Several of Norway’s largest universities are rejecting a state budget proposal that would call on them to start charging tuition fees to foreign students from outside the European Economic Area. Top university officials claim they’d rather subsidize the tuition, in order to retain the diversity that foreign students bring to their schools.
Norway remains among the few countries in the world that charges no tuition at state-funded colleges and universities. Students are responsible for their own living expenses, usually financed through relatively generous state-subsidized student loan programs, but in theory, a university education in Norway is free for those who meet entrance requirements. Both Norwegian students whose parents have paid taxes in Norway and foreign students are eligible for tuition-free study.
Now Norway’s minority conservative government, which recently presented its first state budget proposal, is moving forward with its proposal to end the free ride for foreigners outside the EU. While Norway can’t legally charge tuition to foreign students from within the EU, under terms of its economic agreement with the EU, the government wants Norwegian universities to start charging students from outside the European Economic Area NOK 95,000 per year (around USD 15,000 a year) to study in Norway. Newspaper Aftenposten reported over the weekend that at least half of university deans in Norway don’t want to impose such fees, however, and are even offering to bear the brunt of any such cost in their own budgets.
‘No plans’ to start charging
“We have no plans to impose tuition fees,” Dag Rune Olsen, rector of the University of Bergen, told Aftenposten. “We may need to admit fewer (foreign students), but I don’t think we can demand so much money from this group of students. We believe those foreign students who come to us are a very good investment in our future international network. They are good students but not necessarily able to pay tuition.”
Olsen added that the foreign students “contribute positively to the international milieu on campus” and noted that some of them start working for Norwegian companies after graduation, both in Norway and elsewhere in the world.
Several other top officials questioned by Aftenposten had similar opinions on the issue. They want to continue to attract foreign students and fear that tuition fees will dramatically reduce their numbers. In Sweden, for example, the number of foreign students from outside the EU fell by 79 percent when the country started charging them tuition.
“I hope this proposal is removed from the state budget,” said Anne Husebekk, rector of the University of Tromsø (UiT) in northern Norway. “I will propose to the board that we find solutions so that students from outside the EU can still come to the University of Tromsø without extra economic obligation. UiT is and shall continue to be an international university.”
University of Oslo also opposed
Ole Petter Ottersen, rector of the University of Oslo (UiO), the largest and oldest of Norway’s universities, said that if tuition for foreign students is approved by Parliament, he’ll propose that UiO not charge it and cover the cost from other areas of its budget. “I think it’s highly unsatisfactory to treat foreign students from outside the EU so differently than those from inside the EU.”
So-called “quota students” who receive financial assistance to study in Norway through foreign aid program would be exempt, but students from North and South America, Russia and many countries in Asia, for example, would face tuition bills under the government proposal. Conservative politicians point to how neighbouring countries like Denmark, Sweden and Finland have imposed tuition on foreign students, and think Norway should do the same. They don’t think it’s right for Norwegian taxpayers to cover the cost of higher education for students whose families haven’t contributed to the country’s tax base.
NTNU in Trondheim, where researchers recently won the Nobel Prize in Medicine, hasn’t taken a position on the tuition issue yet but several others have. The dean of Norway’s top agricultural school NMBU (Norges miljø- og biovitenskaplige universitet) in Ås is among them. “We work with global issues all the time, and that demands international cooperation far beyond the EU’s borders,” Rector Mari Sundli Tveit told Aftenposten. She has no desire to start charging tuition to NMBU’s foreign students-
“We knew we’d face opposition to this,” responded Education Minister Torbjørn Røe Isaksen of the Conservative Party. He thinks it’s fine if universities opt against imposing tuition fees, at their own expense.
“The institutions can decide for themselves if they think it’s worth it for them to have students from outside the EU, weighed against other important prioritiies,” Isaksen told Aftenposten. He said the government doesn’t want foreign students coming to study in Norway simply because it’s free, but because we have a good educational offer. Then the universities can be more goal-oriented in recruiting students.”
He thinks some foreign students would, and should, be willing to pay NOK 95,000 to study for a full year in Norway. “We have several universities and institutions that are very good,” he said. “Regardless of what happens, the tuition issue is a discussion that will continue to come up.”