(translation of Khrono article https://khrono.no/debatt/bortfall-av-kvoteordningen-reduserer-mangfold-pa-campus?nav=fors )
The Quota scheme for students coming from developing countries is about to be phased out and we already see signs that it is influencing the diversity on campus, says Rector at the University of Oslo, Ole Petter Ottersen. He thinks this development should be monitored closely.
For the past few years the University of Oslo (UiO) has had 190 places for Quota scheme students at all times (The highest number in Norway). As students complete their education, spaces became available for new international students. 153 places were set aside for students from developing countries while the rest have been divided between students from Eastern Europe and areas in the western Balkans (37).
We have still not seen the full effect of the phasing out of the Quota scheme because we still have active Quota scheme students (105, 74 from countries in Africa). Many English study programs are reporting a drastic decrease in applicants and students from Quota scheme countries, like Ghana and Gambia. This means a reduction in perspective in the classrooms. In addition, there is an uncertainty as to what will happen with the cooperation that has been built up over a long period of time, where the Quota scheme has contributed to continuity in the communication between different institutions.
As the evaluation of Damwad from 2014 showed, the Quota scheme has the potential to improve on several points. The funding of PhD candidates was inadequate and there was a lot of beurocrazy. The evaluation describes the developing effect of the Quota scheme as significant and says that the internationalization effect would be better if there were funds for cooperation regarding courses, degrees and other activities.
The program that is set to take over - Norwegian Partnership program for global academic cooperation (NORPART) – would have been a great supplement for the stipends in the Quota scheme, instead of acting as a replacement for it. In combination these two programs could have strengthened the strategic cooperation with partners in developing countries and at the same time made sure that important global perspectives were secured with the presence of students from these countries in study programs at UiO.
In 2017 UiO has been awared 3 NORPART – projects that will bring 96 exchange students from developing countries to UiO over a 5 year period. Most of these students will only be a short time at UiO (1 – 2 semesters). In comparison, we have enrolled between 50 to 70 new Quota students each year (Master and PhD). It is obvious that the phasing out of the Quota scheme will influences the composition of the student mass at many of UiO`s English speaking graduate programs.
The Ministry of Education says that more money will be given to the NORPART - programs as the Quota scheme is phased out, meaning when active Quota students complete their degrees. We have to follow up on this if the pre-requisite made by Parliament, stating that the same amount of students will have the opportunity to study in Norway as under the Quota scheme, is to be fulfilled. It will hard to fulfill this re-requisite if the Quota scheme does not have a complete replacement scheme/program. It will also send out a bad signal regarding Norway`s commitment to The UNs sustainable development goal 4b: “By 2020, substantially expand globally the number of scholarships available to developing countries, in particular least developed countries, small island developing States and African countries, for enrolment in higher education, including vocational training and information and communications technology, technical, engineering and scientific programs, in developed countries and other developing countries”.
Several of UiO`s academic communities have recruited skilled and motivated teachers to the PhD programs and in this way contributed to increasing the capacity in their cooperating institutions. Even though there is no national or institutional overview of where the Quota students are we know that today, many Quota students from UiO have important positions in their home country where they contribute to the education of students and PhD candidates at their home institution. One of these resources is Tawana Kupe (originally from Zimbabwe) that I had the joy of meeting during or delegation visit to South Africa in 2015. Kupe was one of the very first to take a PhD through the Quota shcem at UiO, and he is today the Vice Chancellor at Witwatersrand. Another former Quota scheme student form UiO is Mamady Cham from Gambia. He became the youngest General Director of Health at the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare.
I have previously argued that the Quota scheme must not be phased out without a good replacement ready to take its place. The experience so far indicates that the replacement can not be characterized as a good replacement. It is important that we as institutions pay close attention to the development and that the Ministry does the same thing. It is not only about solidarity and the wish to increase the capacity in other parts of the world. It is first and foremost about the quality of the education. We need the richness of perspective that a diverse student body can give us.