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ESL Recruitment…in Norway?

Flag of Norway
Flag of Norway.
From the CIA World Factbook.

Earlier this week, I had the good fortune of going to Norway to recruit for the first time. I attended the Ta Utdanning fair in Oslo on February 17th-18th. In a few days, I will post an event review to share my opinion about the event with you; however, for today’s post, I thought that it may be interesting to share how we arrived at the decision to recruit ESL students in Norway–because it certainly has been an idea that has raised a few eyebrows already!

What were we thinking?!?

Alright, I know it has crossed your mind, so I’ll go ahead and ask the questions for you:

“What possessed you to travel to Norway to attempt to recruit ESL students?
Don’t Norwegians already have a solid foundation in ESL in their educational system?”

If that’s what you are thinking…well, technically, you’re not wrong! But bear with me. At the risk of sounding cliché, “there’s a method to my madness.”

So, why Norway?

International student mobility data

Last November, the Institute for International Education (IIE) released its 2015 Open Doors Report, which tracks international student mobility to the United States, as well as American student mobility in study abroad programs. The data is really interesting, as it allows us to see the number of international students that came to the USA, organized by country and by academic level (i.e., undergraduate, graduate, other, etc.).

Even though IIE also reports on trends in international student mobility for Intensive English Programs (IEPs) in a seperate edition of Open Doors, the data for degree-seeking students is still of great interest to me when I work on the recruitment strategy for my institution because:

  • Our IEP does a great deal of joint recruitment with the university’s undergraduate Office of Admissions, as well as for various graduate departments, particularly to recruit students for our Conditional Admissions Program; and
  • We specialize in the academic and linguistic preparation of non-native-English-speaking international students, so the trends in international mobility for degree-seeking students helps us to identify potential markets for our preparation programs.

The 2015 Open Doors data indicated that nearly 1,500 Norwegian students pursued undergraduate studies last year–an increase of 14.5%. Graduate numbers, while low, also saw a significant increase (+17.6%). I am adding an excerpt of the 2015 Open Doors data below (please excuse my writing, as it was a screen shot from my tablet).

Norwegian students in the USA.

Open Doors, Institute for International Education (IIE).

Top 10 rankings, English Proficiency English, Education First (EF).
Top 10 rankings, English Proficiency English, Education First (EF).

The image above shows low numbers of students coming for non-degree programs (including Intensive English); however, as I mentioned before, Norwegians tend to have a good foundation in English (see the image to the right of the “English Proficiency Index” world rankings by EF), so it may not be logical to expect very large numbers of Norwegians to come to the USA for the sole purpose of studying in an IEP.

Prosperity and quality of life

Here is a fun fact for you: Norway ranks higher than the USA in terms of GDP per capita by Purchasing Power Parity (PPP). This is a measure of the revenue of a country (the value of goods and services produced in a country) divided by its average population. This is one of many factors that gives us a sense of the wealth of a country and its citizens.

Different agencies rank countries differently by GDP per capita (PPP). This can be seen on Wikipedia, which has a page that compares the world rankings for the World Bank, the CIA, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Here is a screen shot of the World Bank’s ranking of the top 10 countries:

World bank rankings of top 10 nations by GDP per capita, PPP.
World Bank rankings of top 10 nations by GDP per capita (PPP, intl $). From Wikipedia,

If you are interested in seeing more of this information, you can also visit the World Bank’s website for more detailed data and for other measures of economic growth and development (click here).

In any case, regardless of the agency and the methodology used to calculate GDP per capita, Norway is clearly one of the most prosperous nations in the world.

Similarly, Norway tends to show well in quality of life rankings. Here is a picture of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD) “Better Life Index,” which ranks Norway as #3 in the world for quality of life based on a variety of factors (i.e., housing, income, jobs, education, etc.):

Better Life Index by OECD.
“Better Life Index” by the OECD.

Again, different organizations rank countries using different methodologies, but this at least gives us an idea of how Norwegians fare in terms of their quality of life. Prosperity, safety/security, economic opportunity, education–these are all factors that are taken into consideration to determine an individual’s quality of life. When people feel safe, have wealth and job security, and value education, it is probably safe to assume that they may be more likely to consider (and be able to afford) study abroad options for themselves or for their children.

Funding opportunities

After reviewing this information, I wondered how the 2,400 Norwegian undergraduate, graduate, and non-degree-seeking students found their way to the USA in 2014/15. So, like any good millennial, I started Googling.

In a search for education fairs in Norway, the website for Ta Utdanning came up right away–which led me, in turn, to the website for Lanekassen (pron. “LAH-ne-kass-in”). This was an exciting discovery.

Lanekassen is an organization that provides financial assistance to Norwegian students for educational purposes.

One of their programs uses a combination of scholarships and loans to fund Norwegian students to pursue their undergraduate or graduate degrees overseas. Depending on their level of study, the location, the cost of their university, and some other factors, Norwegian students can qualify for up to approximately US $40,000 per year in financial assistance from Lanekassen to pursue a degree an an international university. More information about this program is available on their website.

So, between the growth in Norwegian student mobility, the wealth and stability of Norway, and the funding opportunities available to Norwegian students who wish to pursue an international degree, it seemed like a good time to take a short trip to Oslo!

Type of students/programs of focus

The Ta Utdanning fair attracts large numbers of high school students. Personally, I spoke almost exclusively to students in their last or second-last year of high school while I was in Oslo.

Knowing that this would be the case at this venue, we chose to focus on promoting:

  • Our undergraduate degree programs, including conditional admission for the few who may need it (note: Lanekassen requires an unconditional admission in order to receive funding);
  • Our summer pre-college program – a summer program for students to travel to the USA and experience life on an American university campus–essentially giving them an opportunity to see if they like it before they commit to a four-year degree program; and
  • Our Intensive English Program – we focused our efforts on promoting this as an option for students who want to take a “Gap Year” after high school graduation, emphasizing our American culture curriculum, our professional development programs, and academic advisement services.

So, how did this work for us?

Honestly, the jury is still out on this one. In my opinion, there were some issues with the execution of the fair that made this a challenging venue for us. More to come on this later.

That being said, I spent a great deal of time talking to students about all of the programs I mentioned above. Many of the Norwegian students that I met were confused about their future, as their educational system demands that they specialize in a particular subject area for the final years of high school, and they must know their planned major before they can apply for university. Since this very structured approach to education was all that they knew, most of the students that I spoke with were happily surprised to learn that there are other options out there.

Flexibility in programming is appealing

For instance, several of the students that I met were happy to hear that it is possible to apply for an American university with an “undeclared” major, or that they can double-major or pick a minor while studying at the undergraduate level. Most of them didn’t realize that we have this kind of flexibility within our system. For those students with interests in several areas of study (ex: I had several students tell me that they were interested in studying History and another major, like Art, Foreign Languages, Biology, or Math), the prospect of taking on multiple majors and/or minors was particularly appealing.

IEP is a potential option for the “gap year”

Several of the students who are finishing up high school became excited by the prospect of using an IEP as an option for all or part of their gap year. Their perception of IEPs was that they would basically be sitting in an English class all day long studying nothing but grammar rules. They didn’t realize that IEPs can offer courses in a variety of interesting subject matter, as well as strong cultural programming. This was also an attractive prospect for students who “just want to try something different” for a short period of time before they begin university.

As for those high school students who were particularly confused about “what comes next,” they appreciated the fact that my institution provides a great deal of free workshops and advising to help students to understand the American university system, the admissions process, how to choose a university, etc. That level of support seemed to appeal to them.

What about short-term college prep programs?

Our summer pre-college program also appealed to the high school juniors, most of whom understood and appreciated the logic of “testing out the waters” before “diving right in.” This is especially true when they saw the price tag of our university. When put into financial context, trying out a university before committing to a four-year education makes sense–at least to the student. Unfortunately, I did not have an opportunity to test this logic with any parents at this venue.

Student interactions that were challenging–but fun!

Since it was my first time in Norway, it was a little difficult to gauge the interest level of the students and how realistic it was that any of them will actually show up on our campus–especially because I spoke with very few parents at the fair. This is one of the main reasons why I say that the “jury is still out” on whether this recruitment strategy will work for us.

Also, it was challenging to find an approach that would work with these students. Many of them did not want to engage in conversation; they simply walked around the venue and did not talk to many of the exhibitors. There was definitely a sense that they were averse to “being sold to.” There were many times when I called out a friendly “hello” to potential students and was completely ignored. Other times, people would come to my booth and say that they were not sure what they were looking for, so they would simply want to take a brochure and walk away.

Eventually, I found that taking more of a counseling approach and sitting down at a table with a student for an extended conversation about their plans worked the best. This was mostly because nearly every student I met was extremely confused about their future. Some of these conversations went on for awhile, but I didn’t mind so much because traffic was slow and at least they stayed in my booth and were exposed to our branding for an extended period of time. Plus, it’s always fun to be able to help a student to consider new ways of achieving their goals.

I also had a bit of fun on the second day of the fair taking pictures of the students and printing them on little stickers using my Polaroid ZIP mobile printer. The students enjoyed this and appreciated being able to walk away from the booth with something other than a standard brochure and more personalized than a pen or bookmark. I am including some of these pictures at the end of this post.


Ultimately, we should be able to see within the next 6 months whether this trip (and our follow-up efforts) was worth it. The advantage to dealing with this type of high school population is that the majority are going to make their decisions for summer programs and for university intake in the fall over the next 2-3 months and will start their programs within the next 4-6 months. This differs from the lead time that we see in some other countries, where it may take 6-18 months for a lead to yield results. So, we should know relatively soon whether these efforts will bear any fruit.

In the meantime, on to the next event!

By Nadia Redman

I'm a fan of "everything international:" travel, meeting people of other cultures, speaking foreign languages, cross-cultural communication, international business and marketing, etc. I'm also a bit of a nerd, LOL.

5 replies on “ESL Recruitment…in Norway?”

Thank you so much! Last year, UD won the NAFSA Paul Simon Award for Campus Internationalization–a very big deal in the field of International Education. One of the factors that contributed to the win was our Conditional Admissions Program and the emphasis that we put on campus engagement and encouraging the students to:

  • live with/make friends with Americans
  • participate in campus activities
  • organize Service Learning activities
  • develop their leadership skills
  • take risks (i.e., try something new, even though they do no know what the outcome will be
  • and more!

We have worked really hard to build a university preparation program that does so much more than teach Academic English. Aside from their linguistic development, we try to help the students to participate more in the classroom, to learn the expectations of American professors and American students in the classroom and group projects, to become avid readers and critical thinkers, and to appreciate this opportunity for cultural integration. It’s a holistic approach to the student’s development into not only a bilingual person, but into a “bicultural” global citizen.

As you can see, your quick comment of praise for the program was a simple positive gesture for you, but it really means a great deal to us–so thanks again! I’ll be sure to send along your comment to my colleagues.

In the meantime, thanks for reading!

Liked by 1 person

I’ve worked with the students of the ELI program acting as an American Host and one of the students from Brazil recently went back home but she is definitely a friend for life! So I really appreciate the program.

Liked by 1 person

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