Over 400 Employees React to New Language Demands: - Shocked

Requirements in the University and College Act recommended by the action plan for Norwegian academic language has pivoted researchers into action.

From the left: Karina Mahan, Julie Flikke, Svenja Hammer.
From the left: Karina Mahan, Julie Flikke, Svenja Hammer.
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Employees at NTNU are taking action following the suggested language requirements in the University and College Act recommended by the action plan for Norwegian academic language .

 Denne artikkelen er også tilgjengelig på norsk.

What's causing the reactions is the requirement for temporary international employeesto take 15 credits in Norwegian. Additionally, tenured international employeesmust reach level B2 in Norwegian after three years (higher intermediate).

- I perceive the process as undemocratic because while the government has followed regular procedures, there hasn't been an effort to make information about the action plan accessible to the international researchers it concerns, says Karina Rose Mahan.

NTNU employees have taken action

Karina Rose Mahan took the first step in writing the opinion piece and creating the petition.
Karina Rose Mahan took the first step in writing the opinion piece and creating the petition.

Karina Rose Mahan is the driving force behind the petition and the article being published with 446 employee names behind it.

Mahan is an associate professor in language didactics and researches language attitudes and competence at NTNU. She is behind the petition that has engaged over 400 scientific employees around Norway.

Almost 300 of the petitioners come from NTNU. The associate professor explains that since the petition was created and sent out to a few individuals, the response has been overwhelming and shocking.

- The petition is being circulated quickly because this is something that really engages people, and many are surprised by the content of the action plan, Mahan stated.

Mahan has received numerous emails from international employees describing negative experiences in the workplace related to language barriers hindering them from doing their job, which also affects them negatively outside of work.

- The most important thing for me is not necessarily stopping the language requirements requirements or that international employees shouldn't learn Norwegian, but that the process must be democratic and include the international employees, says Mahan.

Undemocratic Process

The relevant documents were available online, and there was a consultation phase, but Mahan still believes there were significant loopholes in the process. She believes that the first step when requiring international employees to learn Norwegian is to ask them themselves how this should be done.

- I only found out about the consultation phase for the action plan long after it had ended in April, Mahan reveals. 

When Mahan and her research group wrote an article and investigated what various international groups at Oslomet and NTNU knew, most were unaware of the upcoming language requirements that would be regulated in the updated University and College Act.

Believes the action plan is underdeveloped

The associate professor argues that universities and colleges do not have enough money, time, teachers, or courses to send all temporary employees to Norwegian language courses. 

She believes the plan seems underdeveloped because it sets requirements but lacks solutions and the infrastructure to meet those requirements. However, Mahan sees it possible that the requirements could prompt the higher education sector to act and allocate larger budgets for Norwegian language courses, but questions who will suffer the consequences.

Furthermore, Mahan says there have been no analyses done on how many employees will need Norwegian courses or what this will cost. She generally misses more descriptions about international employees in the plan. As she sees it, the Norwegian Directorate for Higher Education and Skills has left it to the sector to solve any potential problems.

- I question who will gain advantage

Mahan fears that international employees may be discriminated against with language proficiency requirements.

- I question who will gain advantage in academia if Norwegian is a major focus, without believing it's anyone's intention, Mahan says. 

Since the regulations were created without considering the relevant voices, she believes it creates a divisive relationship instead of seizing the opportunity for inclusive dialogue.

Finally, Mahan misses the role of Norwegian-speaking individuals in the action plan. She believes that Norwegian employees should be aware of the role they play in helping their international colleagues use Norwegian as a working language. 

- I believe that to maintain and strengthen Norwegian academic language, Norwegians need to be talked about the most, and international employees need to be recognized for their strengths in other language skills, Mahan concludes.

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