Students flock to free universities

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Norwegian colleges and universities are reporting an increased application rate from foreign students, as Norway has become the only country in Europe to continue offering tuition-free higher education to all, regardless of country of origin.

The University of Oslo is among Norway's institutions of higher education that charges no tuition, and that's attracting new hordes of foreign students. PHOTO: Sven Goll

With a number of top Norwegian universities reporting large increases in applicants from overseas, the secretary general of the Universities and Colleges Council (Universitets- og høyskolerådet), Ola Stave, fears growing administrative challenges. The minister for research and higher education, Tora Aasland of the Socialist Left party (SV), has promised to look at what the government can do to support the sector, including the possibility of a national admissions office for masters studies applications.

Stave highlighted the fact that “not all of those who apply are qualified,” as well as difficulty in verifying documents pertaining to applicants’ previous education. “The increase in applicants demands resources that we do not have,” he added. Evidence shows that the University of Oslo has seen a 60 percent increase in self-financing international applicants to masters programmes, with Trondheim’s Norwegian University of Science and Technology (Norges teknisk-naturvitenskapelige universitet, NTNU) reporting a 45 percent growth.

Research from the European University Association suggests that public sector cuts implemented by other European countries after the recent financial crisis have often targeted higher education as the first sector to lose government funding. This loss of public financing is usually offset by an increase in student fees for domestic and international students, with many countries allowing universities and colleges to set their own fees for international students.

Already-competitive programmes in medical and financial studies are predicted to see the biggest increase in overseas applicants.

Meanwhile, there has been some debate in Norway over proposals to finally impose tuition charges on students, not least to help fund needed expansion and improvements at university campuses around the country. Around 5,000 undergraduates were turned away last year because of space shortages.

Newspaper Aftenposten reported last fall that the Conservative Party is open to proposals calling for tuition charges of, for example, NOK 30,000 a year (USD 5,000, and modest by US standards), but Aasland rejected the idea. Her party prides itself on support for education, and no tuition will be imposed “as long as this government is sitting” she said.

Views and News from Norway/Aled-Dilwyn Fisher
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