Plan to impose tuition fees for non-EU students

Norway's coalition government is investigating ways of introducing tuition fees for students from outside the European Union and European Economic Area, on the grounds that such fees have already been introduced in Switzerland, Sweden and Denmark.

The Ministry of Education is exploring a system that could be adopted in 2015.

But Dr Daniel J Guhr, head of the Illuminate Consulting Group which has advised several Swedish universities on the introduction of tuition fees, said that if the government decided to introduce fees it should undertake proper research and consider the policy implications.

Guhr told University World News that Denmark and Sweden had not considered all implications when devising fees for their universities, and this had had unnecessary negative results.

He said the government would need to determine what the ‘brand power’ of Norwegian universities was before introducing fees.

Implications should be considered

Guhr believes the government should consider how the fees system should be structured: whether at the national, institutional or programme level; whether the system should be based on cost-recovery or be market driven; what offset mechanisms there should be, such as scholarships, paid internships or post-study work opportunities; and how the diversity of higher education delivery models should be accounted for – for example, how to treat Erasmus Mundus or bilateral exchanges.

He said the government would also need to consider a long-term “talent acquisition strategy" for Norway, such as pricing for short-term income versus long-term talent needs, as well as which authority would regulate, set and adjust fees.

“We are currently working on three tuition fees projects,” Guhr said. “These include an analysis of international tuition fees, including in The Netherlands, Denmark and Sweden; a consortium of eight universities benchmarking fees across 50 universities worldwide; and national government benchmarking the total cost of a programme across the entire country.”

Infuriated by the proposal

Axel Hvistendahl Nerdrum, an international affairs spokesman for the National Union of Students, said the union was infuriated by the proposal to introduce fees because it would damage internationalisation and quality in Norwegian higher education and would take away the important “preference instrument” for recruiting international students.

“A study evaluating the effects of tuition fees is completely unnecessary,” Nerdrum said. "We know more than enough from the experiences of neighbouring countries.

"In Sweden, non-EEA student applications plummeted by 80% a year, while during a Finnish pilot project, several higher education institutions aborted the project prematurely because of their near inability to attract non-EEA students.”

He said the Norwegian Ministry of Finance had predicted last year that enrolments of third-country students would fall by 75% if fees were introduced. Charging students from the BRICS countries – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – could also ruin Norway’s attempts to achieve closer economic ties with these countries.

Chair of the European Students Union Rok Primozic said the ESU believed higher education was a public good and a public responsibility, so governments should take the responsibility to fund higher education for all.

“Norway is one of the rare countries in European higher education where this idea was still being implemented and we are very concerned about the proposed changes,” Primozic said.

“This is just another example of how international students are seen as cash cows, a notion that has sadly been adopted in many European countries and is especially noticeable in the UK and Ireland, where tuition fees for international students are already at a level that is even higher than the actual costs.”

He said international students were being used to “fill holes in education budgets”. This was a clear indication of mobility “gone wrong”. OECD research had shown that international students benefited national budgets in the long run.