More Chinese students than ever are applying to study in Norway, not least at business school NHH in Bergen. The increase comes despite chilly relations between Norway and China since the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to dissident Liu Xiaobo in 2010.
The diplomatic freeze, which has had a major impact on trade between Norway to China and now may be melting, has not, it seems, hampered the flow of human capital coming from China to Norway, reports newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN).
Free tuition and prestige
In the last 10 years, the number of Chinese students in Norway has more than tripled, according to Zhongying Kristoffersen, head of The Organization of Norwegian Chinese Cooperation (Norsk Kinesisk Samarbeidsorganisasjon, NKSO). This is partly because Norway is one of the few countries in the world to offer tuition-free higher education, but it’s also linked to greater mobility among Chinese students and because Norway is seen as prestigious, with its global importance in the oil, offshore and seafood industries.
The Norwegian School of Economics (Norges Handelshøyskole, NHH) in Bergen had 122 applications to their International Masters programs (in English) from Chinese students this year. Only 25 of them were awarded a place at the prestigious business school this fall. Many of the Chinese applicants had all the necessary qualifications but were turned down purely because of numbers, with less well-qualified students from other countries being offered places instead to enhance diversification.
“There are too many Chinese applicants in relation to other countries, and if you want to limit that, you have to set higher criteria,” Chinese student Julia Zheng (28) told DN. She’s one of the lucky few who got a place in NHH’s Master in International Business program. “Our average score is much higher than in other countries, that’s because there are so many of us.”
On NHH’s website which lists admission requirements for its Masters, it states that “regard to region can be taken into consideration to ensure variation in the international student body.” Individual universities and colleges set their own criteria for admission to their Masters degrees, but this kind of quota system does not exist at other institutes of higher education in Norway, where applicants are accepted purely according to their qualifications.
“Neither Chinese students nor others from countries with large populations would be well-served by coming to a place where they only met their fellow countrymen,” said the manager of NHH’s admissions panel for its Masters degrees, Anne Kari Bjørge, in defense of the quota system.
Record numbers of Norwegian students are also choosing to study in China, with figures from the state student loan agency Statens Lånekasse showing that China is now among the five most popular countries for Norwegians keen on studying abroad. Annual growth in the numbers of Norwegians heading for such universities as Qingdao, Fudan and Tongji is around 30 percent, according to Lånekassen chief executive Marianne Andreassen.
For many Norwegian businesses, meanwhile, access to Chinese markets has been restricted since the row broke out over the Peace Prize three years ago. Norwegian salmon producers have seen their exports to China dive, with market share for fresh salmon falling from 92 percent to just 29 percent last year despite strong demand from consumers. Some of the Norwegian salmon, though, reportedly is now entering China through Vietnam, while a process of reconciliation and a thaw in relations with the changeover to a new government in China is said to be underway.