New call for scrapping of unregulated tuition fees

The Swedish national radio’s new service, Dagens Eko, recently broadcast several programmes asking how the price of tuition fees are decided at Swedish higher education institutions, given that the fee level can vary up to twice the cost for similar courses at different universities and colleges.

A student from outside Europe who wants to study in Sweden has to pay more than SEK100,000 (US$ 12,200) per year [in tuition fees], even if the courses they are attending only cost half that price, Dagens Eko reported.

Commenting on these findings, Minister of Higher Education and Research Helene Hellmark Knutsson said: “It is remarkable that the costs are so high. The previous government introduced the tuition fees without establishing any regulations for how the courses should be costed, and left this task up to each individual university.”

The findings have led to calls by the main students’ union to scrap the fees on the grounds that they have not helped increase the quality of higher education provided and to a call by former minister of education and leader of the Liberals, Jan Björklund, to investigate whether students are being overcharged.

The Dagens Eko programme revealed that Swedish universities have included costs for PR and building up an administrative apparatus to handle the tuition fees and to attract more international students, into the tuition fee costs for the study programmes they offer.

Hellmark Knutsson said: “It is important for Sweden to have more international students coming here.” She said the previous government did not make any ‘consequence analysis’ or lay down any regulations on tuition fees.

“In the autumn we will therefore appoint a committee that can find out how to improve internationalisation at Swedish universities.”

Johan Alvfors, chair of the Swedish National Union of Students or SFS, representing 300,000 out of 340,000 Swedish students, said the government should not wait for the autumn for a committee to examine the question. “This should be executed by the government as soon as possible.”

He said when tuition fees were introduced in 2011 [for students from outside Europe], the number of students coming to study from outside Europe dropped 60%, meaning that 5,000 fewer students were recruited from Asia, 1,000 fewer from Africa and 3,000 fewer from the rest of the world.

“Paradoxically, the introduction of tuition fees has not led to a significant improvement in the quality of Swedish higher education,” Alvfors argued, referring to Dagens Eko’s investigations.

He said last year Swedish higher education institutions grossed more than SEK500 million (US$61 million) from students from outside Europe, and “tens of thousands of Swedish krona can be the difference between the tuition fees claimed for the same courses at Swedish universities”.

Alvfors said policy should be more focused upon pedagogical innovations and less directed towards discussing if we should keep the tuition fee system.


Deputy President of the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, Eva Malmström Jonsson, told Dagens Eko that the universities are not charging exorbitantly high tuition fees.

“We have done a detailed analysis of our total costs, but this is not an exact science; we have to use estimates on which costs the university has for different activities,” she said. “Using price calculations based on additional costs for foreign students is no problem.”

However, Lena Adamson, and associate professor at Stockholm University, said: "I was one of many who were very critical of the introduction of these fees and also to the lack of analysis of the consequences. I believe in Sweden we have probably lost much more than we have gained here with international students previously either staying here after their studies and contributing to our society or going back home but with Swedish networks in their luggage."

Jan Björklund, former minister of education, who oversaw the introduction of tuition fees, said an investigation of the higher education sector’s use of tuition fees should be undertaken.

“Then the higher education institutions that are demanding fees that are too high have to argue for how they have been calculated and if they are [charging] prices that are too high, these have to be reduced,” he said.

Niklas Tranaeus, marketing strategist at the Swedish Institute, told University World News: “The opinion of SFS [the Swedish National Union of Students] is well-known and barely news. That a survey of this is now being done is expected since there are ambiguities in the regulations on how universities should act, for instance with regards to repayments.

“The government has as an ambition that it shall contribute to increased internationalisation with regard to higher education. I am judging the probability that tuition fees will be scrapped as very small. The trend in the Nordic countries seems to be going in the other direction now that Finland is also introducing such fees.”