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Why Study for a PhD in Norway?

by EH.Cocker

Norway is fully committed to lifelong learning and independent thinking. In fact Norwegians have never been afraid to go their own way, and although things have moved on a bit since the Vikings sailed out in their longboats to colonize Europe, Norway remains an enterprising nation. Today, their modern approach to forward thinking embraces a policy of “education for all”, meaning there are no tuition fees for higher education and Norwegians often continue studying throughout their careers. Norway offers students the opportunity to learn in a stimulating environment with some of the best academics, obtaining internationally recognised qualifications. Additionally, many courses are instructed in English, giving students the chance to improve their language skills and embrace an international learning environment.

About Norway

Norway is a country of quiet determination. From the outside its may seem reserved and somewhat mysterious, but warmth, ambition and resolve run as deep as the fjords that form its rugged coastlines.

Norway’s seasons transpire with stark contrast, summer enjoys a seasonal ‘midnight’ sun whilst winter wraps up warm for a long, dark night. It is home to some of the world’s most breathtaking natural wonders, perhaps the most famous being the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights). You can also visit the snow peaked mountains of Jotunheimen National Park, enjoy the phenomenal Norangs fjords, jump off the Holmenkollen Ski Jump and go white-water rafting. Or, in true Norwegian tradition, you can simply go hiking (“gå påtur”).

Norwegians consume more coffee per capita than any other country and read more newspapers. They also eat fish marinated in caustic soda and enjoy a nice blow-torched sheep’s head for dinner. With its quirky nature, forward thinking and extreme love of extreme sports, Norway is a rich and dynamic place to study.

Where can I study?

You can pursue a Doctoral programme anywhere from the capital city of Oslo to the student centred town Trondheim, or even venture out into the more rural districts of Svalbard in the arctic. Doctoral degrees are offered by university level institutions as well as by a few state colleges and some private colleges.

What can I study?

Norway strives to be one of the leading Nations in the field of research. As a country it invests highly in education across all sectors. Finding the right place to pursue your Doctoral degree is important, so take time to find out about your chosen place of study. In addition to the humanities, social sciences and natural sciences, every institution in Norway has their own specialist area.

Typically, Norway’s main areas of development in industry include marine research, energy & climate, medicine & health, food, communication technology, biotechnology, material science and nanotechnology.

How is the Ph.D. structured?

A Ph.D. takes 3 years in Norway and is essentially a research programme. There are two forms of Doctoral degree in Norway. The “organised” Ph.D. is composed of a training component (equivalent to 30 ECTS) in addition to the dissertation: the independent piece of work forming the main body of the qualification. If the dissertation is approved before international standards in its relevant field it must be defended at a public academic debate. The “free” Dr. Philos. comprises no formal training or supervision and is usually not part of the institutions formal Ph.D. programme. The scientific status of the two is the same, however.

PhD Study in NorwayA number of Ph.D. programmes are structured as 4 year programmes including 25% teaching at lower levels.

Entry requirements

As Norway is a member state of the European Higher Education Area (EHEA), qualifications are easily transferrable. Their degree system is based on a Bachelors, Masters and Ph.D. structure, and with the ECTS (European Credit Transfer System) has been successfully implemented to allow for internationally recognised post-graduate qualifications.

The institution to which you are applying usually deal with the transferral of degrees and credits from foreign institutions. However, you can contact the Norwegian Agency for Quality Assurance in Education (NOKUT) for assessment of your qualifications and ECTS credits.

To be eligible for a Doctorate degree in Norway you must have completed a Masters degree, usually a 2 year research Masters, or a corresponding degree from a professional training institution such as a school of Psychology, Dentistry, Medicine or Law.

Application process

Each institution has its own application procedure and it is best to contact them directly for information on how to apply. In order to be admitted to a Ph.D. programme you may need to secure your funding in advance or apply for this along with the application for admission.

Applicants are required to write a good project description for their subject area; application forms are downloadable from the institution’s website. As a guide, the following is an example of the documentation that you may be expected to provide along with your application:
  • Certified copies of all documents relevant to your educational background
  • A description of the project, including a time frame for completion
  • A funding plan for the entire agreement period (3 years of full-time study), information about the funding source, the employer (if applicable) and the type of funding (e.g. stipend or purchase of release time from permanent employment)
  • A statement outlining any large-scale scholarly or material resource requirements
  • The name of at least one proposed academic supervisor, unless otherwise stipulated in the programme requirements

The institution may request additional documentation requirements. Admission to a Ph.D. programme is usually formalized in a written contract signed by the Ph.D. candidate, supervisor, basic academic unit and the faculty. The contract sets down the rights and obligations of the parties during the admission period (contract period).

When should I apply?

Application deadlines vary across institutions. Usually there is no ‘official’ deadline to Doctoral 
programmes and applicants are admitted continuously.

Do I need to speak Norwegian?

Not necessarily, but you will need to speak English if you don’t. Although Norwegian is the official language the vast majority of Norwegians learn English at a young age, making Norway a great place to improve your English. More and more programmes are taught in English, particularly at post-graduate level.

Fees, Funding and Scholarships

One of the most appealing aspects of Norwegian education is that, technically, it’s free. Universities and State Colleges do not charge tuition fees to students, including international applicants. However there is a semester fee of NOK 300-600, which is sometimes applicable to Ph.D. students. The fee grants you membership to the Student Welfare Organisation and is necessary for obtaining a student card, which grants reduced fares on public transport and discounts to various cultural events.

It is worth noting that the general cost of living in one of the world’s top-ranking countries is comparatively high and as a Ph.D. student you will need to find funds. Often students take up a paid position as a research fellow at the University; these can often be found on the institution’s job vacancy page. Additionally, scholarships for Doctoral degrees are sometimes available via the following schemes:

Semester grants

Semester grants are primarily for students at European universities with departments for Nordic or Scandinavian studies. They offer students taking a Norwegian subject at Doctorate level a 1-3 month stay in Norway. The grant is NOK 9,250 per month plus travel expenses.
Application deadlines: 15 March / 15 October
Click here for more information

Nordplus Higher Education

Students enrolled at institutions in Denmark - including Greenland and Faeroe Islands, Estonia, Finland - including Åland, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway and Sweden may be eligible for funding to spend time studying in another Nordic or Baltic country. For more information contact your home university or the national agency.
Click here for more information

YGGDRASIL- Young Guest and Doctoral Researchers' Annual Scholarships for Investigation and Learning in Norway

YGGDRASIL offers mobility grants to highly qualified, international Ph.D. students and researchers from 25 countries. The grants allow for a 1-10 month stay in Norway.
Click here for more information

Quota Scheme

The Quota Scheme offers scholarships to students from developing countries and countries in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. The scheme includes Ph.D. course taught in English and applications vary according to the institution. To find out more about available courses. Click here for more information

The Norwegian State Educational Loan Fund

Primarily for Norwegian citizens (but open to some foreign citizens depending on their country and their connection to Norway) this fund offers a loan (repayable) and grant (non- repayable) to cover studying costs in Norway.
Click here for more information


Many Norwegian universities offer accommodation to post-graduate students (typically as a single rented room) but often, as a Ph.D. student, you will be required to find independent lodgings.

The Euraxess web portal for incoming researchers has an updated list of housing websites and estate agents in Norway.

Living Costs

There’s no point in hiding the fact that Norway is an expensive place to live. So, given that it’s always best to come prepared, here’s where you might find most of your money going:

  • Housing: In between your studies and your work you will need a place to call ‘home’.  Housing will be your single biggest expense; a modest room in someone's basement can cost NOK 3000 a month (not necessarily including Internet, heat or electricity). Plan on roughly NOK4000 a month for housing, or more if you want more space.
  • Food: Norwegians pay good money for their food. You can expect to spend around NOK 2400 a month, or about NOK 600 a week, on your food. This may sound like a lot, but for Norway it’s not.
  • Transport: This varies but you should plan on at least NOK 500 a month. A 30-day bus pass (AtB) will cost NOK 350. For travel a little farther afield you can use the aptly named regional bus system, Nor-Way, or the national train system, NSB. If you book your train in advance you can get a heavily reduced fare called a minipris.

Norwegian Identity Number

You’re going to need an Identity Number if you’re staying in Norway over 6 months. This is an 11 digit number and can be obtained by registering with the National Registry via the local tax office (Likningskontar). You will need this number to open a bank account, get a student card and apply for a loan from the Norwegian State Education Loan Fund.

If you are from one of the Nordic countries you can apply for a D-number instead. Again, you need this to open a bank account in Norway. To apply for the D-number contact your local assessment office or, if you are located abroad, contact the Office of the National Registrar in Osio.


EU/EEA/EFTA nationals

If you are a citizen of an EU/EEA/EFTA country, you no longer need to apply for a residence permit, but you must make a registration. You can make a preliminary registration at www.udi.no and then you need to visit a police station to complete the registration.

International Ph.D. students financed through employment

If you come from a country that requires a visa to travel to Norway you should apply for a skilled worker residence permit at the Norwegian embassy in your home country. If you can travel to Norway without a visa you can apply for a residence permit from within Norway. The residence permit application will require a copy of your employment contract. For more details about the application process, you can visit www.udi.no.

International Ph.D. students financed through scholarships or non-employment sources

You should apply for a residence permit at the Norwegian embassy in your home country. The residence permit application will require proof of admission to the Ph.D. programme, housing and financing guarantee. Residence Permits and renewals are processed at the local police station.

Documentation requirements will vary from country to country and are subject to change so for up to date information contact the Norwegian Foreign Service mission closest to you. If you are in Norway, contact the local police or the Directorate of Immigration.

Visit the Norway Portal to locate the Norwegian embassy or consulate general nearest you.

Nordic citizens

Nationals of the Nordic countries of Iceland, Denmark, Sweden and Finland do not need a student residence permit.

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