School and Education in Norway

Education is compulsory and free for children and adolescents aged 6-16. All youth between the ages of 16 and 19 are legally entitled to three years of upper secondary education.

Organization of education in Norway


Kindergartens are administered by the Ministry of Education, but the responsibility for the operation lies with the municipalities. Many kindergartens are privately run. These are subject to municipal control and may also receive municipal guidance. The government’s goal is for kindergartens to be accessible to all children and regardless of their parents’ finances. The kindergarten subsidy is financed by the municipalities’ free income. This means that it is the municipalities that decide how much they will spend in kindergartens over their municipal budgets. Figures for 2018 show that there are 278 578 children in kindergarten. At the end of 2018, 91.7 percent of children between the ages of 1 and 5 had kindergarten space. 96 percent of children attending kindergarten have full-time jobs, and the proportion has increased gradually over the past few years.

Norway Country Flag

Primary school

The 10-year primary school is compulsory and free for children and adolescents between 6 and 16 years. It is divided into the child stage (1st – 7th year) and the youth stage (8th – 10th year). The education in primary school is based on the curriculum for primary school and upper secondary education introduced through the school reform called the Knowledge Promotion, which was introduced over a three-year period from the 2006/2007 school year. It is decided that all curricula in primary school should be renewed to give students more in-depth learning and better understanding. This is part of a long-term renewal work that builds on the Knowledge Promotion and is called the professional renewal. The elementary school will receive new curricula from the start of school in 2020.

Sami pupils and pupils with sign language as their first language have their own customized curricula. Elementary school is based on the Unity School Principle, an equal and adapted education for everyone in a coordinated school system. All children and young people shall participate in a common knowledge, culture and value base. The curricula for the subjects contain objectives, main areas, discussion of basic skills, competence objectives and provisions for final assessment in the subject. For subjects common to primary and secondary education, the curricula are pervasive for the entire 13-year undergraduate education.. The curricula in the subjects require that the specific content of the training, how the training should be organized and the working methods to be used in the training, are determined at the local level at the individual school. The right to primary school education applies to all children staying in Norway for more than three months. All pupils with a mother tongue other than Norwegian or Sami have the right to special Norwegian education until they can follow the normal teaching in the school. Students who receive special education in primary school are entitled to an individual education plan. All municipalities must have a school leisure scheme (SFO) for pupils in 1-4 year.

In the 2018-2019 school year, 636 350 pupils were enrolled in Norwegian primary schools. From the 2019-2020 school year, the teacher standard for primary school shall be introduced. See for all countries starting with N.

Secondary education

All youth between the ages of 16 and 19 are legally entitled to three years of upper secondary education. This training should lead to study, vocational or sub-competence. The county council has a statutory duty to follow up youth between the ages of 16 and 19 who are not in education or work (the follow-up service). Norway has a uniform secondary school with coordinated general education and vocational training. Higher education is organized with twelve different study preparation and vocational education programs. The apprenticeship scheme, a combination of education in school and working life leading to professional letters/letters of reference, is part of the higher education system. The first two years of education are given in school, while the final specialization of normally two years is given in education in the working life. Students who receive special education in upper secondary education are entitled to an individual training plan.

In the fall of 2019, 92.8 percent of all 16-18-year-olds in Norway were registered as pupils, apprentices or trainees in upper secondary education.

There are 82 public colleges in Norway with 703 lines. The schools have over 7,000 full-year students, and most students are between the ages of 18 and 25. A few schools have a 16 year limit and no one has an upper age limit. The folk high school year lasts for nine months, from August to May. It is common to attend folk high school right after high school. In addition, the public colleges have shorter courses. Most are boarding schools owned and run by Christian organizations, independent foundations and counties.

Vocational schools

Vocational schools offer higher vocational education that lasts from half to two academic years and is at the level of upper secondary education. The education provides competence that can be used directly in working life. In order to enter vocational school, you must have passed higher education or have equivalent real competence. There are both public and private vocational schools. About half of the vocational schools are public and are mainly run by the county authorities. The term vocational school and vocational education can only be used for approved offers, and it is the National Agency for Quality in Education – NOKUT that oversees and approves vocational education.

In the fall of 2018, there were 16,308 students in vocational education. There are about 80 public and private vocational schools in Norway. As of spring 2019, there are 898 study programs available. The vocational schools collect education with very different histories and professional traditions.

Higher education

Higher education includes education at universities, scientific colleges, state colleges, art colleges and private colleges.

Norway has ten universities:

  • University of Oslo(UiO)
  • University of Bergen(UiB)
  • Norwegian University of Science and Technology(NTNU)
  • Arctic University of Norway(UiT)
  • University of Stavanger(UiS)
  • University of the North
  • University of Agder(UiA)
  • The Norwegian University of Environmental and Life Sciences(NMBU)
  • OsloMet – Metropolitan University
  • University of Southeast Norway

There are six science colleges with state ownership:

  • Oslo School of Architecture and Design(AHO)
  • Norwegian School of Music(NMH)
  • The Norwegian School of Sport(NIH)
  • Oslo Academy of the Arts(KHiO)
  • Molde University College- academic college of logistics
  • Norwegian School of Economics(NHH)

There are five state colleges:

  • Sami University College(Sámi allaskuvla)
  • The College of Western Norway(HVL)
  • Inland University College(HINN)
  • Volda University College(HVO)
  • Østfold University College(HiØ)

The Faculty of Theology in Oslo is a private academic college. The universities and the scientific colleges have teaching and research as their main tasks.

Furthermore, there are a number of other state colleges in Norway. These mainly offer shorter, vocational studies with a study period of two to four years. The defense has four military colleges. There are also a number of private colleges, especially in the fields of economic administration, health care, media and arts education and theological education. Most of these are small. BI Norwegian Business School is by far the largest private college with about 20,000 full-time and part-time students, and Kristiania University College with about 8,000 students in the fall of 2018. With the quality reform introduction in 2003 the higher education institutions were given greater responsibility and freedom. From 1 January 2016, a number of colleges and the university have joined forces. The aim of the changes was to improve the quality of higher education and research. A new degree structure has been introduced with the international bachelor’s, master’s and PhD’s. grade instruments.

The National Agency for Quality in Education (NOKUT) was established in 2003 to monitor and evaluate higher education institutions and study programs. More focus on students’ learning and new forms of assessment was also emphasized in the reform. The University and University Council (UHR) is a cooperative body for the state higher education institutions.

34.1 percent of the Norwegian population has education at university and college level. 35.3 percent of 19-24 year olds were in higher education in 2018.

Adult Education

At all levels of education, adult education is run in parallel with the teaching provided in the school system. Responsibility for adult education is shared between the public and student associations, which is a joint body for the voluntary information organizations. Furthermore, labor market courses are organized, which are vocational qualification courses in collaboration between the authorities, study associations and the school.

In 1976, the Adult Education Act came to give adults the opportunity to develop their skills. The Competence Reform of 1998 strengthens the right of adults to education and emphasizes that adults can develop new competence based on the basis they already have and that the knowledge acquired must be recognized and documented. All adults above the age of compulsory education have the right to compulsory education and upper secondary education. From 2001, adults’ real competence acquired through professional practice, organizational work or otherwise shall be regarded as an integral part of upper secondary education and count for admission to higher education (real competence assessment).

Private schools

There are private schools at all levels of education. Private schools that fall under the Free Schools Act receive public support and must be approved by the Directorate of Education. Most private schools are schools of vision or schools with alternative educational arrangements. All private schools must follow the public school curricula. In 2017, there were 244 private primary schools in Norway. About 3 percent of children in primary school and 8 percent of high school students attend private schools (2017). There are also private colleges.

Management of education in Norway

The Ministry of Education and Research has the overall responsibility for all education. The primary school is run by the municipalities, upper secondary education of the county municipalities, while universities and colleges are state. Expenditure on education in Norway accounts for 7.3 percent of gross domestic product (GDP); the average in the OECD countries is 11 percent (2017). In the counties, it is the county governor who performs state tasks at the regional level, and who ensures that laws and regulations for the school are followed. The Directorate for Education is the Ministry’s executive body and is mainly responsible for quality development in the school, including new curricula, national exams, teaching development and exams.

Norwegian school laws

Due to the major changes in the reform of primary and secondary education in the 1990s, a common law for primary and secondary education (Education Act) was adopted in 1998. The Free Schools Act 2003 applies to all private schools that receive public support. The folk high schools have their own law (the Folk High Schools Act of 2002). Adult education is regulated by the Adult Education Act of 1976.

The Law on Universities and Colleges of 2005 applies to all state and private higher education institutions.

Level of education

Norway has a high level of education. The educational level of the population is constantly increasing and has never been higher than today.

In 1969, nine years of compulsory education became compulsory. From the 1970s, the universities experienced explosive growth and in 1994 a statutory right to higher education was introduced.

Development in educational level

The table below shows the level of education in the Norwegian population. The table shows the education of those over 16. While there are more people taking higher education, the proportion who have only primary school is declining.

1970 1980 1990 2000 2018
Primary school 53.2 48.8 41.5 33.7 25.8
High school 39.4 39.9 42.9 44.3 37.2
University and college level short 5.7 8.9 12.3 17.2 24.1
University and college level long 1.7 2.4 3.2 4.8 10.0