The ISS as a Driving Force for Internationalization at UiO
“Making a modern university”1, a new book on the history of the University of Oslo (UiO) through 200 years presents an interesting chapter by historian Eirinn Larsen on the situation of foreign students at UiO from the post-World War II period until the 1990s. One of the aspects documented here is the important role that the International Summer School has played towards promoting the internationalization of this university.
The University of Oslo’s history with international students began in earnest with the establishment of the International Summer School in 1947. It was originally called “The Oslo Summer School for American Students”, intended for students from the United States as an expression of gratitude for their help during the Second World War. The Summer School was therefore the first actor in internationalization at UiO. In 1947, the Summer School’s first year, we received more than 220 American students. They travelled in a naval ship originally used in the Second World War and began their education already en route, on a week-long trip across the Atlantic. The goal of the Summer School was not only academic, but also to build bridges and promote peace, as summed up in the School’s first slogan “Operation Understanding, a Force for Peace”.
After its first successful year, the Summer School continued in the following years and started admitting students also from other countries. As the student base became increasingly more geographically diverse, in 1958 the school officially changed its name to The International Summer School (ISS). The backdrop for this change was the realization that the post-war era did not become an era of peace, but saw a Cold War threatening to split the world in two. Eventually, both sides of the conflict were present at ISS, and focus remained on international goodwill. Thus, the Summer School became a foreign policy measure for the Norwegian state, and a way to administer “soft power” and establish a good international reputation for Norway and the University of Oslo.
Further on, the courses were diversified with a more international and developmental focus, where the Norwegian perspective was used as a springboard. As the years went by, the ISS took on more responsibility for international students at the university. The Peace Research course saw the light of day in 1969 and in the early 1970s UiO’s Office for Foreign Students was also administered by ISS. Students who remained in Norway after their stay at the Summer School benefited from continued classes in Norwegian taught by the same teachers they had had at ISS. As these teachers had often lived abroad, they were well-equipped for seeing Norway from the perspective of a foreigner and thus they were a great resource towards furthering both internationalization and integration.
The International Summer School continues to be an important institution for internationalization at UiO, and many of the School’s students continue their studies in Norway after the summer’s end. Since 1947, more than 30 000 students from around 150 countries have attended the Summer School, and this year we are lucky to have 550 students from more than 90 countries joining us for six inspiring and fast-paced weeks. But the role that the Summer School plays in internationalization does not end with the closing of the summer program. During the rest of the year the ISS maintains its contribution to internationalization through Norwegian language courses and other selected course offerings for international students living in Norway.
In a few weeks, our new students for this year’s version of the International Summer School will arrive in Oslo. We will welcome them as new citizens of our small international village here at the UiO campus, and in this way hope to make the world a little bit smaller and a little bit bigger at the same time. It is not without reason that we say: “Come to Norway – Experience the World”!
- Kim Helsvig and Jan Eivind Myhre (eds): Making a Modern University: The University of Oslo 1811–2018, Scandinavian Academic Press 2018