Rectors oppose proposal for non-European student fees

In its budget for 2015, the Norwegian government has proposed that universities and public colleges claim tuition fees from students from outside the European Economic Area and Switzerland, starting in autumn next year. But rectors have opposed the plan.

Budget allocations to higher education institutions have therefore been cut by NOK81 million (US$12 million) for 2015 and double that amount for 2016.

The proposal will not have any effect on students who are eligible for funding from the Norwegian State Educational Loan Fund, or on exchange students.

The ministry has estimated that some 1,700 students from outside Europe could be charged tuition fees that on average could be set at NOK100,000 (US$14,700).

Students from the United States, Russia and China will be particularly hard hit, since students accepted for the Norwegian Quota Scheme – 1,100 grantees from selected developing countries and some countries in Eastern Europe – or coming through exchange agreements with Norwegian higher education institutions will not be affected.

The total number of foreign students in Norway in 2014 is 19,122, up 31% since 2010.

The increase from the three countries Russia, China and the US, however, was 48% over the four years, totalling 2,867 in 2014, with America having 469 students, China 889 and Russia 1,509. Students from Australia increased by 51% over the four years to 110, and the numbers from Brazil by 233% to 177 students.

The proposal was first presented by the coalition minority government a year ago, but was not endorsed by parliament. The government is now depending on support from the Liberal Party and Christian People’s Party, which have been lukewarm on the fees proposal.

But in ongoing budget negotiations between the government and the two parties, the proposal is just a minor detail among many difficult proposals, so the chances that the fees proposal will sneak through are not negligible.

Universities, students reject proposal

Higher education institutions are worried that the introduction of tuition fees for non-European students will impede internationalisation work, and do not regard the proposal as a good idea, while most student unions are strongly against it.

In an article last weekend in the major Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten, the rectors of eight major universities were asked their views. Several said that they would work for a system where tuition fees for non-European students would be covered by universities.

Rector Mari Sundli Tveit of the Norwegian University of Life Sciences said it would have a funding cut of NOK3.2 million in 2015 if the proposal went through. She said she would propose to the board that fees not be claimed in 2015.

“Our foreign students do not mainly come from Europe; we are working with global problems that are demanding cooperation beyond Europe,” she told Aftenposten.

Dag Rune Olsen, rector of the University of Bergen, said: “We will not introduce tuition fees. We think that foreign students coming here is a very good investment in our future international networks.”

University of Oslo Rector Ole Petter Ottersen wrote on his website: “Introducing tuition fees will be a loss for Norway.

“Sweden introduced such fees in 2011, and the effect was that the campus became 'Europeanised'. The number of students from outside Europe was halved during one year. We have to expect the same effect for Norway.

“In Norway, we pride ourselves for international orientation. Let us therefore subscribe to the free cost principle for higher education,” Ottersen argued.

Minister of Education and Research Torbjørn Røe Isaksen said that he thought it would be fine for universities to not claim tuition fees and cover the loss of income from their budgets.

“They have to weigh the value of having students from third countries against other priorities,” he told Aftenposten.