Minister denies visa hike is tuition fees by back door

The government has denied claims that it is bringing in tuition fees by the back door by steeply increasing visa fees for international students.

“It is important to understand that internationalisation and the need for incentives for increased student mobility are about much more than the student visa and the fees for it,” the new Minister of Research and Higher Education Iselin Nybø (Liberal Party) said in parliament in answer to a question from the Labour Party.

“I also feel that it is wrong to characterise this as introducing fees through the back door,” she said.

She said the price level of the visa is under the authority of the minister of justice and questions about it should be directed to that ministry.

Nybø was answering questions on 7 February from Labour’s Nina Sandberg, who noted that the number of students from outside the European Economic Area (EEA), particularly from developing countries, had declined over the past two years, “probably as a consequence of the government’s changing strategies”, among them closing down the Quota Scheme, and Sandberg wanted to know what effect the increase in visa application fees would have on the internationalisation of higher education.

The Quota Scheme funded students from developing countries and Central and Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

Minister Nybø said that internationalisation of higher education is important and that extensive international collaboration and mobility of students and staff are crucial for Norway to succeed within higher education and research.

She said the white paper on quality in higher education passed in parliament last year underlined the importance of internationalisation for quality. “This means that student mobility is important for each student, but also has an impact on the quality of education in Norway.”

She said various mobility programmes had substituted for the Quota Scheme, such as INTPART, the collaborative programme with excellent institutions abroad, and UTFORSK, which is directed towards Brazil, India, Japan, China, Russia and South Africa, and NORPART, supporting higher education collaborations between Norway and institutions in developing countries.

But Sandberg pressed the point that the Liberal Party had previously defended the principle of free higher education for all in the face of the previous Conservative Party government’s push to introduce tuition fees for students from outside of the EEA and asked what effect the rise in visa fees would have on the principle.

“The discussion of tuition fees was not a part of the [current three-party] Jeløya platform,” Nybø responded. “What is a part of this platform is that we want internationalisation, and that international students are coming to Norway, but we also want Norwegian students to go abroad, and that is why we want to deliver a white paper to parliament on this issue.

”We want to strengthen institutional collaboration through our existing programmes,” Nybø said.

Sandberg said it was “a little hollow” to talk about the importance of internationalisation at the same time as making policies that in praxis weaken the chances of international students obtaining a study place in Norway.

Nybø said parliament had asked for an evolution of the Quota Scheme and the government would come back with proposals. In the meantime, it will bring a white paper to parliament to discuss internationalisation in the “broadest possible sense” before addressing the use of instruments.