Ten rectors ask parliament to delay tuition fee decision

Ten Norwegian rectors of the major universities, plus the Norwegian Society of Graduate Technical and Scientific Professionals (TEKNA, with 98,000 members) and the Confederation of Norwegian Enterprise (NHO), have written a joint letter calling on parliament to postpone a vote on whether to introduce tuition fees for students from outside the European Economic Area and Switzerland until after the government budget for 2023 has been announced.

On 23 November they wrote: “We do not think that parliament has gotten sufficient background information to see the consequences of the budget proposal. We therefore demand that parliament asks the government in collaboration with the private and public sectors to produce much more thorough documentation for parliament before an eventual introduction of tuition fees is endorsed by parliament.”

The rectors argue that the internationalisation of higher education has many positive aspects which are based on a broad political agreement and that the proposed tuition fees might have negative effects that need to be thoroughly investigated, notably because the effects upon competence building and development of democracy have not been investigated in the governmental proposal.

They also argue that Norway has to continue studies that have a low recruitment of Norwegian students to be able to keep existing academic milieus alive and further develop flexible higher education studies.

They said the current arrangements with free higher education for all is a competitive advantage in the international recruitment of good students.

“If this is changed, it will have to be substituted with other arrangements that need further investigations before they are decided upon,” they wrote.

Proposed budget builds in fees income

Those signing the letter fear that parliament is preparing to back the government’s proposed budget, which builds in expected income from tuition fees, and that those fees will be introduced in 2023, with universities not prepared for the consequences.

Under the plan, a possible 80% reduction in enrolment of international students is expected and those study places would be made available for Norwegian students.

The rectors are asking for an investigation to be undertaken into the potential consequences of introducing tuition fees and for the impact on the following factors to be further analysed:

• Risk factors for national, regional and national need for competence.

• Recruitment to scientific positions.

• Recruitment to doctoral degree studies.

• Retention and development of good academic milieus in important academic fields.

• The potential to develop and retain important, flexible and work-related local studies.

• Secure access to advanced competence in the local workforce.

• The consequences for Norway of no longer giving international students without economic means access to higher education.

• Future international collaboration within higher education.

Nina Sandberg, secretary general of Universities Norway (UHR), told University World News: “Universities Norway is opposed to the introduction of tuition fees, as well as the other proposed governmental cuts in international knowledge collaboration.”

She said Norway is a small knowledge system set in an open society and economy. “The proposal is contrary to national ambitions of increased internationalisation. The introduction of a tuition fee will severely reduce the influx of students.”

She said this would inflict an estimated cost of NOK74.4 million (US$7.5 million) on higher education institutions from 2023 onwards.

“Also, Norwegian universities do not have in place an administrative apparatus to be able to handle recruitment of international students paying tuition fees on such short notice.”