NTNU ought to internationalise its Graduate Degree Certification System

It was interesting reading in Dagens Universitet (28 March 1996) that NTNU now has a new, unified International Section. With the formation of this new organ which is manned, I believe, by very competent people, many foreign students would therefore expect a lot from that section, especially in this period of dramatic changes sweeping across NTNU. Many of these changes certainly have their positive and negative consequences, from the perspective of some of the foreign students preparing for masters and doctoral degrees at NTNU. Few people however seem to be discussing the consequences of these changes on foreign graduate students at NTNU.

I am sure there are many issues awaiting the International Section in this period of reorganisation. Let me, however, mention just one issue which is of concern to me and probably to some other international students. The main issue is the award of masters and doctoral degrees. Two major concerns within this issue are the physical nature of the certificate itself and the name of the actual degree awarded.

The physical nature of the certificate awarded here at this university seems to me rather unsatisfactory when compared to degree certificates from other parts of the world. While universities in other parts of the world take time to issue a well designed and visually appealing certificate, our alma mater only contends itself with an ordinary white sheet of paper which in many cases does not even have a seal on it. Some of my friends who have presented their degrees to places in North America and West Africa have written back saying that the genuineness of such documents as degree certificates have been questioned on a number of occasions. This certainly creates problems mostly for foreign students who present their certificates to the outside world.

However, the most disturbing aspects of awarding degrees to foreigners are the names and contents of the degrees awarded here in Trondheim. The most serious problem here is that most of these degrees are issued in Norwegian with inappropriate foreign language translations or none at all. For instance, I have had to reject my own "cand. philol." degree document three times before a more acceptable translation was given me. This poor documentation certainly limits the possibilities of foreign students in getting their degrees evaluated outside. Friends who have left Norway have written back to say that while the average Norwegian thinks that the level of their degrees is very high ( and I agree with this to a large extent), this is often not the opinion of those evaluating them outside of Norway, especially when they are ordinarily presented with rather incorrect translations. Moreover, names such as "cand. polit", "dr. polit", "cand philol"., and "dr. art." sound rather comical especially in the English speaking world where the standard name for the doctorate is Ph. D and for the masters is M.A., Msc or M.Phil. For the doctorate, irrespective of whether one is doing science or arts or medicine, everyone gets a Ph. D. Why cannot NTNU leave this option open? Instead, they are trying to phase out the "dr. philos" system and in place of that award "dr. art.", "dr. polit." "dr. scient.", "dr med." etc. depending on which faculty one graduates from. Even the M.I.T. system that this university wants to emulate awards PhDs irrespective of the faculty one is graduating from.

Internationalising the degrees

Of course, for some one who intends to use one's NTNU degree in Norway and other Scandinavian countries, the problems outlined above would not be much of a concern. However, as other foreigners who have already graduated from this university have experienced, this is going to be a problem throughout the job-hunting and subsequent professional lives of foreign scholars graduating from NTNU if nothing is done about these and many other matters concerning the issuing of degrees. One of the biggest challenges facing the

International Section of NTNU, in my opinion, ought then to be the internationalisation of the NTNU degree system. By this I mean NTNU must strive to come up with more meaningful degree documents that would make them easier to interpret by the outside world. This is not to say that the present naming, design and content presentation of doctoral and masters degrees are not suitable to Norwegian conditions but the problem is that they are too localised for the foreign scholar who graduates from NTNU. This would mean taking a new look at the name, physical design and content of the degree document issued.

A dual degree certification system

How this can be done is an open question. However, I wish to put forward a suggestion here that NTNU, through the help of the International Section, should develop two parallel degree certification systems, one national (for use in Norway) and one international (for use in the outside world). In this dual system while the national degree system would continue to use such labels as "dr. polit.", "dr art." etc. the international system would simply use the label, Ph. D. for all doctoral degrees issued by NTNU. The labels "cand. philol.", "cand scient.", "cand polit.", etc. should simply correspond to M.A., Msc. M.Phil. etc. The graduating student, whether Norwegian or foreign, can ask for degree certificates in both systems. The above dual system is necessary and possible, one reason being that NTNU and its predecessor UNIT have been flexible enough to start some international programs in English for some foreign scholars from all parts of the world.

If for some reason this suggestion is not favored then the only other fair alternative, as far as foreign graduates of NTNU are concerned, would be to ensure that degrees issued by NTNU are well translated and documented for the outside world.

While the above problem is not the only one facing foreign graduate students at NTNU, it is an important one and deserves the attention of both faculty and university administrators. Debates about the future growth of this university should do well to address issues concerning foreign students since this university, by all intents and purposes, would like to present an international profile. It must be mentioned however that I do not question the quality of education foreign students are receiving at NTNU. From my seven years experience as a masters and doctoral candidate in Trondheim, it is pleasant to study here and the quality of graduate research is probably one of the highest in the world. I would not for instance exchange my academic supervisor for any other one in the world. NTNU is my alma mater and I am proud of the academic training I am receiving in it. That is one reason why I am worried about its poor degree certification system. This situation can be compared to a factory which is a leader in its field in terms of the quality of its products but which unfortunately sends its products to the market in shabby packages. High quality products in low quality packages is an unacceptable situation in a competitive world. There is even a current trend in which many universities in other parts of the world have gone a step further by setting up job placement offices which maintain very good CV formats and other documents of past students, monitor the job markets, match available positions to appropriate graduates and help them to attend interviews for jobs. This is another issue the International Section ought to consider, not just for foreign students, but for all graduates of NTNU.

It is my fervent hope that, with the formation of a new International Section for NTNU, this problem of certification and other issues concerning foreign or international students and scholars would be well-addressed in the appropriate organs of the new university.

Adams B. Bodomo,
doktorgradsstipendiat, Department of Linguistics

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