Students crowd into universities

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Norway’s colleges and universities are becoming increasingly crowded, and officials worry that capacity won’t meet demand in coming years. Space in lecture halls is already at a premium at many schools, with an estimated 100,000 additional students due to enroll by 2020.

A sharp increase in college-age Norwegians is behind much of the expected growth. A tight labor market caused by the global finance crisis also has prompted more young people to study when they can’t find jobs.

Newspaper Aftenposten reports that no plans are in place to deal with the emerging expansion needs at most of the country’s institutions for higher education. “From a standpoint of solidarity, we can’t refuse to accept more students,” says Ole Petter Ottersen, head of the University of Oslo. “But if we have to accept many new students without the proper financial backing, the quality of their education will fall.”

Officials at the University of Bergen have discussed various “crisis plans” to accommodate an influx of new students, says Kuvvet Atakan, vice-president of the University of Bergen. “We want to determine how many we can handle, and also what society needs,” says Atakan, referring to which academic areas will need the most new capacity.

A recent study by the state ministry of education estimates that the amount of Norwegians aged 19 to 30 will grow by 150,000 by 2020, up 20 percent from today. Not all of them will pursue higher education, but around two-thirds probably will.

The student newspaper Universitas writes that competition for university acceptance will grow. “The increase in the number of students will be a major challenge,” agrees Ola Stave, secretary general of the council on higher education, Universitets- og høyskolerådet . “We need buildings, equipment, teachers and operational funding to take in all the new students.

“We’re looking for signals from the education ministry that they know how they’ll deal with this. We need some action, soon.”