Studying for a PhD in Norway

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Norway is a nation of contrasts: bustling cities like Oslo, and vast tracts of unspoilt countryside; cosy cafes and a passion for active sport; high salaries and difficulties with recruitment. That difficulty extends to the higher education sector, which in recent years has led Norwegian universities to advertise further afield for top-notch PhD candidates.

The focus here is on science and technology PhD programmes, though these often come with an intriguing social sciences twist. PhD programmes also, importantly, usually come without tuition fees and with a reasonable salary—and full participation as a sort of junior researcher/faculty member at the university.

Three busy years

Most PhD programmes in Norway are taught, highly structured, three-year courses. You will be expected to complete a certain number of credits as well as carry out independent research and write your thesis.

Some programmes also include a fourth year, during which you are expected to give back to your university via teaching.

Basic requirements

Applicants must have completed five years of higher education, including a Masters degree. This can be an impediment for some UK-based applicants who hold a one-year Masters, but you can discuss this with the institution. Some programmes have their own, additional requirements. You are expected to write a preliminary research plan as part of the application process.

You’ll also need to have your funding fully set up in advance, whether that is provided via EU funding (such as a Marie Curie individual grant), your employer (via the Research Council of Norway—see Resources—or directly), or a scholarship offered by the university itself or a third party.

Your finished thesis will need approval from a committee of three senior academics. Defense of your thesis is then completed via a public event that colleagues and students attend, armed with questions for the candidate. Most universities also expect PhD candidates to offer an additional public lecture on their thesis topic.


There are two ways to gain admission: by applying for an advertised vacancy for a PhD candidate, or by writing an application with your intended supervisor. The first method means that you will be joining an existing, funded project. This will constrain your research trajectory but, if you spot a post that excites you, it’s certainly the easiest way in. The second method means that you need to first identify a university department in Norway that is active in your intended area of research, then make direct contact with staff members who are actively supervising PhDs.

You may want to look for face-to-face contact opportunities first, through subject association meetings or conferences.

Extra tips

Will you need to learn Norwegian? Many projects do use English as their main language, but all Norwegian universities offer Norwegian classes for PhD students and there is an expectation that you will try. It will make your stay in Norway much easier, enhance communication with fellow staff and students, and create possibilities for staying on as a lecturer or researcher after your degree. Life in Norway for academics is rather nice, so that’s an option you may well want to consider.

Non-EU applicants must apply for a residence permit as soon as they have been approved for admission. Your university can help with the paperwork. Students are also required to purchase health insurance, and to register with the local police department within three months of arrival, and whenever they move house.


NOKUT is a Norwegian government agency that makes decisions on how your existing degree certificates map onto the Norwegian system. Most applicants will need to go through its recognition procedure to gain admission to a PhD programme.


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