to support for tuition charged by the higher education institution. The equal treatment obligation applies to higher education institutions established in the EU/EEA. The Ministry presumes in this work that the usual rules for approval of support will apply to the education programme. Among other things, this means that web-based education in its essentials must be organised as traditional higher education.
17.2 The Commission’s considerations
MOOCs vary considerably as regards who is providing the education, how the education is structured, the cost of the education and the academic outcome of the education. Today, the vast majority of MOOCs on an international scale are open and without admission requirements. MOOCs developed in Norway and structured in line with current regulations for higher education will, in the opinion of the Commission, not pose any challenges as regards the current educational support system. Support is already provided today for web-based courses with a minimum of 30 credits, given that the student work load is 50 % or more.
However, the Commission sees that a number of different MOOC variants will affect the students’ ability to receive support through the current educational support system. MOOCs are characterised by the fact that there are no admission requirements for the courses, as is the case in higher education. Furthermore, the foreign courses often yield less than 30 credits. It is also unclear for many of the course programmes how to acquire sound knowledge concerning the education quality, how formal assessments are made and how many credits a course will earn.
There are already a number of challenges linked to the educational support system for web-based courses. MOOCs contribute toward rapid upscaling of volume and globalisation of web-based provisions, and it is possible that large groups of students may utilise such education services. This means that the authorities should identify new solutions to challenges that quickly satisfy the Norwegian educational support system’s needs in line with the growth in MOOCs and MOOC participants.
In order for additional participants in MOOCs to be included in the Norwegian educational support system, the current educational support system will have to be expanded. The Commission cannot provide a detailed proposal for the content of such an adjustment in this report. The Commission will therefore propose a review of the educational support system with the aim of stimulating more students to enrol in MOOCs and other forms of web-based provisions, or provisions that combine web-based and campus education.
In general, the Commission wants to point out that the Norwegian educational support model is excessively based on the idea that there is a period in life when one pursues education and a period when one is employed. The Commission believes that this model may turn out to be poorly adapted to the new trends in higher education, which facilitate alternating between education and work throughout large parts of one’s life. The Commission is aware that this issue touches on the distinction between financing undergraduate education and continuing and further education.
In reviewing the educational support system one must take into consideration the fact that there are different groups of students. It is relevant to examine the system in relation to both Norwegian and foreign MOOC participants, as well as both Norwegian and international MOOC provisions. In this connection, the Commission finds that there are four groups of participants against which the educational support system must be reviewed. These are highlighted in Figure 17.1.
Citizens from EU/EEA countries and their family members are on par with Norwegian citizens if they have an employment connection to Norway, or have a permanent residence permit. Foreign citizens from countries outside the EU/EEA may also receive support if they have a special connection to Norway, cf. Chapter 17.1 above. Considerations regarding Norwegian participants will thus also have consequences for foreign participants. This means that considering potential changes to the educational support system for Norwegian participants, one must also have in view the consequences for foreign participants.
Flexibility as regards student work load and progression
The full-time student is the goal of Norwegian education policy. Nevertheless, the Commission believes that the limit of 50 % student work load in order to satisfy the criteria for educational support is hardly adapted to the new web-based, flexible services within higher education. The preliminary data available on how students use MOOCs indicate that many choose to take courses that result in less than 50 % student work load. The Commission believes that it can be very beneficial to society and working life that people are enrolled in higher education with less than a 50 % student work load. A system where students can distribute their student work load over a greater number of years will be important for those who, for different reasons, cannot study full-time, e.g. due to work, family, illness or other circumstances.
Another key element of MOOCs and other forms of web-based education is that they increasingly free the student from the time aspect. The Commission has noted that the new services within higher education challenge the principles of the educational support system as regards progression and completion within a given timeframe. The Commission also believes that the support system should be more focused on results in the form of credits earned, and less focused on the time spent earning these credits.
Support for courses without admission requirements
The Commission also believes that arrangements should be considered where students can receive educational support even though the course of study has no admission requirements. Here, attention should be devoted to the fact that the student is completing an education that yields a formal diploma. The Commission has noted that one of the arguments against equal treatment of Norwegian and foreign web-based education is concern linked to the quality of certain foreign services. The Commission believes that educational support should not be provided for all forms of foreign web-based education, and that it is crucial to have good systems in place for quality-assurance of these services. The Commission is of the opinion that the Norwegian educational support system should be able to include foreign web-based education that has been quality-assured by foreign players.
Support for web-based education outside Norway
The Commission has noted that ESA has pointed out that the distinction between Norwegian and foreign web-based schools as regards the right to apply for support for tuition, violates the EEA Agreement. The Commission has also noted that the Ministry of Education and Research is working on proposals to open up for tuition support for web-based education offered by higher education institutions in the EU/EEA. The Commission supports development in the direction of increasingly equal treatment of Norwegian and foreign web-based education. The Commission believes that this should also apply outside the EU/EEA.
The Commission presumes that the economic impact of any changes in the education funding scheme can be vast, particularly in relation to foreign students. The Commission therefore recommends that the financial consequences relating to foreign students be included in the reviews on changes in the education funding scheme.
17.3 The Commission’s recommendations
The Commission recommends examining whether educational support should be granted to participants in MOOCs and other web-based courses with a flexible student workload and duration.
The Commission recommends examining whether educational support should be granted to students taking MOOCs and other web-based courses, both inside and outside the EU/EEA.
The Commission recommends that financial consequences relating to foreign students must be included in the reviews of changes to the educational support scheme proposed by the Commission.