Academic dugnad at the University of Oslo

Academic dugnad at the University of Oslo

This is the final of a week-long coverage on refugees in Europe on the EAIE blog. Yesterday we looked at NOKUT’s country-wide response in Norway in the context of this crisis. Earlier this week, we saw examples from German and Hungarian higher education institutions. Today, the last of five blog posts on the refugee situation in Europe zooms in on the University of Oslo, Norway.

The refugee crisis in Europe presents a challenge for individual refugees and receiving societies. Academia can contribute to meet some of these challenges. Our staff at the University of Oslo has knowledge and experience that may provide an understanding of the background for the crisis, assist the government and help refugees to create new lives.

The University of Oslo made a call for an academic dugnad[i] in Norway – an extraordinary effort to integrate refugees and asylum seekers into our educational system. Our research communities were invited to provide input and suggestions for further action, and we have been receiving new ideas. Oslo and Akershus University College of Applied Sciences has been our partner from the very beginning, while the Norwegian Association of Higher Education Institutions (UHR) and more institutions are joining in. Our initiatives on the refugee situation can be found on our new website .

We know that the challenges are lining up. Many of the refugees have missing documents, and many will experience language barriers. To solve this, we must be creative. Those who lack documents may get their knowledge tested. Those who struggle with language will need training. A successful integration of refugees in Norwegian universities and colleges will require a partnership with all involved authorities and organisations. Of particular importance is the Norwegian Agency for Quality Assurance in Education (NOKUT), which is responsible for authorisation schemes for education abroad. NOKUT ensures that people with qualifications from foreign institutions can use their expertise in Norway. Given the large numbers in which refugees are arriving, NOKUT, too, will need additional resources.

Refugees that are coming to Norway will be residing all across the country, first in refugee reception centres and later in homes of their own. As Chair of the UHR, I am happy that the refugee crisis is now being discussed by the Board so that we can put a national effort in place.

Special attention to the issue

As an initial measure, the University of Oslo[ii] is arranging an information day on 1 December, 2015 for refugees with an academic background. Many refugees and asylum seekers have already obtained an academic degree; others were in the process of getting one when they were forced to leave their countries. Together with the Oslo and Akershus University College of Applied Sciences, Samordna Opptak (the Norwegian Universities and Colleges Admission Service) and NOKUT, we will go through the system of higher education in Norway, explaining what requirements must be met and how to meet them, and present the wide variety of higher education institutions spread across the country.

Our libraries will arrange a ‘free book market’, with books donated by our staff and students, to allow the attendees to return home with free literature. At the end of the day, we will set up meetings with students at the University of Oslo to talk about student life here. The presentations will be filmed and made available on our website, ensuring that refugees all over the country have access to this information.

The University’s Faculty of Social Sciences is also initiating a lecture series on the refugee situation on 24 November, 2015. The opening lecture will be given by Sir Paul Collier from the University of Oxford on “Exodus – How migration is changing the world”. This will be followed up by a series of lectures and seminars where researchers at the University of Oslo will move beyond the news to go deeper into the challenges and possibilities that the refugee situation represents.


Inspired by history, we advocate for what we call ‘Academic Passports’ for refugees (read more on this issue in yesterday’s blog post). Nansen passports[iii] were issued after WWI as travel documents for stateless refugees who needed a travel document but were unable to get one from their national authorities. In the same vein, an Academic Passport would ensure that once a refugee has been accepted for admission to a higher education institution in the European Higher Education Area (EAHA), the same recognition should be given by other institutions throughout the EHEA – even in cases where the refugee’s qualifications cannot be proven through documentary evidence.

The extent of the refugee disaster is hard to take in. Twelve times Norway’s population is displaced. Our hope is that the dugnad spirit that took hold of Norway a few months ago will continue and that we retain Nansen as our paragon in the face of the biggest refugee disaster since World War II.

Ole is Rector at University of Oslo and As Chair of the Norwegian Association of Higher Education Institutions.

[i] Dugnad derives from the Old Norse dugnaðr, meaning help, good deed. It describes a group of people doing voluntary work together for a specific purpose, as an extraordinary effort to create something of lasting value. The dugnad spirit is considered an important part of Norwegian culture.

[ii] The University of Oslo is a member of Science4Refugees – an initiative of the European Commission to help refugee scientists and researchers find suitable jobs that both improve their own situation and put their skills and experience to good use in Europe’s research system.

[iii] In 1922, Fridtjof Nansen received the Nobel Peace Prize for his work for refugees and the famine-stricken. In 1938, the Peace Prize went to the Nansen International Office for Refugees for the creation of the Nansen passports.