Norwegian municipalities have been asked to settle some 35 000 people in 2022, the majority of whom are women and children. This is expected to lead to pressure on the country’s health service and education system.
Temporary amendments to laws
It cannot be ruled out that the number of refugees will be higher than expected, particularly in the long term. In order to deal with the situation, temporary amendments have been proposed to a number of laws, including the Integration Act and the Education Act. The aim is to increase flexibility for faster settlement and participation in the Norwegian society. The proposal will be considered by the Norwegian Parliament in June 2022.
Norwegian municipalities and county municipalities are responsible for the integration of refugees, through settlement, training, and labour market services. According to the current Norwegian Integration Act, the competence of newly arrived refugees must be mapped before they are settled, to ensure suitable education and work opportunities. Refugees have the right to receive career guidance before settling in the municipalities. Career guidance is important for individuals to make informed choices about their education and work options.
Introduction programme for immigrants
Immigrants aged 18-55 who come from countries outside the Nordic region and the European Economic Area, and have been granted a residence permit in Norway, are obliged to participate in an introductory programme. The programme lasts from 3 months to 3 years (with possible extension) and is adapted to the participants’ level of education. It is focused on work- and education-related activities. Paid work and higher education (including higher VET) can be among these activities. In addition, it can include Norwegian language courses, social studies, life skills and parental guidance.
The temporary legislative amendments aim to make participation in the introductory programme a right rather than an obligation. A duration of 6 months is proposed for refugees to be able to transfer to work or higher education (including higher VET). For those without upper secondary education, the suggested duration is up to 3 years.
The government is offering more voluntary measures to enable municipalities to take in large numbers of refugees in a short time, such as Norwegian language training and – as an alternative to Norwegian – English language training.
The Education Act
According to the Education Act, all children who have resided in Norway for more than 3 months have the right to primary and lower secondary education, and municipalities must provide a fully fledged training offer within 1 month. The government proposes extending it to 3 months to allow for more flexibility. Training can be organised in separate groups, until refugees are able to follow teaching in the Norwegian language. Currently, consent of both the parents and the learners themselves is required to provide refugees education in separate groups. In the new proposal, the government intends to remove the consent requirement. This will give municipalities some flexibility in organising the offer for both children and adults. Ukrainian children will have the right to education in their mother tongue until they can participate in regular classes.
All young people who have completed primary school are entitled to 3 years of upper secondary education. Training is voluntary and available in two directions – for study or vocational education and training, both at level 4 of the Norwegian qualifications framework.
Few refugees were able to meet the application deadline for upper secondary education, which expired in March. The government is promoting school capacity building for the autumn, and many upper secondary schools have already begun enrolling Ukrainian learners. They are offered tuition in selected subjects, such as Norwegian, English, and physical education. Distance learning from their home country has also been reported.
In Norway, only citizens can receive a loan or a scholarship for education. Foreign nationals can get loans and scholarships, provided they have legal residency status. This right applies to Ukrainian refugees under collective protection.
Recognition of foreign education
There are several schemes for recognition of foreign education in Norway. Upper secondary education from several countries is recognised in order to obtain general competences with access to higher education and some types of higher vocational education. For some countries (including Ukraine), access to upper secondary education requires one additional year of higher education. Persons from Ukrainian upper secondary education must also be able to document sufficient knowledge of Norwegian and English. The introductory programme aims to address the knowledge gaps, and the transition to higher education or higher vocational education.
Ukraine is not included in the scheme for approved foreign vocational training. The Norwegian Agency for Quality Assurance in Education (NOKUT) has made an initial assessment of Ukrainian vocational training to see if Ukraine can be included in the scheme. The survey shows that Ukraine offers vocational education at several levels, with models corresponding to the Norwegian upper secondary education level. NOKUT's recommendations and assessments are currently being processed in the Ministry of Education and Research.
NOKUT offers automatic recognition of certain higher vocational and academic education programmes from selected countries. It is a standardised statement that shows what foreign education corresponds to in Norway. The scheme has been extended to cover education from Ukraine. It will also be important for quick access to the Norwegian labour market, where a large number of jobs require high formal qualifications.