There is virtually no adult illiteracy in Norway. Elementary school education has been compulsory since the middle of the 18th century. The Basic Education Act of 1969 introduced a nine-year system of compulsory education for all children between the ages of 7 and 16. In 1997, 330,619 students were enrolled at the primary level. Local authorities generally provide school buildings and equipment and the central government contributes funds towards teachers' salaries and covers a considerable proportion of the cost of running the schools. Although there are private schools, government authorities bear a major share of the financial responsibility for these through a system of grants.
Secondary school for students from 16 to 19 involves theoretical, practical, or a combination of both types of education. In 1994, reforms in the secondary education system were introduced. The number of basic courses was reduced from 100 to 13, and the fields of study were made more generalized at this level with greater specialization at higher levels. Three-year general secondary schools (gymnasiums) prepare students for the university. In the 1997 academic year, 368,074 students were enrolled in the gymnasiums and other secondary schools. In recent years, it has become possible for students to enter a university without having passed through a gymnasium. Since 1976, the upper secondary school system has included vocational schools of various types, operated by the state, by local authorities, and by the industrial sector. As of 1999, 100% of primary-school-age children were enrolled in school, while 96% of those eligible attended secondary school.
Norway's institutions of higher education include 130 colleges and four universities, with a total enrollment of 185,320 in 1997; teaching staff totaled 13,665. The four major universities include the University of Oslo (founded in 1811), the University of Bergen (1948), the University of Trondheim (1969), and the University of Tromsø (1969). Representing fields not covered by the universities, there are also specialized institutions, such as the Agricultural University of Norway (near Oslo); the Norwegian School of Economics and Business Administration (Bergen); and the Norwegian College of Veterinary Medicine (Oslo).
Universities and colleges in Norway serve a dual function— both learning and research. At the four universities, degrees are granted at three levels: Lower degree (a four-year study program); higher degree (five to seven-year course of study); and doctorate degree. There are also courses lasting from five to seven years in law, medicine, agriculture, or engineering.
With a goal of placing adults on an equal standing with the educated youth and giving them access to knowledge and job skills, a program of adult education was introduced in August 1977. An official administrative body for adult education exists in all municipalities and counties. However, the Ministry of Education and Research has the highest administrative responsibility for adult education. Folk high schools are associated with a long Scandinavian tradition of public enlightenment. There are more than 80 folk schools in Norway geared toward providing personal growth and development rather than academic achievement.
In the latter part of the 1990s, approximately 15.8% of government expenditure was allocated to education. As of 1999, public expenditure on education was estimated at 7.7% of GDP.