University enters next 200 years

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Students have been entering and returning to university in Norway this week, and special ceremonies are in full swing at the University of Oslo. Its newly restored hall known as the Aula has also been the site of memorials after last month’s terrorist attacks – now it’s poised for more festive occasions.

The University of Oslo's downtown campus has long served as a gathering spot in the Norwegian capital, also here during a memorial ceremony for terror victims. PHOTO: Views and News

Among them will be special events planned in connection with the university’s 200th anniversary being celebrated this year. The University of Oslo was founded in 1811, after years of agitation from Norwegians who wanted their own university following centuries of Danish and then Swedish rule. Professor John Peter Collett told newspaper Aftenposten this week that “the history of the university is the history of Norway.”

Collett has led a major book project that tells the history of the university in no less than nine volumes. The university came into being after what Collett calls “the greatest national fund-raising effort” ever. It raised more than NOK 1 billion measured in current values, and no such effort for other causes has raised more.

It wasn’t only the timber barons or other wealthy citizens of the time who contributed. Small and moderate donations came “from high and low,” Collett said, to raise the university’s downtown campus that years later was greatly expanded through the newer campus at Blindern.

Asked what the university’s milestones have been, he noted that it included everything from dropping the use of Latin, to allowing women to enter, to the creation of the state student loan fund that allows all Norwegians to finance university if they qualify for entry. The loans fund their living expenses, as there is no tuition charged at Norwegian universities.

“The university has lived between the tension of its scientific and academic duties and its role as a community player, also political,” Collett told Aftenposten. “In our times, the development has been from an elite institution to one that educates broad groups of our youth.”

The university’s bicentennial comes as the Academic Ranking of World Universities for 2011 placed the University of Oslo in 75th place among the world’s universities. That’s the same as last year, reports news bureau NTB, and university officials were said to be pleased to be in the top 100 institutes of higher education in the world. Others think the University of Oslo should rank higher.

A new exhibition was due to open Thursday at the university to mark its first 200 years. Various research competitions are underway and a conference will be held on the university’s history and role in October. In November, Oslo will also serve as host for an international conference on academic history.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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