Norway’s national wealth: Transition from oil to knowledge

Siv Jensen. Photo: Magnus Fröderberg / norden.org

On the Edge – An opinion column about current issues in Norway

By Siv Jensen, leader of the Progress Party

Written exclusively for the Norwegian American Weekly

Over the past seven years, Norway’s disability pensioners have increased by 228,279 people and added NOK 2 trillion more in the Oil Fund. Over 100,000 students have dropped out of secondary education since 2005.

Despite these obvious contrasts, the U.N. has repeatedly named Norway the best country to live in. Last summer the Oil Fund surpassed Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, according to the American Research Group Monitor Group, the world’s largest state fund. However, significant resources are not necessarily synonymous with optimal resource management.

Norway is newly rich. Barely one generation back there are memories of a population that adored Sweden’s trade and industry. Today we feel more like the financial big brother, with well-stocked bank accounts and streets in London and Paris. But we have no guarantee that we can maintain our prosperity the day the wealth from the North Sea comes to an end.

Our future depends on how well we manage the transition from a petroleum economy to a knowledge economy. This requires investment and political visions. Kristin Halvorsen, former Socialist Party leader and Finance Minister, likes to say that 80 percent of our national wealth is our people, only ten percent is oil. But the oil wealth has given the society the advantage to “advice” to manage our human capital too low, and let individuals take the cost of falling out of society.

Today around 36,000 Norwegians under 30 years live on disability or rehabilitation money. Overall, the number of young disabled increased by 20 percent in five years. Many of these are the same 100,000 youths who have dropped out of secondary education while the coalition government has ruled. The figures give a strong indication for an education and a job market that sees the individual’s potential and possibilities rather than limitations.

Many disabled people want to work, either part-time or full-time job, but encounter a system that does not allow them to make use of their resources. Norway needs an education policy where the teacher helps the student to achieve their goals no matter their level. We need a labor policy that takes into account that we are all unique and are in different life situations and life phases. The resources of a handicapped person is equally valuable to one that is functionally able, but they often need to be managed differently. A 25-year-old graduate will generally be more focused on his career, than a 35-year-old with three children in kindergarten. People are different and people’s needs vary throughout life. Therefore the labor market can not be governed by the principle that all are equal and should work from 9 to 4.

Norway will never be the cheapest country. If we are to succeed in the increasingly tough international competition, we must be the best. Science knowledge and commitment to innovation has been the success factor since the Viking Age. From the engineering behind the Viking ships, which were used both for commerce and war conduct, and into our time, there is a thread in which science has been of great importance for the Norwegian economy. Science Education has laid the foundation for the shipbuilding industry and therefore the merchant marine, for the electric power industry, pharmaceutical industry, aquaculture industry, petroleum industry, and for information technology and software industry.

The future is high-tech and Norway is already in danger of being left behind. In 2006, figures from the government’s business survey shows a lack of 6,150 engineers. In 2011 the demand increased to 14,000. Statistics Norway prognoses say that the country may need 45,000 new civil engineers by 2030. Trade and industry well as the education sector have pointed out that the lack of engineers is becoming more and more precarious. At the same time the dropout statistics of engineering studies is 50 percent and the lack of qualified science teachers is enormous.

To build the country, as the post-World War II Prime Minister Einar Gerhardsen did, is today a completely different job than it was the 1950s. We need expertise, willingness to change, research and innovation. Hard work alone is often not enough anymore. That’s why I have advocated for a separate master’s program for science teachers, as they have in Finland. The battle for science requires massive effort.

In the future, Norway’s competitiveness depends on that we can utilize our resources better. It requires updated skills and costs money. As long as there is talk of using a budget of high speed trains, it seems that the Fiscal Policy Rule is holy. Therefore, we are at a standstill.

Siv Jensen is the Leader of the Progress Party (Fremskrittspartiet) and also the parliamentary leader for the Progress Party`s group in the Storting (The Norwegian Parliament). The classical liberal (libertarian-conservative) Progress Party is the second largest party in Norway and the leading opposition party. Ms. Jensen has been elected member of the Storting since 1997, representing the district of Oslo. Ms. Jensen is member of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defense and member of the Enlarged Foreign Affairs Committee.

Please bear in mind that opinions expressed in “On The Edge” are not necessarily those of the Norwegian American Weekly, and our publication of these views are not an endorsement of them.

This article originally appeared in the May 25, 2012 issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (800) 305-0271.

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