St.meld. nr. 42 (1997-98): Summary in English

Summary and conclusions

Ministry of Education, Research and Church Affairs

Abridged version

The Competence Reform Report No. 42 to the Storting (1997-98)

Summary and conclusions

The basis for the reform is the need for competence in the workplace, in society and by the individual. The reform will embrace all adults in and outside the labour market and it will have a broad, long-term perspective. The reform will be implemented as a process in which employers, employees and the government will have to make an active contribution.

  • The workplace as a whole, individual enterprises and the entire Norwegian population must be motivated and encouraged to take an active part in a long-term, wide-ranging competence reform. Employers, employees and the government must all make a contribution when it comes to funding, organising, adapting, developing and implementing the reform.
  • From the perspective of life-long learning - where competence-building is virtually never-ending - a good basic education will to a large degree be the basis for further learning. Basic education and continuing education complement one another and together they will lay the foundation for a long-term rise in competence.
  • The target group for the reform includes both members of the workforce and people who, for different reasons, are outside it. The whole potential labour force must be included.
  • The competence reform must be based on a broad concept of knowledge, where theoretical and practical knowledge and the promotion of creativity, initiative, entrepreneurship, cooperativeness and social skills are all part of a whole. Attitudes and values are also part of this concept of knowledge.
  • The Norwegian workplace needs real, tangible competence in the short term. However, it is just as important to give newcomers to the workplace and people in the labour market today a broader range of competence than what would appear to be useful in the short term. People also function as a whole in their jobs. The continuous development of competence must therefore have a long-term perspective for the whole individual.
  • A competence reform will require considerable reorganisation of the public education system in order to be able to offer educational opportunities adapted to adults' experience and life situation. The interaction between the educational system, non-government organisations and other providers of education will play a decisive role - particularly when it comes to the use of modern technology and distance education.

· In view of the corporate structure and the distribution of the population in Norway, it is important to give special attention to the development of competence in small and medium-sized businesses and to development in the regions.

The challenges:

· Updated competence in the workforce and in society in general is in the process of becoming the very key to a positive development both in Norway and internationally. Some of the reasons for this are the increasing globalisation of the economy, internationalisation, technological progress and the demands for greater adjustment of production and organisation in the workplace in general and in individual enterprises.

· There is growing concern in many countries about the widening gap between the need for and the availability of new knowledge in the workplace. This problem is due mainly to the speed with which changes are taking place in society and in the workplace and which is accelerated by the fact that the labour force is growing older.

· Compared with most other countries, Norway is in a favourable situation as regards education. We have a high standard of education. Large sums are invested each year by both the private and public sectors in competence-building in the workplace. A broad range of educational opportunities is provided by the public education system, the network of non-government organisations and other providers of education.

· Many adults lack, and wish to receive, basic education at primary and lower secondary school and upper secondary school level as the basis for further learning, and there are still large groups in the workplace who do not receive the necessary competence-building. The public education system is not playing the active role in adult training that the future requires.

· Thinking and planning as regards education can no longer be based on the philosophy "once educated, always educated". This must now be changed to "completing a basic education is only the beginning".

Important principles in a competence reform:

· The reform must be based on the need of the workplace, society and the individual for competence.

· The reform must have a long-term perspective and its implementation must take place gradually based on a framework of economic and organisational requirements.

· As far as possible both basic and continuing education for adults should be geared to demand; this education should be flexible, available and adapted to the needs of the individual and the enterprise. The necessary arrangements must be made and education must build on the individual's competence, both competence already documented through basic education and acquired through non-formal learning.

· It is essential to the further development of competence that a system be established to document and assess adults' non-formal learning. The system should have legitimacy both in the workplace and in the educational system.

· Acceptance into upper secondary education and higher education must be based on the total competence of the individual.

· Giving more emphasis in the public education system to the development of competence for the workplace must not be done at the expense of basic education, but help to strengthen it.

· There must be better interaction between the providers of education and the workplace, with a view to allowing the employees to take as much part in developing competence as possible without taking them away from the workplace more than necessary


The responsibility for a rise in competence among adults - directed particularly at adults with jobs - must be shared between the employee and employer organisa-tions and the government. The Report does not aim to change the present division of responsibility, whereby the primary responsibility for competence-building lies with the employers, employees and their organisations jointly, while it is mainly the responsibility of the government to provide basic education facilities.

The proposals in the Report do not aim to meet all the challenges in basic and continuing education for adults. This will have to be a continuous task in the years to come, based on plans of action in the different sectors and branches of industry. The Report focuses on a few, central issues which can provide a better basis on which to develop and realise these plans.

The Government`s proposals:

1. Education at primary and lower secondary and at upper secondary level

a) The Government will pave the way for adults who have not completed their primary and lower secondary education to be given the opportunity to do so. The Government also wishes to identify the need for renewed primary and lower secondary education among people who have formally completed it, but who may still need this education (for example, persons suffering from dyslexia and adult immigrants). This education will be based on the individual's abilities and total competence and arranged so that both the organisation of the education and the methods used meet the needs of adults.

In order to acquire more knowledge about the scope, educational requirements and costs of providing such education, the Government will initiate a major three-year pilot project in a number of local districts in different parts of the country.

b) The Government will pave the way for adults who have not completed upper secondary education to be given the opportunity to do so. This education will be based on the individual's abilities and total competence and arranged so that both the organisation of the education and the methods used meet the needs of adults. It is important that opportunities are provided which make it possible to complete training based on a combination of work and schooling/studies.

· A statutory obligation will be imposed on the county authorities to provide upper secondary education for adults who do not already have this.

· Adults who, formally speaking, satisfy the requirements for acceptance for upper secondary education but who, for various reasons, have not acquired sufficient proficiency in the primary and lower secondary school, are the responsibility of the county authorities if they apply for upper secondary education. They will often need some kind of preparatory course before starting upper secondary education.

· The obligation of the county authorities will be financed within the framework grants included in the transfers in connection with the reform of upper secondary education (Reform 94). This corresponds to a minimum of 375 per cent of a year cohort of the actual pupils and apprentices taking full-time education. Any needs in excess of 375 per cent and the funds to cover this will have to be taken up in the annual budgets.

2. Right to leave of absence

The Government is prepared to pave the way for legislation providing for an individual right to study leave. The objective of this legislation must be to achieve a satisfactory balance between the employee's need for leave of absence and the inconvenience this type of leave can cause for the employer. The Government is therefore prepared to work with representatives of the employer and employee organisations and legal experts in drawing up proposals for statutory provisions. These must, among other things, take into account the enterprises' need for new competence, stable manpower, suitable planning of production and use of resources. Against this background, the Government will revert to the Storting with a proposition relating to the individual right to study leave.

The challenges facing one-man businesses in the area of educational opportunities are quite different from those facing enterprises with several employees. The right to leave of absence has little relevance for them. Other arrangements must therefore be made if this group is to take part in the reform. Some one-man businesses will, for example, need help in the form of a substitute for the duration of the education.

3. Funding subsistence and the tax situation

The Government believes as a matter of principle that compensation for the expense of subsistence during study leave is a matter to be decided upon between the employer and the employee. The employer retains his primary responsibility for meeting the enterprise's need to build up new competence.

  • The Government emphasises the importance of basing educational funding on equal treatment of the different groups. Public funding of subsistence in the case of basic education at university and college level and on completing primary and lower secondary and upper secondary education for adults, should therefore be based on established funding schemes managed by the State Educational Loan Fund. Financial assistance is available through these schemes for most educational purposes. However, the general rules for study financing will be reviewed with a view to adapting them more closely to continuing education for adults.
  • The Government operates on the basis that, if the employer and employee organisations wish to establish special schemes to finance subsistence during continuing education, in addition to public study financing, this is a task for the organisations.
  • New guidelines are being considered for the tax treatment of employer-financed education. Here the emphasis will be on ensuring that these are clear, predictable and easy to practise. The Government's assessment will be put before the Storting in connection with the National Budget for 1999.
  • The Government will look into the employees' right to sick pay during leave of absence to participate in competence-building.

4. Documentation of non-formal learning

It is vital for further competence-building to establish a system to document and recognise adults' non-formal learning. This system must have legitimacy in the workplace and in the educational system. It is therefore important that the system is developed in cooperation with the employee and employer organisations, the various providers of education and the public education system.

To improve the possibility for adults to have their non-formal learning documented and recognised in relation to the public documentation schemes, the Government proposes the following measures:

  • The external candidate schemes in operation in basic education from the primary school all the way through to higher education should be maintained and expanded. In all subject areas where this is practicable, it must be possible to sit examinations as an external candidate in order to document the same qualifications as ordinary apprentices, pupils or students. The Government proposes that the documentation scheme used in vocational training (Section 20 of the Act relating to Apprenticeship Training in Working Life) is continued the way it operates today.
  • Documentation schemes must be developed which provide a basis for assessment in relation to the public system. This applies, for example, to documentation of learning acquired through work in Norway and abroad, through active participation in democratic life and through other voluntary work. This type of non-formal learning should be approved as "equivalent competence", even if it is not identical to what is laid down in syllabuses and required for public examinations.

· The county authorities will be invited to test schemes to assess non-formal learning in relation to upper secondary education. The plan is to experiment in a couple of counties. The Ministry wishes to gain experience with an advisory board or other possible ways of assessing non-formal learning.

· The Government is considering appointing an advisory body to assess non-formal learning in higher education. This body will be able to give advice to the educational institutions which determine whether the non-formal learning is equivalent.

5. Admission to basic education

Today's rules for admission into upper secondary education and higher education allow adults to be accepted on the basis of proven equivalent competence. However, little use is made of this possibility and it seems to be practised too restrictively.

With reference to the work of assessing non-formal learning (see 4. above), it is the Government's aim to make it possible for adults with proven equivalent competence to be accepted at the level of progression where they belong. This will apply in both upper secondary and higher education.

6. Flexible opportunities and the workplace as a place of learning

An important element of the reform is the development of educational opportunities which exploit the huge potential that lies in the workplace as a place of learning. This will involve joint projects between the workplace and the providers of learning in order to plan systematic competence building. This can be done:

· by establishing development programmes and funding schemes in order to encourage greater use of information and communications technology in teaching and the development of new flexible, user-adapted courses, adult teaching methods and media-based teaching.

· by encouraging and strengthening competence-building in enterprises, through different systems of network-building, especially in small and medium-sized businesses and one-man businesses. Consideration will be given to a grant scheme to support competence-building programmes.

7. Providers of education

Much of the training in the workplace will be provided by the workplace's own resources. Nonetheless, the Government emphasises that the public education system must play a central role in providing training which meets the need for competence in the workplace. This should be achieved, for example,

· by a comprehensive development process throughout the public educational system, where existing rules, teaching methods, organisation and management are reviewed in order to adapt primary and lower secondary education, upper secondary education and higher education to the competence reform for adults. The Government believes this is a better approach than establishing a separate "open university".

· by allowing state-run institutions of higher education to charge a fee for more comprehensive courses of study than are possible under today's scheme. The Ministry advocates allowing the institutions to charge a fee for studies totalling up to 30 credits.

· by relaxing the rules for institutions of higher education and making it easier for them to offer training geared to the needs of the labour market. The employer and employee organisations will be natural contacts in this work.

· by developing a constructive interaction between the public education system and other providers of education, such as non-governmental study associations, distance education institutions, folk high schools and so on.

· by encouraging systems for cooperation between the business sector and educational institutions so that the market in competence will work better.

· by encouraging the use of electronic networks and by making use of multimedia-based teaching materials, for example in studies organised as distance education.

· by developing resource centre activities as an integrated part of all upper secondary education, aiming especially at stimulating competence-building in small and medium-sized businesses and one-man businesses.

· by initiating competence-building programmes for teachers and instructors in the development and use of teaching programmes suited to adults' non-formal learning and life situation.

8. Government Employment Services

The Government is prepared to take a closer look at how the Employment Services' knowledge of the labour market can be used in a greater effort to build up competence.

9. Information

The Government will draw up an information plan for the competence reform as a whole. A central body will be given the responsibility for making the necessary arrangements to ensure that information about available education is easily accessible. A project will be initiated in close cooperation with the parties involved to develop a central database for educational information.

10. Implementation

The implementation of the reform requires efficient control and management. The competence reform is closely linked with the political decision-making system at national, regional and local levels. The Government therefore believes that the work of planning and implementing the proposals in the Report should be anchored in the public system and that the main responsibility should be given to the Ministry of Education, Research and Church Affairs. This assumes that the follow-up work will be carried out in cooperation with other ministries, the employer and employee organisations, and the various providers of education.

The Report to the Storting is the start of a process in which employers, employees and the authorities will have to help to build up competence. As regards the implementation of the various measures, the authorities will have to take the economic situation into consideration. A moderate price and wage trend is an essential element and will affect the authorities' possibility of contributing to a competence reform.

Definitions used in the Report:

Basic education

The term "basic education" is used for all training which gives formal qualifications in the area covered by the primary and lower secondary education, upper secondary education and higher education, regardless of whether the persons receiving the education are children, young people or adults and regardless of at what time in their lives they receive it.

Continuing education

"Continuing education" is used for all education which does not give formal qualifications in the area covered by the primary and lower secondary education, upper secondary education and higher education. Continuing education will thus include a very wide range of educational and training opportunities, varying in length and scope and type of documentation.

Non-formal learning

"Non-formal learning" is used for all the competence which a person has built up through paid or unpaid work, continuing education, leisure activities etc., and which supplements the competence this person has documented through basic education (see definition above). "Documentation of non-formal learning" means documentation of the competence that has not already been documented through basic education.

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