Erasmus Mundus collides with Swedish legislation

The Association of Swedish Higher Education has written to the Ministry of Education on behalf of 39 institutions, asking for revised legislation or new regulations to make it possible for Swedish universities to participate in Erasmus Mundus masters courses and other international programmes as an equal consortium member.

The letter was sent because several Swedish universities have reported difficulties in participating in Erasmus Mundus Action I programmes, particularly masters courses.

The problems stem from two rulings by the Swedish Higher Education Authority.

Last June it decided against Uppsala University claiming tuition fees for students participating in a masters course under the Erasmus Mundus Network on Humanitarian Action – NOHA – consortium of universities, as reported by University World News.

The other ruling was against Luleå University of Technology in north Sweden, which is the coordinator of an Erasmus Mundus masters in space and technology awarding joint degrees by Cranfield University in the UK, Julius-Maximilian’s University of Würzburg in Germany, Czech Technical University in Prague; Aalto University in Finland, Universitê Toulouse III – Paul Sabatier – in France, the University of Tokyo and Utah State University in the US.

Luleå University of Technology was claiming tuition fees from participating students and distributing the funds across the consortium.

In the rulings the Swedish Higher Education Authority stated that the tuition fees claimed by the two universities would have to be compensated by the Swedish state because it violated legislation guaranteeing higher education as a free public good.

The authority, however, noted the fact that legislation was creating problems for Swedish higher education institutions wanting to participate as equal members in international educational exchanges, and said the government needed to take action to remedy this unfortunate situation.

Professor Pam Fredman, chair of the Association of Swedish Higher Education – SUHF – and rector of Gothenburg University, wrote in the letter to the ministry that the problems encountered in 2012-13 would continue for universities wanting to offer joint degrees under the new Erasmus+ programme.

In the guidelines to Erasmus Mundus 2009-13 it is stated that consortia should: “Agree to whether or not to establish tuition fees, in accordance with its members’ national legislation.

“When tuition fees are established, Erasmus Mundus consortia should ensure that those fees are transparent and clear to applicant students; two different fee amounts can be charged, on the one hand to European and on the other hand to third-country students.”

Fredman wrote: “The problems SUHF has encountered make it difficult for Swedish universities to participate in international educational collaboration.

“We need to find a way to handle the fee question or otherwise Swedish institutions are confined to developing this form of collaboration with universities only in Norway and Finland, and possibly Denmark.

“Other countries have tuition fees or can handle cooperation with countries that partly or in full are financing studies by tuition fees."

SUHF asked for a long-term solution to these problems.