Plan to halve institutions in study abroad grants scheme

The budget proposal for 2022-23 remains on the table despite a change of government in Norway and it includes a proposal that will roughly halve the number of foreign institutions at which Norwegian students will be eligible for additional tuition fee support.

The significant change would mean students could receive the extra support at only 75 international research universities, compared to 140 to 150 in previous years.

The new policy is a development of the governmental Panorama strategy for internationalisation introduced in 2015 to increase international collaboration with the BRICS countries.

An evaluation (in Norwegian) in 2020 had led the government to modify the strategy and to include the United States, Canada and South Korea in the Panorama-prioritised collaboration countries.

As a consequence of the new policy, students at eligible institutions, if the tuition fees exceed NOK136,924 (US$ 16,000) per year, receive additional grants of up to NOK73,694 (US$8,760) per year (2020-21 figures) and an additional loan of up to NOK105,601 (US$12,500) annually.

Of the list of 75 universities for 2022-23, nearly half (33) are located in the United States, eight in the UK, seven in China including Hong Kong, six in Australia, three each in Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland, and two each in Belgium, Japan and Singapore.

The list includes the following leading universities:

• Harvard, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Stanford and California Institute of Technology in the USA.

• Oxford, Cambridge, Imperial College London and UCL in the UK.

• Dutch universities Groningen, Utrecht and Leiden.

• Switzerland’s ETH, EPFL and University of Zurich.

• Australian National University, Monash University, University of New South Wales, University of Melbourne, University of Queensland and the University of Sydney in Australia.

• Mainland China’s Tsinghua University, Peking University, Zhejiang University, Fudan University, Shanghai Jiao Tong University and University of Science and Technology of China.

• The University of Hong Kong.

• Japan’s University of Tokyo.

• National University of Singapore and Nanyang Technological University in Singapore.

• Canada’s McGill University, University of British Columbia and University of Toronto.

The number of universities in the US is being cut from 54 in 2021-22 to 33 in 2022-23, but the universities on the list are not the same.

UK most popular destination

However, the UK, rather than the US, is the most popular country for Norwegian degree students abroad, with 3,696 in 2020-21 compared to 1,472 in the US, 1,550 in Poland, 664 in the Netherlands and 456 in Australia. In 2014-15 there was a peak year of Norwegian students in the UK with 5,296.

Yet the number of UK universities where Norwegian students can get this additional economic support, is reduced from 23 in 2021-22 to eight in 2022-23.

The UK institutions cut from the list are the universities of Cardiff, Durham, London School of Economics (LSE), Queen Mary University in London, Birmingham, Exeter, Glasgow, Leeds, Liverpool, Nottingham, Sheffield, Southampton, Sussex, Warwick and York.

Queen Mary University is cut despite having the sixth highest number of Norwegian students in the UK in 2020-21 with 63, as is LSE with the seventh highest number, 56.

The five universities with the highest number were Edinburgh with 188, followed by the University of Roehampton (158), University of Winchester (139), Kingston University (115), and King’s College London (100).

The full global list of the 75 universities where Norwegian students are going to be eligible for extra funding in 2022-23 is listed on the Governmental Board web pages below the Norwegian text.

The choice of universities on the list for extra grants is determined by placings in two international rankings of research universities worldwide – the Times Higher Education World University Rankings and the Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU, also called the Shanghai Ranking). The place that universities are awarded in these two rankings are added and combined into one index.

The governmental loan board makes estimates to decide how many study places are to be funded each year.

“Our goal is that this is to be a top grant. These universities that are prioritised shall be better than the best Norwegian universities. When the list included 140-150 universities we supported [studies at] some universities that were ranked lower than the best universities in Norway [on the ranking lists]. When we now cut the list to 75 universities, we are prioritising the best universities [in the world],” former minister of education and research Henrik Asheim, told the Norwegian newspaper VG.

“From before, Brazil, India, China, Russia, Japan and South Africa are part of the Panorama-strategy. These countries are characterised as of special interest for Norway, Asheim had told Khrono in April.

“South Korea is in fast development and is investing much in higher education, research and innovation. We have also long traditions with the US and Canada, and since they belong to the same economical instruments as the Panorama countries, it is meaningful to include them in this strategy.”

Governmental priorities

The budget proposal for 2022-23 states that the government wants more students to choose studies in the Panorama-countries both for student exchanges and degree studies.

It says changes will therefore be made according to the regulations of the Norwegian government study abroad support policy, to increase student mobility to the prioritised collaboration countries.

The government generally wants a greater proportion of Norwegian students than today to opt for exchanges to non-English-speaking countries, notably the non-English-speaking Panorama-countries, the proposal says.

The government acknowledges that climate change also means that the higher education sector must reduce the climate emissions, but it thinks that the value of student exchanges can justify that such exchanges are prioritised.

“Use of technology can lead to internationalisation being undertaken virtually and Norwegian institutions can increase internationalisation without increasing climate emissions,” the proposal says.

There is also a more pragmatic approach to recruitment of international students to Norway, both through exchange and full-time degree programmes, with the exemption of tuition fees for them.

“Recruitment will be grounded in national needs of competence and be explicitly directed among others also towards the Panorama-countries,” the proposal says. “The government will appoint a broadly composed working group that among other issues will work out a policy on this [internationalisation].”

The government is also expecting Norwegian universities and university colleges to increase their collaboration with institutions in the Panorama countries.

Universities taken off the list

Comparing the 2021-22 list with that of 2022-23, some of the European universities taken off the list include University of Amsterdam, Radboud University of Nijmegen, Vrije University Amsterdam, Delft University of Technology, Maastricht University, Lomonosov Moscow State University, University of Vienna, University of Barcelona, Trinity College Dublin and RWTH Aachen.

Asian universities that will no longer be on the list are Chinese University of Hong Kong, Seoul National University, Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, National Taiwan University, City University of Hong Kong, the Hong Kong Polytechnic University and the private Sungkyunkwan University in South Korea.

The Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv University will also be taken off the list, as will the Australian universities of Western Australia and Adelaide.

New grant to Panorama universities

Grants for university studies will be implemented in order to stimulate further student exchanges and degree studies in prioritised collaboration countries. Those students that go on an exchange with universities in the Panorama countries will receive NOK2,500 ($300) extra per month from 2022-23.

The ministry will later also decide if the same grant will be awarded to Norwegian students in other prioritised countries such as Germany and France.

The new regulations for the additional grant for students to selected universities will be changed from the study year 2022-23 and this will affect students going to Australia, the UK and the US in particular, it is proposed. Students that are already studying at eligible universities will be allowed to complete their degree, even if the university is no longer on the list.

Sebastian Hytten, president of the Association of Norwegian Students Abroad (ANSA), told the newspaper VG that exchange students are being funded at the expense of funding for degree students, “and I see no strengthening of internationalisation of higher education”.

Jon Gunnar Simonsen, head of section for education and research at the Norwegian Directorate for Higher Education and Skills, which draws up the list of universities where Norwegian students might get an extended grant and-or loan from the ministry, commented on the UK situation to University World News: “It is too early to say how the proposed changes (to the list of universities approved for extended grants) will impact the recruitment of Norwegian students to universities in the UK with high tuition fees. Several important funding schemes for Norwegians will continue to exist even after Brexit, including new opportunities through Erasmus+.”

He said while only the highest ranked institutions qualify for an extended grant, Norwegian students may receive a loan and grant from the State Educational Loan Fund to cover tuition fees (up to a certain level) as well as living expenses for studies at all British universities.

“Most Norwegian degree and non-Erasmus study abroad students in the UK pay full tuition fees, and according to our knowledge, the fee level will not increase as a result of Brexit. Norwegian higher education institutions may still send their students to British partner universities on a fee waiver and with an Erasmus grant, through the new Erasmus+ opportunity for mobility to third countries not associated with the programme,” he said.

“However, new expenses for health insurance and visa fees will make it more expensive for Norwegians to study in the UK, probably for all these student groups. The introduction of such fees, together with changes to the funding schemes, may result in some students preferring other study destinations than the UK.”

There remains one opportunity to have the list amended and that is in the final budget round in parliament in December 2021. The question is whether there is time and willingness for the new government to try out significant changes in this setup, which would require many details being reworked.