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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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