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PhDs in Norway

PhD Programs in Norway

by EH. Cocker and Mark Bennett

Why study for a PhD in Norway

A commitment to lifelong learning and independent thinking makes Norway a great place to study a PhD. 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 colonise Europe, Norway remains an enterprising nation. Today the country's modern approach to university study 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's excellent university system features several internationally ranked institutions and its oldest, The University of Oslo places in the world top 100. This means Norway offers PhD students an opportunity to conduct research in a stimulating environment, with the supervision of academic experts who are leaders in their fields. Internationalisation is also high on the agenda for Norwegian higher education, with large numbers of courses taught in English and an estimated 15,000 foreign students already enrolled at Norwegian universities.

PhDs in the Norwegian University System

Norway offers a variety of higher education institutions, offering research and training in a range of fields. The majority are state accredited, with seven universities and 22 university colleges covering a range of subject areas. More focussed training is offered by nine specialised university institutions and two national colleges of the arts. Private providers also operate, subject to institutional or programme approval.

A small number of private institutions offer PhD programmes, but the majority of doctoral training and research is undertaken at state run and accredited university-level institutions. This means that as a PhD student in Norway you will be able to pursue doctoral research at any of the country's universities, with several university colleges also offering PhD programmes.

Subject provision at individual universities may vary according to the research strengths and facilities of particular institutions, but doctoral training in all major academic fields is available across the Norwegian university system. In addition, Norway also offers relatively unique opportunities to pursue research and training in fields that take advantage of the country's dramatic location at the north of Europe and the edge of the Arctic. Other research programmes draw upon Norway's established strengths in marine research, energy and climate, medicine and health, food, communication technology, biotechnology, material science and nanotechnology.

The Norwegian academic year usually runs between August and June, with winter and spring holidays in addition to a longer summer vacation. Commencement dates for PhD research may be more flexible than those for taught programmes, but you will probably need to enrol at a suitable point to begin any formally timetabled training components.

Norwegian course structure and PhD content

The organisation of Norwegian programmes follows the collective aims and standards for European higher education established by the Bologna process, with undergraduate bachelors programmes followed by postgraduate Masters, then PhD degrees. Norway offers two routes to the PhD qualification, varying according to the amount of formal academic training and supervision involved.

The 'organised' PhD (philosophiae doctor) is the approach taken in the majority of cases and is similar to the doctoral programmes offered elsewhere in Europe. Students enrol for a formal programme of study and research, beginning with a training component (equivalent to 30 ECTS) following which the focus will be upon the research and writing of a doctoral thesis with regular academic supervision. These programmes typically take around three years to complete on a full time basis, but some are structured over four years, with 25% of this time reserved for teaching on courses at lower levels of study. Such programmes can be an excellent way to gain formal training and experience in university teaching alongside your doctorate.

Some universities also award 'free' (doctor philosophiae) degrees. These are similar to the 'PhD by portfolio' option offered in some other higher education systems. Students are not registered as PhD candidates and have no institutional affiliation during the research and writing of their thesis. Instead they apply with a completed thesis already prepared to a standard sufficient for examination. This form of doctorate is designed for candidates with substantial existing expertise relevant to their academic field and offers a means of formally acknowledging this achievement without requiring a period of formal study.

As a postgraduate student in Norway you are far more likely to enrol on a formal programme and pursue an 'organised PhD' than to submit directly for a Dr. Philos. examination.

Assessment and examination

The examination of a Norwegian doctoral thesis is undertaken by a committee of at least three academic experts, at least one of whom will be from outside your institution. Following their approval, you will defend your thesis orally. This takes place publically and may also require you to give one or more lectures on your subject in addition to answering questions on your thesis put forward by your examination committee.

Admissions and applications for a Norwegian PhD

To be eligible for a Doctorate degree in Norway you must have completed a Masters degree, usually a two year research Masters, or a corresponding degree from a professional training institution such as a school of Psychology, Dentistry, Medicine or Law. As an international student you should aim to apply to study in Norway between December and mid-March in the academic year prior to that of your desired enrolment.

Application procedure

Each institution has its own application procedure for doctoral candidates and it is best to contact them directly for information on how to apply. In order to be admitted to a PhD programme you may need to secure your funding in advance or apply for it alongside your main application.

Applicants are usually required to write a good project description for their subject area as well as completing any application forms (these will usually be available from your institution's website). Additional documentation may also be required to support your application. The following are examples of the material that you may be expected to provide:

  • Certified copies of all documents relevant to your educational background.
  • A description of your research project, including a time frame for completion.
  • A funding plan for the entire agreement period (3 - 4 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 PhD. programme is usually formalized in a written contract signed by the PhD 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).

Recognition of qualifications

As Norway is a member state of the European Higher Education Area (EHEA), qualifications are easily transferrable. The institution to which you are applying will 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.

Language requirements

As a PhD student in Norway you won't necessarily need to speak Norwegian, but you will need to speak English if you don't. A large number of Norwegian degree programmes are taught in English and this is particularly likely at postgraduate level.

With three or four years to spend in the country however, you might like to consider learning some Norwegian. Norwegian is rich in dialects and, unlike many other modern languages, actually has two written forms. Despite this, Norwegian is no harder to learn than other languages and its variant forms are easy to comprehend. In fact, if you've ever slalomed down a ski slope near a fjord, you already know at least three Norwegian words! What's more, Norwegian bears a lot in common with other Scandinavian languages such as Danish and Swedish. This means that some time spent picking up a bit of Norwegian won't just offer a unique learning experience: it will also provide you with useful skills for further work or study across the Scandinavian region.

Visas and immigration for PhD students in Norway

The majority of students who wish to study in Norway will need a student residence permit from the Norwegian Directorate of Immigration. This supersedes a visa (which is only valid for up to 90 days) and will be necessary for international students seeking to study a PhD in Norway. Exceptions apply to students from Nordic countries (Iceland, Denmark, Sweden and Finland) for whom a residence permit is not required.

Applications for a residence permit should be made to a Norwegian Foreign Mission in your home country. You can visit Norway's official web portal to locate your nearest mission or embassy. Alternatively, you may arrive in Norway and subsequently begin your application at a local police station. Be warned, however, that you will only be allowed to remain in Norway for three months without a permit and should therefore have all the necessary materials prepared to ensure a smooth successful application process.

The documents required for a permit application will include:

  • A completed application form with attached passport photograph.
  • Proof of acceptance at a recognised learning institution.
  • A statement proving that you possess sufficient maintenance funds.
  • Proof of valid health insurance, either through a private policy or reciprocal scheme.

Students from outside the European Union, European Economic Area and Switzerland will also need to provide:

  • Documentation of accommodation.
  • An outline of your proposed studies.

There is no processing fee for nationals of EU, EEA or EFTA countries, although students from elsewhere will usually have to pay a NOK 1,100 ($180) charge.

You can find more information about immigration requirements for international students in Norway at the website of the Norwegian Directorate of Immigration.

Norwegian identity numbers

Studying for a PhD in Norway will require you to live in the country for over six months and this means you should register with the National Registry and receive an identity number. This will allow you to open a bank account and get a student card.

PhD fees and funding in Norway

One of the most appealing aspects of studying a PhD in Norway is that, technically, it's free. What's more, funding is also available to help cover living costs for postgraduate students. Universities and State Colleges do not charge tuition fees to students, including international applicants. However there is a semester fee of NOK 300-600 ($50-100), which is sometimes applicable to PhD students. The fee grants you membership of the Student Welfare Organisation and is necessary for obtaining a student card, which gives reduced fares on public transport and discounts to various cultural events.


Though tuition for PhD study in Norway is largely free, living costs can be relatively high. You can offset these costs in various ways, through taking on teaching alongside your research or by acquiring other forms of part-time work. For more information on living costs and employment options for students studying in Norway, see our guide to Living in Norway as a Postgraduate Student.

Ranges of funding packages also exist to help support international PhD students in Norway:

  • Semester grants are primarily for students at European universities with departments for Nordic or Scandinavian studies. They support students taking a Norwegian subject at Doctoral level for a one to three month stay in Norway. The grant for this is NOK 9,250 ($1,500) per month plus travel expenses.
  • Nordplus Higher Education supports students in Baltic or Nordic countries to undertake programmes of study in other Baltic or Nordic countries, including Norway.
  • YGGDRASIL (Young Guest and Doctoral Researchers' Annual Scholarships for Investigation and Learning in Norway) 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.
  • The Quota Scheme offers scholarships to students from developing countries and countries in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. The scheme includes PhD courses taught in English and applications vary according to institutions.
  • The Norwegian State Educational Loan Fund is primarily intended for Norwegian citizens (but is open to some foreign citizens depending on their country of residence and their connection to Norway). This fund offers repayable loans and non-repayable grants to cover the cost of studying in Norway.

Our own postgraduate funding website provides a comprehensive database of small grants and bursaries available to support postgraduate study around the world, including travel bursaries, living cost support, fee waivers and exchange programmes. Click here to start searching for funding to study a PhD in Norway, or elsewhere.

Careers and employment with a Norwegian PhD

The high quality of Norway's higher education system makes its graduates highly attractive to academic institutions and professional employers around the world. In particular, your time spent studying in the Nordic region will prepare you well for a future in Scandinavia and northern Europe - especially if you've learned a little Norwegian alongside your PhD.

Certain research areas can also benefit immensely from the unique opportunities offered by Norway's location and facilities. After all very few other countries provide the opportunity to conduct research in the arctic!

Whatever your career goals, your time spent studying for a PhD in Norway will provide unique skills and experiences that will enhance several areas of your CV - as well as providing some great memories.

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by EH. Cocker and Mark Bennett

A PhD Student's Guide to Living in Norway

What's it like to study abroad in Norway as a PhD student?

Norway is a country of quiet determination. From the outside it 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 involve stark contrasts. Summer enjoys a seasonal 'midnight' sun whilst winter wraps up warm for a long, dark night. Norway is also home to some of the world's most breathtaking natural wonders, perhaps the most famous being the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights). Whilst studying for a PhD in the country you can take time out to visit the snow-capped mountains of Jotunheimen National Park, visit the phenomenal Norangs fjords, leap off the Holmenkollen Ski Jump, or go white-water rafting. Alternatively, in true Norwegian tradition, you could simply go hiking ('gå påtur'). Whatever you decide to explore, your time studying at the top of Europe will present opportunities to see and do things that few other international students have the chance to experience.

The vibrancy and variety of the Norwegian landscape is matched by its people. Norwegians consume more coffee per capita than any other country and read more newspapers. They've also been known to eat fish marinated in caustic soda and enjoy a 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 for a PhD.

Key facts

  • Norway has a population of a little over 5 million people, living in both rural and urban areas.
  • In addition to its main territory in the Scandinavian Peninsula, Norway also comprises the Svalbard archipelago situated in the Arctic Ocean and a dependency, Bouvet Island, in the sub-Antarctic. Svalbard is home to several Arctic research facilities, whilst Bouvet is the world's most remote island.
  • Norway is a constitutional monarchy, with a royal head of state under whom an elected prime minister serves as the head of government.
  • The Norwegian climate is generally cold, but more varied than you might expect. Weather in southern regions is relatively temperate, whilst the northern-most parts of the country experience relatively extreme winters. The country's high latitude also means its northern regions experience some unique phenomena, with the sun visible all day during parts of summer and never rising above the horizon for a month in winter.
  • Tourism in Norway is popular, with large numbers of visitors arriving each year to view the country's famous fjords as well as other unique landscape features. The country is a particularly popular destination for ski holidays, but other travellers come to experience Norway's Scandinavian heritage or to see spectacular wildlife such as polar bears and elks in their natural habitats.
  • The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Norway is the largest religious affiliation in the country and is administered through the state, but other faiths are practised freely.
  • The currency of Norway is the Norwegian kroner (NOK). NOK 1 is roughly equivalent to $0.16.
  • The language of Norway is Norwegian, which exists in two official written forms Bokmål and Nynorsk. English is commonly taught in Norwegian schools, leading to a population with a high degree of fluency.

Culture, leisure and everyday life for PhD students in Norway

Norwegians have adapted to their quite unique geographical circumstances and developed a culture that shrugs off the challenges and takes advantage of the opportunities offered by living at the very top of Europe. Norwegians are known for being stoical and resilient, but maintaining a surprising sense of humour. Much of the population still inhabits rural areas of the country and this means that even smaller towns and villages can be equipped with modern infrastructure, from broadband internet to restaurants and coffee-shops. This doesn't mean Norwegians spend their time indoors sheltering from the weather, though - instead, people in Norway are quite likely to go for a hike in all conditions. So, if you want to make the most of life in Norway, pack a sturdy pair of boots! If you do, you'll be well rewarded, with vast untouched landscapes and stunning scenery waiting to be explored.

These more insular pursuits haven't stopped Norwegian values and culture having a substantial international influence. Norway's political system has long been a model of democratic ideals, with proportional representation in elections and a tradition of equality for all citizens (Norway was one of the first countries to allow women to vote and elected one of Europe's first female prime ministers in 1981). Norway's other exports have also made their impact on the world stage - some quite literally so. Famous figures such as the composer, Edvard Grieg, the playwright, Henrik Ibsen and the painter, Edvard Munch, were all from Norway and the traditions of Romantic music, Realist drama and Expressionist painting that they helped found had a huge impact around the world. Today Norway is home to a variety of more contemporary artists, including musicians as diverse as the electronic duo, Röyksopp, and the black metal group, Dimmu Borgir.

Food and drink

Traditional Norwegian cuisine has been shaped by the limits and advantages of its northern location. Bread and seafood have historically predominated (Norwegians still know a surprising number of ways to prepare herring) but other international cuisines have been adopted and adapted in more recent years. This means that you'll probably be able to eat more or less whatever you fancy whilst studying for a PhD in Norway, but there are a few more characteristic dishes that you might like to keep an eye out for (whether to sample or avoid is up to you!).

Unsurprisingly, a lot of Norwegian food is based around fish. Tørrfisk is a fish dish preserved by drying rather than salting, sursild are pickled herring served in a range of sauces and fiskesuppe (as its name might suggest) is a fish soup, usually based on milk or cream with vegetables.

Other Norwegian dishes are more 'unique' and often stem from a historic need to make the most of different meats by preserving and serving them in particular ways. Two of the most striking examples are lutefisk, fish soaked in a caustic solution of water and lye, and smalahove, usually a sheep's head seared with a blowtorch or other flame and then boiled. Other dishes might be slightly more appealing to international palettes. Syltelabb, for example, consists of cured pigs trotter eaten as a snack. Kjøttkaker and kjøttboller are meat-cakes and meat-balls respectively, and are likely to be much more flavourful than any similar products you may or may not have purchased at large international furniture outlets.

When it comes to drinking, Norwegians are actually quite fond of coffee, but they do enjoy stronger beverages from time to time and the country is home to several traditional alcoholic drinks. Juleøl (Christmas beer) remains popular and Norway also produces its own distilled drinks, such as akevitt (a drink flavoured with caraway seeds) and some varieties of vodka. Norwegian law is relatively restrictive when it comes to the sale of alcohol, however, and this can mean that beers and wines are expensive when bought from pubs or restaurants.

Accommodation and living costs for PhD students in Norway

Living costs in Norway are generally quite high, partly as a result of relatively limited geographical resources in a country where much of the land is covered by mountain ranges that are difficult to inhabit or farm. A meal at an inexpensive restaurant will probably cost around NOK 150 ($25). If you're celebrating some successful research with a friend of departmental colleague, you'll probably pay around NOK 400 ($65) per person for three courses at a more up market restaurant. You'll generally pay less if you have the facilities to cook at home, but grocery prices are still higher than elsewhere in Europe. A loaf of fresh bread will cost between NOK 20 and NOK 25 ($3-4) and a dozen eggs will be around NOK 31 ($5). Meat can be particularly expensive, with 500g of chicken breast costing around NOK 53 ($9). Alcohol is also costly; a bottle of imported wine is likely to be around NOK 100-120 ($16-20) and beer is around NOK 30 ($5) a bottle.

Of course, with sufficient funding or other support and sensible budgeting, Norway is still an affordable place to live as a student. Depending on where you find yourself based you may also find relatively economical ways to shop for groceries, for example by taking advantage of local fish markets. The estimated annual budget for a year spent living as a student in Norway is around NOK 100,000 ($16,000). This breaks down into around NOK 2,400 ($390) a month for food and roughly NOK 500 ($80) per month for travel, depending on your individual requirements.


Universities may offer their own student accommodation and this often takes the form of dedicated 'student villages' in convenient sites on or near to university campuses. Your best bet will be to get in touch with their international office or student services department in advance to enquire about the possibility of housing and its availability to international PhD students. Where available, university accommodation will be cheaper than private alternatives. Prices for these will vary, but you can probably expect to pay around NOK 3,000-4,000 ($480-650) per month for a room, depending on location and facilities.

In addition to getting in touch with your prospective institution, there are a couple of useful online resources that can help you search for accommodation before you arrive. The website, Boligtorget, offers information on student housing across Norway.

Working as a PhD student in Norway

Though Norway is not a member of the EU, EU and EEA nationals (together with citizens of Nordic countries) are still entitled to work in Norway whilst studying. You will need to register for a residence card (see the information on Norwegian visas and immigration in our guide to studying in Norway), but will otherwise be able to seek work freely alongside your studies. Students from other countries will also be able to work in Norway in most cases, but may need to undergo additional registration at their local police station. You can find information specific to your country at the website of the Norwegian Labour and Welfare Administration, which offers an official guide to Working in Norway.

Don't forget that you can also use to search a comprehensive database of small grants available to all postgraduate students. These could be a great way of topping up your funding if you have any difficulty finding work alongside your studies.

Other useful information for PhD students in Norway

In addition to finding a place to live, deciding whether or not to look for a part-time job and getting your residence permit sorted, you'll want to sort a few other details before you head off to study a PhD in Norway. Click 'more' for a concise introduction to health insurance, communications, transport and banking for students in Norway.

Health insurance

As a result of reciprocal agreements, most PhD students in Norway will be covered by Norway's own Norwegian National Insurance Scheme for the purposes of emergency care and necessary treatment. Exceptions may apply if you are not covered by social security arrangements in your home country and are not a student of an EEA or Nordic country or Switzerland. You can find more information from Nordsoc, the Nordic Social Insurance Portal.


The official postal service in Norway is Posten Norge. Founded in 1647, Posten is one of the oldest companies in Norway, but is now owned by the Norwegian Government. Post-boxes and offices are available throughout Norway, with coverage in more rural areas as well as major cities. You can view detailed information about services and prices at the official Posten website If you own a mobile phone, you may be able to use it whilst studying in Norway, but, depending on your provider's roaming charges and partnerships with Norwegian networks, you may be better off taking up a local service. If you don't expect to use a mobile extensively then a kontantkort (pay as you go) service may be suitable. Some providers will also provide a temporary phone rental service for visitors or temporary residents in Norway. If your friends and family are calling you on a Norwegian landline, they will need to use the international dialing code +47. Norway's high-speed internet coverage is impressive given the dispersed nature of its towns and cities and the difficulties posed by its geography and climate. In fact, Norway was the first non-English country on the internet and access is now available to almost the entire population. You can read official informaton on Norwegian communications services at the website of the Norwegian Post and Telecommunications Authority.

Travel and transportation

Hiking might be a popular activity once you're in Norway itself, but you're better off starting small and arriving by boat or plane. International airports are located in and around major cities such as Oslo and Trondheim, and ferry operators also offer services connecting Norway with other parts of Europe. Once you're in Norway you'll be able to take advantage of rail and bus services to travel within and between cities, though you may find that the long journey to northern cities such as Tromso is still best taken by plane! Students are usually eligible for discounts on most public transport services. You can find up to date information on services and timetables at the website of Ruteinfo Norge.

Money and banking

Norway has a modern banking system with branches in major cities (and many smaller towns). Services such as online banking and international money transfers are readily available and foreign cards will usually be accepted. If you wish to open a bank account in Norway you should be able to do so, provided you have registered for a residence card and National Identity number.

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