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A Norwegian vision: transforming higher education with VECOIL partnerships

In the midst of Norway’s enchanting fjords and endless summer daylight, a gathering of educators takes place at the Western Norway University of Applied Sciences in Bergen.

Representatives of Norwegian, American, and Japanese higher education institutions gathered for AAC&U's Institute on VECOIL workshop in Bergen, Norway, June 2023.

"As Norway invests in higher education and initiatives like VECOIL, it moves closer to its goal of having 50% of higher education students participate in study abroad programs by 2030"

This assembly is a testament to the transformative power of the Norwegian Panorama Virtual Exchange and Collaborative Online International Learning Partnerships Initiative, a visionary government policy that’s reshaping how Norwegian higher education institutions engage with the world.

The initiative represents Norway’s first nationwide VECOIL program. Its aim is clear: to forge partnerships between Norwegian institutions and their counterparts in the US and Japan, two seasoned players in the world of VECOIL.

Together, the American Association of Colleges and Universities, the Norwegian Directorate for Higher Education and Skills and the Institute on Innovative Global Education at Kansai University, Japan, have collaborated on the comprehensive program.

It includes online professional development, in-person workshops, customised mentoring, and campus visits for 19 higher education institutions from the three countries.

The institute’s beauty lies in its ability to foster brand-new partnerships.

For instance, VID Specialised University in Oslo and St. John’s University in Queens, NY, discovered common ground during an AAC&U online networking session, leading to a unique collaboration.

They’re linking first-year undergraduates at St. John’s with graduate students at VID to explore the concept of community across different cities and cultures. This highlights the potential of virtual exchanges in forging connections and expanding global collaborations.

VECOIL’s strength lies in its ability to facilitate interdisciplinary projects that span cultures and fields of study. This approach not only enriches the learning experience but also equips students with critical skills needed in today’s ever-evolving workplace.

It also fosters inclusivity and global citizenship by creating an environment where diverse perspectives converge. The culturally responsive practices, appreciation for global interdependencies and the sense of shared responsibility for global challenges that the program encourages empowers students to become global citizens capable of positive change.

The partnership between Western Norway University of Applied Sciences, Kansai University, and Florida International University exemplifies the potential of interdisciplinary collaboration. Professors from diverse fields are collaborating on projects like researching multinational corporations’ social responsibility and exploring sustainable financial approaches in various countries.

Norway’s commitment to quality and accessibility in higher education is evident, with a significant portion of the population completing higher education. The country hosts over 300,000 students, including 24,000 international students. Similarly, about 20,000 Norwegians study abroad. Norway is dedicated to fostering global perspectives.

“Norway is dedicated to fostering global perspectives”

The country’s higher education system, consisting of 23 state-owned universities and university colleges, is strategically spread across the country. This commitment to accessibility ensures that students from diverse backgrounds can access quality education.

Even in the remote reaches of Svalbard, an Arctic archipelago, there’s a university centre with a strong international profile, demonstrating Norway’s commitment to expanding education across borders. The Norwegian Panorama VECOIL Partnerships Initiative complements this by creating a platform for cross-cultural collaborations.

As Norway invests in higher education and initiatives like VECOIL, it moves closer to its goal of having 50% of higher education students participate in study abroad programs by 2030. VECOIL complements physical study abroad programs by democratising international experiences, making them accessible to more students.

Within VECOIL, educators have the freedom to design projects that promote critical thinking and open dialogue. The freedom fosters intellectually stimulating learning experiences, creating a transformative and inclusive global learning community.

One project between Florida Gulf Coast University and University of Bergen aims to explore American and Norwegian queer history, contributing to The Norwegian Archive for Queer History. However, challenges like potential conflicts arising from new US state laws must be navigated thoughtfully.

As the 2023/24 academic year approaches, the ripple effects of the Norwegian Panorama VECOIL Partnerships Initiative will be felt in classrooms worldwide. The experiences, connections, and insights gained will inform future VECOIL courses, inspire deeper partnerships, and contribute to the transformation of higher education globally.

The journey of VECOIL in Norway is just beginning, but its potential to shape higher education into an interconnected and inclusive global community is boundless.

It envisions a future where VECOIL empowers educators, innovates global learning, and unites minds worldwide to address our most pressing challenges. It’s a testament to the power of collaboration and technology-enabled education in creating a brighter future for higher education worldwide.

About the author: Veronica Onorevole is the Director of Innovative Global Education Initiatives at AAC&U, leading international partnerships, digital education strategies, and global thought leadership. She founded the ACE VE/COIL Transformation Lab, expanding US higher education collaborations globally. Formerly with IIE, Veronica administered the Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program, pioneering scholars’ return to Burma. She created Fulbright ASEAN Research and U.S.-Taiwan programs. Veronica lived in Japan as an exchange student and JET Program participant. Recognised as a Japan specialist, she holds degrees from Rutgers and American University, including a U.S. Naval Academy appointment and honourable discharge.

Curious to explore more about the Norwegian Panorama VECOIL Partnerships Initiative and the diverse projects it supports? Visit AAC&U’s VECOIL website for an in-depth look at this transformative initiative and its global impact.

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