There was a bit of a stirrup in the media a few weeks ago when 6 Norwegian students explained why they pursued their studies abroad rather than in Norway. With statements like “The offer in Norway is not good enough” or “Norway needs me more than I need her” they were immediately accused of arrogance.
The young graduates will participate at the annual advisory forum “NHH Symposiet”, an initiative by Norges Handelshøyskole (NHH), one of Norway’s most prestigious business schools. They will contribute to the debate on how Norway can attract talent, based on their experience abroad. According to these straight-A students, Norway has not much to offer in terms of education and career development, compared to the options you have in other countries. They point out that students like them, with strong ambitions and a tireless drive are not stimulated within the Norwegian culture. Ouch!
It is sad to see how their motivations are greatly misunderstood. The “stirrup” should not be about these students being arrogant elitists. A more important question is how can Norway attract, develop and retain talent.
The Students highlight 2 main challenges in Norway’s capacity to nurture talent:
1- The dominating “equality” principle (“Janteloven”) that prevents higher-than-average students from shining in the classroom
2- The skepticism towards foreign education
They go on to compare the oil industry to a “Penis enlargement” or a “Pillow” warning Norwegians about getting too comfortable and disregarding the lack of stimulation and opportunities in other sectors of the economy.
They put forward 2 main courses of action to remove the shackles:
1- Recognition for effort and achievement at school
2- Focus on diversity leading to innovation
Why Norway should invest differently in integration
Without a doubt, Norway needs qualified workers. In order to build up diversity in the business arena, I see 3 important contributing groups:
- Norwegian students that get higher-education abroad
- Foreign students that get higher-education in Norway
- And foreign job-seekers with higher education from other countries
When it comes to the 3rd group, it is assumed that because you have higher education, you will do fine on your own. Reality is different and it is known to many of my friends under the name of “Skepticism”, especially when you don’t come from a European country. It is the same kind of skepticism these Norwegian students claim to have experienced when they came back home.
Isn’t it a bit of a waste that qualified engineers, for example, had to leave because it was hard to adapt? Or like these students say: because of the skepticism towards foreign education?
Norway invests a lot to help integrate immigrants and asylum seekers from 3rd world countries (www.imdi.no). The problem is depending where you come from, you will at best be included in this group and at worst not qualify to benefit from any integration programs. “When you have different potential, not everyone should be put in the same pot”, the students say. I couldn’t agree more and from that perspective, I understand exactly what they mean.
Highly educated foreigners need a different kind of focus, so that they can contribute with the following (among other positive things):
- Knowledge + professional experience + a different mentality => Innovation!
- A different culture
- More taxes!
One of the answers to the student’s article is from a Canadian professor who preferred a position in Norway rather than one at MIT in the USA. She obviously does not agree with them and goes on to explain how her case was different. Clearly the choices within her field were better in Norway. What I would like to ask her is why did she leave her own country? Why did she not go back? I am sensing it has to do with not having equally good opportunities (incredible insight, and I don’t even have a crystal ball! The answers to those questions would help find new ways to attract and retain talent, and lead the debate in the right direction.
Must Norway change to the core?
Of course the issue is not all “cultural”. As one of the commentators said, Norway is a small country. It cannot compete with the huge offer abroad. The state of the economy has also a role to play in the quality and quality of opportunities. This is not 2006 when jobs were falling from the sky like candy from a piñata. After 2008, opportunities have decreased for both Norwegians and foreigners.
The bottom line is it depends what you are comparing with. Lots of foreign students choose Norway because opportunities are better here than in their home countries. Another article related to this debate tells the story of a Ukrainian student who chose Norway and decided to stay. The funny thing is the article is entitled “Four out of five go back home” (meaning only one out of five foreign students choose to stay in Norway after completing their studies). I was surprised: the article’s focus is why this one person decided to stay. I guess the intention was to highlight that Norway can attract talent with what it already has. What should be put forward -in my opinion- is what Norway can do differently to keep the 4 that left!
As a (small) nation with a lot of money, Norway has the opportunity and the responsibility to encourage and recognize those students who succeed so that those with less ambition get inspired to reach beyond what is expected of them. At the same time, they should put forward that which makes it an attractive professional destination: focus on innovation; a fair workplace for both men and woman; a great work/life balance; an open economy that welcomes entrepreneurs; and an environment that promotes participation and involvement from all, both at school and at work. These are only a few top-of-mind advantages that keep me here.
Sure these students will probably come back. A Professor at UiO is ready to bet on it. When and if that day comes, I ask: How will comfy-Norway motivate them? How will it harvest the value of their foreign education and professional experience, when they are not supposed to “excel” and when there are no mechanisms to recognize or reward their efforts? This is one good reason to follow-up on the NHH-Symposiet this March.
It is estimated that in 2040, 26% of the Norwegian population will be of immigrant origin. In Oslo, 34% of the population will be of immigrant origin, while the proportion of Norwegian children born from immigrant parents is estimated at another 13% (Source: IMDi.no ). This means that nearly 50% of the Oslo population will be of foreign origin. This poses major integration and cultural challenges, but also opportunities that the country should analyze properly to get the most out of it.
I would like to tell Norway (but mostly the commentators who have contributed to this debate) to not take it personally. Comparisons are evil, but they are also eye-openers. It’s not about arrogance: it’s every student’s responsibility to go down the rabbit hole and come back with feedback about what they’ve seen.
I applaud these students’ initiative to help others like them who are looking at how to find and create better opportunities in their own country. Why not publish comments that contribute to find alternatives and creative solutions to challenges rather than pointing fingers and settling for “what we have”?
To learn more about NHH-Simposiet go to http://www.symposiet.no/
- Norsk kultur tiltrekker seg ikke talentene http://www.dn.no/talent/article2548996.ece
- Norge må vinne talentjakten http://www.dn.no/talent/article2478154.ece
- “Jeg har ikke behov for Norge på samme måte som Norge har behov for meg” http://www.dn.no/talent/article2548977.ece
- Nedlatende og uoverveid http://www.dn.no/talent/article2551584.ece
- Fire av fem drar hjem http://www.dn.no/talent/article2555310.ece