We are a group of over 400 concerned university and college employees who wish to discuss the feasibility of the proposed language requirements in light of economic consequences and previous research, states the authors of the opinion.(Photo: Private)
Should all PhD candidates learn Norwegian? We are concerned
OPINION: According to the Action Plan for Norwegian Academic Language, all temporary employees are required to attend Norwegian courses, and all permanent employees must become proficient in Norwegian within 3 years. Over 400 researchers assess the implications this will have on the sector.
Karina Rose Mahan, Associate Professor in Teaching English as a Second Language, NTNU Nicole Busby, Associate Professor in English Linguistics, NTNU Gessica De Angelis, Professor of multilingualism, NTNU Julie Flikke, PhD candidate in internationalization, NTNU Svenja Hammer, Associate Professor of social work, NTNU Eliane Lorenz, Senior Lecturer of multilingualism, Justus LiebigUniversity
With increasing internationalization and the use of English in Norwegian
academia, Norwegian academic language has once again come into focus. To
promote the use of Norwegian in academia, several measures have been
We wonder about the relevance of introducing Norwegian course requirements for temporary employees.
In 2023, an action plan for Norwegian academic language was
presented by the government. It proposes ways to strengthen the use and
development of Norwegian academic language.
Among other things, the action plan
proposes regulations stating that all employees in a permanent academic position
must reach at least level B2 in Norwegian (higher intermediate level) within 3
years from the start of their contract. Furthermore, all international Ph.D.
candidates and postdoctoral fellows must have completed at least 15 credits in
Norwegian courses before the end of their contract.
We are a group of over 400 concerned university and college employees
who wish to discuss the feasibility of the proposed language requirements in
light of economic consequences and previous research. Our position, in line
with the action plan, is that Norwegian academic language is important for
Norwegian students and employees should have access to a
fully developed Norwegian academic language. It would be a loss for Norwegian
culture and democracy if this were to gradually disappear. At the same time, we
are concerned about how feasible the new measures are to achieve these goals.
Particularly international employees, who are often in vulnerable
situations in a new country, must be taken into consideration and have a say in
this debate. Measures must be balanced in a way that aligns with both labor laws
and equality laws. Everyone deserves a manageable work situation.
Our first concern is the economic consequences of requiring all
temporary international employees to attend Norwegian courses. Part 3 of the
action plan acknowledges that this will be the biggest challenge in
implementation. However, the action plan has not presented any form of needs
analysis for how many resources this will require, or if the measures are feasible.
We have investigated these figures at NTNU, one of the universities with
the highest number of international employees in Norway. NTNU has less than
half of the available study places for
Norwegian courses if it were required that all doctoral candidates and
postdoctoral fellows must take 15 credits in Norwegian. It is also possible to
take Norwegian courses outside the university, but these courses are much more
expensive and often have long waiting lists.
In addition, there are economic aspects to take into consideration. We
have calculated that with the costs of the courses and hours in the work plan
for all international employees, it would cost over 223 million kroner in
courses, time, and resources for NTNU to cover all language requirements.
is a total sum (not annual), but the university continuously hires
international employees annually. What does this mean for the institutions if
so much of the resources are to be spent on Norwegian courses? What will be
Consequences for temporary employees
We are positive towards the idea that Norwegian courses can be offered
to a greater extent, but mandating temporary employees to complete 15 credits
in Norwegian is problematic for several reasons. Especially doctoral candidates
are already burdened with work, and Norwegian courses will subtract from time
to research. The main argument of the action plan is that Norwegian must be
maintained as the language of instruction, but far from all temporary employees
It is also
unclear whether temporary employees will then receive an extended contract (an
additional 3 months) or if Norwegian courses are considered something extra
that temporary employees must do in their spare time. Should the funds for
Norwegian courses come out of the operating funds of the doctoral candidate, so
they have fewer funds than their Norwegian counterparts?
We wonder about the relevance of introducing Norwegian course
requirements for temporary employees. Will this help with motivation to learn a
new language in a new country? To what extent will this requirement further
develop Norwegian academic language?
The language requirements are not in line with
Learning a language takes time. A large study from the USA examined how
long it took over 12 million immigrants to learn English when they arrived in
the country. With 660 hours of instruction, it took an average of six years for
adult immigrants to be able to use English at an approximate B2 level.
In comparison, NTNU offers only 234 hours of Norwegian courses to its permanent
employees, and permanent employees are expected to achieve level B2 within 3
It is also worth mentioning that level B2 is rarely a high enough language
level to be able to teach a complex subject in depth.
We lack research on how long it takes adult immigrants to learn
Norwegian as a second language; especially in a context where there is
significant work pressure. There are also significant differences in mother
tongues; employees with German, for example, will have a much greater advantage
than employees with Mandarin or Persian.
We believe it is important to research
to see how many resources and how much time it takes before we regulate how
much Norwegian international employees must learn. It is important that
institutions provide enough resources for international employees to have the
conditions to meet these requirements.
A recent study from NTNU indicates that one in three international
employees state they need more than three years to learn Norwegian at a B2
This is something that Danish language policy has facilitated. At the
University of Copenhagen, for example, employees are given up to six years to
teach in Danish. Therefore, we wonder why the action plan presents 3 years,
when research indicates that this is not enough time.
The study from NTNU also suggests that seven out of ten international
employees are highly motivated to learn Norwegian, but only half receive
support from their leaders. In other words, there are structural and economic
challenges underlying why international employees do not always reach level B2
within the standard time. Will a new regulation change this, or will it require
strengthened resources and infrastructure from the institutions over a longer
Critical questions for the authors of the
We have some ethical questions for those who developed the action plan
for Norwegian academic language. To what extent were international employees
included in the development of the action plan? Since the action plan is
aimed at international employees, we wonder if international employees have had
the opportunity to participate in developing and commenting on the action plan.
We note that the action plan has only been available in Norwegian - also during
the consultation phase until 28.04.23. During the consultation phase, mainly
Norwegian leaders from various institutions have responded. This is problematic
from a perspective of democracy and citizenship. Are international employees
at universities and colleges aware of the regulations that will soon apply to
Regulating an individual responsibility to increase Norwegian competence will increase the likelihood of vulnerable minorities facing negative job consequences.
Furthermore, we wonder why requirements for international employees are
being regulated, but not for employees who have Norwegian as their first
language. The action plan emphasizes a high level of Norwegian competence for
However, there are very few measures and obligations for
Norwegian-born employees. This is striking when as many as 70 per cent of researchers
in Norway are Norwegian - much of the development of Norwegian academic
language could have been done by this majority group. It shows a high degree of
trust that Norwegians are not subjected to requirements, but rather
strengthened with resources. The same does not apply to international
Therefore, we ask: What responsibilities do employees with
Norwegian as their first language have, and why are these not regulated
similarly? Do international employees have the same responsibility to maintain
and develop Norwegian academic language, or can we recognize their other
languages as a resource?
Our position is that there are structural problems underlying why
international employees may struggle to learn Norwegian. Therefore, these
problems require structural solutions where universities are held more
accountable for the training and resources provided.
Regulating an individual
responsibility to increase Norwegian competence will increase the likelihood of
vulnerable minorities facing negative job consequences. We must therefore also
discuss the ethical pitfalls of imposing language requirements; especially in
terms of equity. At the same time, we emphasize the economic consequences of
regulating language requirements, and that previous research indicates that
three years is not enough time to reach level B2.
We hope that the government will take these arguments into consideration
when the language requirements are up for regulation.