A debate was sparked in Norway’s parliament last month as the higher education minister Ola Borten Moe put forward the proposal of introducing tuition fees for international students – citing that it is simply a case of fairness.
“In the vast majority of cases, Norwegian students have to pay tuition fees to study abroad. There is no reason why it should be any different here,” Moe told parliament in early October.
“Norway will still be open to students from all countries, but we think it is right and reasonable that they also pay for themselves,” he affirmed.
In Study.Eu’s report, over 1,000 students from outside the EEA were surveyed, and the opinion was clear – this would be a very unpopular decision among students.
“We think it is right and reasonable that [int’l students] also pay for themselves”
Asked whether they could afford yearly tuition fees at the value of 50,000 Norwegian kroner (around £4,200), all but 28% of them said it would at least be unlikely but still possible.
However, once that figure doubled to 100,000 kroner a year, the opinion drastically changed, with almost 64% saying it would be impossible for them to afford studying in Norway. That figure leaped again at a proposed 150,000 kroner a year to almost 80%.
“In the short term, this might be a fool’s bargain. Fewer students mean less money flowing into local economies,” said Gerrit Bruno Blöss, Study.eu CEO.
“While there won’t be many students who will actually pay fees, many operating costs will remain fixed even with smaller classes,” he added.
In terms of how universities adapt to the changes, it may not as be as money-saving as it looks logically.
“Some may depend today on international students – and the govenrment funding they have received thus far for them – some there might be concrete programs in danger of being closed down,” said Jérôme Rickmann, senior adviser, global engagement and leadership support services at Aalto University, told The PIE News.
Rickmann, who specialises in policy research in Sweden and Finland, looked at Norway’s proposal and predicted that as well as some programs being in danger, others may not rely on the funding but may “feel the impact on diversity of perspectives that impacts the quality of the program”.
“For example, things like international development studies or anything global south related might be affected,” he added.
There is an estimation by the government that this proposal could save higher education in the country €115 million – but this tuition free education is already causing citizens over triple that amount in taxes, and if the report’s survey were to predict the outcome correctly, numbers of students paying those fees could drop by 70%.
According to Study.eu’s report, over two thirds of those surveyed weren’t even aware that these fees were a possibility – and with some of the earliest application deadlines on the continent, this makes life even more difficult for prospective non-EEA students, Blöss said.
“Universities haven’t had a chance to properly communicate potential fees to their prospective students for the 2023 intake. Two thirds of students we surveyed hadn’t even heard of this plan at all. Introducing fees in a hurry will destroy study-abroad plans for many young people – and is likely to cause lasting reputational damage to Norway’s education sector as well as the country as a whole,” he stressed.
“In the short term, this might be a fool’s bargain”
Study.eu’s figures currently indicate that the single biggest reason that students go to Norway to study is the university and academic reputation in the country – with 75% of respondents listing it as such.
The second most popular reason on the survey was the tuition free study options; Americans especially are looking to Europe for more affordable study opportunities.
Rickmann predicted that in the coming years, it will dpend on how “market smart” universities are as to whether they flourish under such a proposal – especially in regards to recruitment capacities.
The tuition prices, or lack thereof, generally help international students offset some of the highest cost of living prices in the entirety of Europe – with the European price index Eurostat citing food and drink prices as being 49% higher than the continent’s average.
Only Switzerland and Iceland had higher figures.
Along with its Scandinavian and Nordic neighbours Denmark and Sweden, in addition to Iceland, it was also among the top seven happiest countries in the world in 2022 – Finland took the top spot.
When Sweden and Finland introduced tuition fees for international students in 2011 and 2017 respectively, in the short term, it did hurt foreign student figures, with scholarship schemes and heavy international marketing dragging both countries through a “slow rebound growth”.
“Adaptable and competitive universities may benefit in several ways from the change – more disposable funding, more strategic internationalisation work – in the mid-to-long run,” Rickmann added.