Brazil. Ghana. Kenya. Netherlands. Spain. China. The list goes on and on. These are just a few of the countries – over fifty of them, in fact – which members of NMBU’s newest international student cohort hail from. Perhaps this sounds like a staggering number to those who may be unfamiliar with this university; but for anyone who has spent a month, a week, or even just a single day on campus here, there is nothing surprising about it.
With approximately 18% of its current student population comprised of non-Norwegians, NMBU has been described as “the most international university in Norway”. Every year, students come from all corners of the globe to pursue higher education and earn their degrees in a diverse range of fields such as agro-ecology, data science, and development studies. This includes about 200 or so exchange and guest students who arrive on campus for the purpose of short-term study. Despite being relatively small in size, the university is distinctive in its high proportion of students and faculty who have come from nearly 100 different countries – a number that seems poised to grow even more in the years ahead.
The diverse makeup of NMBU’s student body can be attributed in large part to the school’s long history of research collaboration with other academic institutions around the world, leading to a gradual steady increase in the number of international students. Today, it can also be seen as a reflection of the so-called ‘internationalisation’ of higher education institutions in Norway, which in recent years has been a focal point of discussion in national debate and policy reform.
For its part, the university administration considers internationalisation to be a defining characteristic of NMBU, one that is essential to fulfilling its stated goals and mission statement: “The academic fields that we are dealing with, and the grand global challenges that we are dealing with – it’s all international in its very nature,” says Rector Mari Sundli Tveit. “You cannot solve such challenges alone; you have to work with the whole world.”
The continued enhancement of the university’s global profile has thus been noted as a top priority, outlined in the 2014-2018 Strategic Plan and carried over into the newly approved 2019-2023 Strategic Plan. Notably, both documents were put together with input from stakeholders across the NMBU landscape, including student leadership. By all accounts, the consensus is as follows: internationalisation cannot be ignored. It plays a meaningful role in all aspects of the university, from fostering closer cooperation with partner institutions abroad, to improving inclusion and integration of international students.
What, then, does all of this mean for NMBU?
Well, ask anyone you meet on campus what their thoughts are on the growth and significance of internationalisation here, and you are bound to receive some insightful comments:
Rector Sundli Tveit: “The international community makes this university something very special. It’s something that I’m very proud of, the fact that so many people want to come here and create this scientific international community together in a very small place... I find it to be a scientific necessity. You cannot be scientific without being international.”
Sam Davis, former President of the International Students Union (ISU) at NMBU: “Ås is now pretty well known across Norway for its unique student life, which could only happen in this small, isolated community. For international students, it is important that they recognize this and establish a presence for themselves in the student environment at NMBU...It's fair to say Ås would be a far less interesting place if it didn't have its international students.”
Vebjørn Lindland, a second-year Norwegian student, studying Renewable Energy (Bachelors): “It certainly is nice to have international students. It makes for a much more interesting community… I’m glad that people come here and that they have the opportunity to visit from outside of Norway.”
Zarifa Barkatullah, a first-year international student, studying International Relations (Masters): “It’s all about looking at things from a different perspective than your own… To get an understanding of others and their choices, thoughts and perspectives, and how we can just co-exist. There’s a lot to learn from Norway.”
The path forward, it seems, is clear. Having a large and diverse international student body is an intrinsic part of the university’s identity, both past and present. One cannot imagine NMBU’s future without it.
By: Chiara Magboo