This summer, there was widespread media debate when a student changed legal gender in order to be admitted to a prestigious study programme at NTNU.
It provoked strong reactions and triggered a new debate about the use of gender points in higher education.
"However, the debate lacked a deeper understanding of what legal gender actually is, and the regulations pertaining to changing legal gender ," says the lawyer Hilde K. Ellingsen.
She has a PhD in EU law and recently wrote the leading article "On changing legal gender and changing mobile plan" in the journal Lov og Rett.
The article questions whether changing legal gender is "as easy as changing your mobile plan", as the media coverage around the NTNU student might suggest.
Should the law be tightened?
According to Ellingsen, the current legislation is not designed to enable people to change their legal gender on impulse.
"The law is based on self-declaration, in that the person applying to change legal gender submits their gender identity, but the law is aimed at those who feel that their biological gender does not match their gender identity.”
She goes on to say that it is an abuse of the regulations when someone changes their legal gender to obtain personal benefits.
“So, should regulations be tightened to prevent abuse?"
"My contention is that the potential for abuse is limited, and that it rarely occurs in practice. Tightening the regulations would impact the group of people for whom they are actually intended," says Ellingsen.
She points out that the purpose of the regulations is to reduce bureaucracy and make the process of changing legal gender as simple as possible.
"There are already certain requirements for the procedure, in that you have to submit an application, receive documents, fill in forms and send return them," says Ellingsen.
According to Ellingsen, the biggest challenge is the practical consequences of changing legal gender, such as having to change your national identification number.
"It means that you have to replace identity documents, bank cards, memberships, subscriptions and so on. It is also not possible to change back to your previous social security number.”
“Should be simple”
"Are there any alternatives to the current system for changing legal gender?"
"An alternative approach could have been to require a professional assessment of the applicant's gender identity," says Ellingsen.
She is, however, sceptical:
"According to the Council of Europe's LGBT recommendations, the process for changing legal gender should be simple. The purpose is to safeguard those who experience a mismatch between their biological and perceived gender.”
Ellingsen emphasises that this is a about changing legal gender, not about medical intervention.
"If there is a desire for medical intervention, a more thorough investigation will be necessary," she explains.
Cases such as the one we witnessed in the summer are probably quite rare.
The current procedure for changing legal gender is relatively new.
"Until 2016, those wanting to change their legal gender had to undergo gender-affirming treatment, which included removing their reproductive organs. It was very invasive," Ellingsen explains.
Although the current system is based on trust, she emphasises that there is a difference between changing legal gender and changing mobile plan:
"Although the process may seem simple, I think the majority of people would not be able to consider such a change without feeling a mismatch between their biological gender and their gender identity.”
"The risk of the system being abused is limited, and cases like the one we witnessed this summer are probably quite rare," she concludes.
The act came into effect on 1 July, 2016.
The law gives transgender people and those who feel that they belong to a gender other than the one they were assigned in the National Population Register, the right to change their legal gender without prior medical treatment.
The purpose of the law is to recognise that legal gender should be based on one's own sense of gender identity.
At the same time, the system retains male and female as the two mandatory genders.
Legislative change not necessary
"Ellingsen is probably right when she says that this will not be a major problem," says Marit Halvorsen, a professor of law at the University of Oslo.
Halvorsen does not believe that the concern about people changing legal gender in such a way is something that warrants a change in legislative.
"Any legislative change should be justified with thorough consideration of the law's effects in the rest of the legal system," says Halvorsen.
"This applies in particular to rules on patient rights and appropriate medical treatment, since changing legal gender is often discussed together with the need for healthcare.”
In march this year, Khrono counted 42 study programmes where women or men received gender points: 31 for women and 11 for men.
The 31 programmes for women are all at Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) and largely relate to different engineering disciplines.
Men can acquire two gender points on admission to seven study programmes. This includes two at the Norwegian School of Veterinary Science, two in the nursing programme at Lovisenberg Diakonale Sykehus and the University of Agder, child welfare studies at OsloMet, customs studies at the University of Stavanger, and bioengineering at UiT The Arctic University of Norway.
Male applicants receive one gender point upon admission to the psychology programme at NTNU, the University of Bergen, the University of Oslo and UiT The Arctic University of Norway.
It was Finansavisen that first reported the case of the person allegedly changing legal gender in order to gain admission to the prestigious study programme Industrial Economics and Technology Management at NTNU.
Monica Rolfsen is Dean of the Faculty of Economics and Management at the university.
"The gender one chooses is a private matter in which we have no part," she told Finansavisen newspaper.
She added that the university would reassess the points scheme after the start of studies in August 2023.
That assessment has now been carried out, and the decision was made to remove the gender points.
"The goal of gender points has been achieved," Rolfsen told Adresseavisen in September.
In an email to Kilden's independent news magazine, she states that changing legal gender and the risk of abuse of the points system were not part of that assessment.
In March 2023, the online newspaper Khrono conducted counted 42 study programmes where either women or men received gender points: 31 for women and 11 for men.
Kilden's news magazine has been in contact with several of the deans and heads of departments at these campuses. Are they concerned about the points system being abused?
Olav Bolland is Dean of the Faculty of Engineering Science at NTNU.
"The reason for a student changing gender is not something we as a faculty have anything to do with. It's a private matter," he wrote in an email.
He sees no sign that this is a widespread problem for their study programmes.
Per Håkan Brøndbo, Head of the Department of Psychology at UiT The Arctic University of Norway, and Norman Anderssen, Dean of the Faculty of Psychology at the University of Bergen, do not believe that abuse of the points system will be a significant issue.
“We are not worried about it and have not experienced any abuse of the scheme at the university,” Anderssen writes in an email.
"Most people probably consider changing their legal gender more difficult than changing their mobile phone plan," says Brøndbo.
Nevertheless, Brøndbo believes that the current system of gender points should be changed.
"I think that changing gender as a way of collecting points is another argument for why the current admission system needs revising.”
Among the deans and heads of departments that Kilden's news magazine contacted, none have established an action plan to deal with potential abuse of the system.
"We relate to legal gender in our admission criteria, which is as it should be," says Olav Bolland.
This article has been translated from Norwegian