Universities set to stay tuition-free

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Foreign students from outside the European Union and Economic Area look likely, along with all others, to continue to be able to study at Norwegian universities without having to pay tuition. A proposal to start charging the tuition or school fees that apply in most all other countries around the world, especially for non-citizens, hasn’t won support from a majority in Parliament.

The Norwegian University of Life Sciences (UMB) in Ås has the largest number of foreign students of all the universities in Norway. Students there have firmly opposed a proposal to introduce tuition fees. PHOTO: UMB

The Norwegian University of Life Sciences (UMB) in Ås has the largest number of foreign students of all the universities in Norway. Students there have firmly opposed a proposal to introduce tuition fees. PHOTO: UMB

Norway’s new Conservatives-led government will still propose charging tuition to students coming from outside  Europe, since they can’t legally charge European students under terms of Norway’s economic agreement with the EU. The government argues that tuition could increase the overall quality of higher education in Norway, in several ways. On Wednesday night, however, one of the government’s two small support parties in parliament, the Christian Democrats, voted against the tuition proposal.

The Christian Democrats’ parliamentary group decided they don’t want to start charging any foreign students at Norwegian universities and colleges, and the government’s other support party, the Liberals, had already reached the same conclusion. That probably means the government’s tuition proposal won’t win parliamentary approval.

“It’s undoubtedly positive that we have a ‘free education’ principle in Norway,” Emil André Erstad of the party’s youth organization told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). “What applies for Norwegian citizens should also apply for those who come here to study.”

Others have argued that Norwegian taxpayers should have no obligation to educate foreign students who haven’t contributed to the tax base in addition to Norwegian students coming from families who have. They also argue that offering a tuition-free education by no means ensures Norway will attract the best or most qualified university applicants.

Norway's young new education minister, Torbjørn Røe Isaksen, told NRK on Thursday that he's not giving up his government's proposal to introduce tuition fees for foreign students from outside Europe. It looks unlikely, however, to get through parliament. PHOTO: Kunnskapsdepartementet

Norway’s young new education minister, Torbjørn Røe Isaksen, told NRK on Thursday that he’s not giving up his government’s proposal to introduce tuition fees for foreign students from outside Europe. It looks unlikely, however, to get through parliament. PHOTO: Kunnskapsdepartementet

“We are evaluating study fees (tuition) because we are unsure whether the system we have today contributes to internationalization in a positive manner,” Bjørn Haugstad, state secretary in the education ministry, told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) earlier this month. Norwegian universities and colleges, the government has argued, should compete for good students in terms of quality, not price.

Both Sweden and Denmark have begun imposing tuition on students from outside Europe, and the government coalition now made up of the Conservatives and the Progress Party thinks it’s “natural” that Norway does the same. In Sweden, however, the number of foreign students fell by 80 percent when tuition fees were first charged, and many university deans in Norway fear the same will happen at their schools if foreign students start having to pay university fees in a country already known for having the highest prices in the world.

“I don’t think it’s a good idea (to start charging tuition),” said Anne Husebekk, dean of the University of Tromsø. She noted that her school attracts many students from Russia, “and for many of them, it wouldn’t be possible to study here if we imposed fees.”

‘Denting equal opportunity’
Norway’s International Students’ Union has also firmly opposed introduction of tuition fees, claiming it would “put a dent n the equal opportunities and rights to education policy embodied into the Norwegian society and system.” The students’ union also claimed it would be “discriminatory, given that Norway is hailed worldwide as custodians of human rights and free education.”

The group has practical objections as well, suggesting that Norwegian universities would have to compete for international students against more popular places such as the US, Canada, the UK and Australia. That in turn would incur new costs that must be borne by Norwegian taxpayers, while Norway would risk losing international students who “bring skills, innovation and diversification to the programs and institutions where they study.” The Norwegian students’ organization (NSO) has opposed tuition on their fellow foreign students as well.

Read one foreign student’s thoughts on the current lack of tuition in Norway, “Keeping higher education free.’

State Secretary Haugstad, however, thinks many foreign students only come to Norway to study because their education will be financed by Norwegian taxpayers. “We need to look at the motivations they have, what qualifications they have and where they come from,” Haugstad told NRK. He noted that the majority of foreign students in Norway come from Russia, China, Iran, the US and Nepal.

The Norwegian University of Life Sciences (UMB) in Ås, south of Oslo, has the largest concentration of foreign students in Norway. Aftenposten.no reported recently that UMB, formerly known as Norway’s Agricultural University, has students from around 100 countries, with the most coming from Nepal, Tanzania, Uganda, Ethiopia and Pakistan.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund