«Gaa foran! Det er Kravet.
Gaa foran al din Tid!
Gaa foran, hvor det gjælder,
I Norges Ungdoms Strid!»
This was how Henrik Ibsen addressed the students at the Student Society’s “half-century celebrations” in 1863. It was a continuation of Ibsen’s, Bjørnson’s and the priest Christopher Bruun’s thunderous rallies against the indifference the students had shown to the war in Denmark and their expected contribution to the new democracy.
The Constitution was already 50 years old, but Norway struggled with the process of democratization. It was still the case that only men with land holdings had the right to vote. Ibsen, Bjørnson and Bruun felt that democratization was going too slowly, and pointed to the lack of participation in the process by those of limited means. They felt that only by enlightening the population could they increase their participation in the process.
The appeals of Ibsen, Bjørnson and Bruun eventually found their way through to the students, and two years later the Association of Students for Free Schooling was formed. The goal was to give “free education to young people in need”. The students were encouraged by the idea of their role as “guardians of the temple of knowledge”; spreading knowledge to the people became their “calling”. “Arithmetic” was the biggest subject, as many had come to learn the metric system of distance, weight and coinage that had recently been introduced.
This was the start of what we know today as Folkeuniversitetet.
After a prolonged debate, the Association changes its rules in 1893 so that women also have the right to be students. In the 1930s there was an influx of students from female professions such as shop assistants, maids and nurses. By 1939 women were in the majority, and that trend continues to this day.
In 1935 the Student Society’s Free Schooling is formally founded in Bergen. In time, the organization spreads across the whole country.
In 1940, the Germans ban the Student Society’s activities. The Association changes its name to Students’ Free School and continues for a couple of months. However, it becomes increasingly difficult to find suitable premises, as everything had been annexed by the Germans and schools were kept under close watch. The committee then decided to cease operating and the large store of books remained at Møllergata skole.
The Student Society’s Free School was reopened on the 3rd of February 1947. A resolution was passed that gave teachers pay for the work they undertook.
In 1948 the societies of Oslo, Bergen and Trondheim formed Norwegian Students for Free Schooling.
By 1951 they had approximately 7500 participants. This growth, which lasted throughout the 1960s, required the professionalization of the organization's teachers.
In 1965 the organization changed its name to Folkeuniversitetet. Folkeuniversitetet obtained a statutory bill in 1968, before the Adult Education Act became law in 1977.
In 2011 the national body passes a motion to merge all entities into eight legally independent regions.
Much has changed since 1864. Today, everybody has the legal right to an education, independent of social and economic background. However, Folkeuniversitetet’s vision to make knowledge and opportunity accessible for all, is just as strong today as it was 150 years ago.
The fact that thousands of students participate in learning at Folkeuniversitetet each year, shows that we are still an important actor in the educational system. We are no longer able to offer free instruction, but all funds are invested back into the organization so that we can offer a wide range of educational courses. Folkeuniversitetet has no private owners.
In 2013 Folkeuniversitetet had around 42000 registered participants divided between vocational subjects, culture and leisure activities, and further and higher education.