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Doktor-Boom in Norway

Gael Dubus & C. Schoch

PhD studies in Norway have become increasingly popular and the number of degrees awarded between 1990 and 2006 (about 11,000) represents over two-thirds of the overall number of PhD students that have graduated since the beginning of this census.

While it lagged behind its Scandinavian neighbors during the 1990s, the ratio of research graduates in Norway is now higher than ever due to a combination of factors that have increased the popularity of PhD-level studies. Firstly, the Norwegian government have decided to dedicate 3% of the GDP to R&D, one-third of which is to come from public expenditure. Secondly, each PhD student receives funding to cover most of their course.  Add to this, the high standard of living in Norway (ranked second on the Human Development Index in 2007) is a factor that is responsible for attracting many foreign students. According to the doctoral register (Doktorgradsregistret), the proportion of non-Norwegian PhD graduates has risen from under 10% in 1990 to over 20% today, and it is these foreign PhD students in particular who are mainly responsible for the recent increase in the number of PhDs. In addition to this opening up to the international sphere, Norway has improved its male-female parity. The proportion of female PhD graduates has risen from 10% of the total number of graduates in the 1970s to around 40% over the last few years.

Norway affected by the Bachelor’s-Master’s-Doctorate

In the space of a few years, the old Norwegian diplomas have been replaced by the standardized PhD curriculum which will exist exclusively as of 2008. The distribution of the number of students in each discipline is also changing. Physics and Biology, Math and Technology accounted for 40% of the PhD students who graduated between 1990 and 2006, Humanities and Social Science about 30%, Medicine 25% and Agriculture and Veterinary Medicine 5%. All of these disciplines are seeing their student numbers rise, but this progression is particularly noticeable in the Humanities and Human and Social Sciences while it is weaker in the technological disciplines. This phenomenon could be linked to the rise in the number of female doctoral graduates of which there are more than their male counterparts in the Humanities and Social Science fields. The same is true in France.

An easy integration into the professional sphere
In Norway research studies traditionally lead to jobs in universities or research institutes. In 2003, 40% of doctoral students that graduated between 1990 and 2002 were working in higher education and 20% in R&D, a category that includes both private research institutes and companies. Nevertheless, the demand for qualified staff allows PhD graduates to find jobs in public administration or public service as well as in the petroleum industry. In short, in Norway PhD graduates have no trouble finding jobs. One year after graduating 90% of PhD graduates are employed. However, the average age of PhD graduates, very high compared with France, suggests that many of them were already in these jobs before beginning their theses. Indeed, while the number of years of study in higher education is similar- from 7 years for in the sciences to nearly 13 years for medicine, the age at which doctoral students give their defense varies between 33 in the technological disciplines to over 42 in Humanities. Why undertake such long studies? Besides increased specialization, which allows PhDs to enter a field that is of interest to them, it undoubtedly also gives them the chance to negotiate a higher salary.