Student blogger: Tuition fees for non-EU/EEA students in Norway – who will bear the brunt of it?

Hedda master student Ammar Bahadur Singh

Hedda master student
Ammar Bahadur Singh

These days, Norwegian government is discussing the new national budget where a number of changes have been proposed. One of the proposed changes has been the introduction of tuition fees to non-EU/EEA students. While we are waiting for the decision, one of Hedda master students, Ammar Bahadur Singh has examined some of the implications of such fees for students from developing countries. 

Following the footsteps of its closest neighbors, Norwegian government in its state budget of 2015 proposed to introduce tuition fees for international students outside the EU/EEA and Switzerland. If implemented, it would directly affect the students mainly from developing countries, rather the students from other countries like the US, the UK, Canada, Australia, etc.  Denmark introduced tuition fees in 2006, Sweden in 2011, Finland in 2010 on a trial basis and the trial period is coming to an end this year, Norwegian conservative government is struggling harder to impose tuition despite strong opposition from student communities, and Iceland has not taken any initiatives in this regard, though all students must pay and annual administration fee of approximately £350.

Nordic countries are known as the front-runners in advocating, promoting and protecting the principles of equity and equality in the world, but the provision of tuition fees only for students outside EU/EEA and Switzerland goes against their own principle of equity and equality of opportunities. Why has Norway proposed to impose discriminatory provision of tuition fees?  What is the rationale behind it? If it is a business, why does the same principle not apply to all students (domestic and international) as it is in the US, the UK, Canada, etc.?

The Norwegian government led by conservative party proposed the tuition fees soon after it came into power in 2013. The parliament strongly rejected it. This year the same government has also put forward the same proposal for imposing tuition fees for international students outside EU/EEA and Switzerland. Students’ parliaments, many universities professors, international students’ union (ISU), etc. have strongly opposed the proposal saying that it would jeopardize the principle of free education, which is the cornerstone of the development of welfare state. The proposal is the blatant violation of this principle. They argue that the introduction of tuition fees is the first step of introducing tuition fees for all as the Netherlands, Ireland and the UK has done and that finally, no one will get free education.

However, the conservative circles of politicians and student wings supporting them have put forward some arguments in support of their proposal for imposing tuition fees for international students. They argue that their closest neighbors have already introduced tuition fees and they don’t want international students out EU/EEA coming to Norway simply because of cost-free education, but for quality education. Second, the provision of free education can lead to a degradation of quality and introduction of tuition fees will ensure quality in higher education. Third, why should Norwegian taxpayers subsidize international students who pay tuition fees back home and in other countries for higher education?  Fourth, they are attempting to limit the meaning of the long standing political consensus for free higher education only to Norwegian students, not for others.

How is it discriminatory?

First and foremost, imposition of tuition fees for students outside EU/EEA and Switzerland is biased and unfair.If the aim was to collect revenue, the tuition fees would be meant for all regardless of nationalities (local and international). Neither does it seem an endeavor to find alternative option for financing higher education.Though there are several reasons why Denmark and Sweden introduced tuition fees, one of the main  reasons that Danish parliament decided to introduce fees for non-EU/EEA or Swiss students was to “prevent  third countries sending students to Danish universities with a view  to Danish governments pay for their education in whole or in part” (West, 2013, p.37). Despite the fact that the number of non-EU/EEA students plummeted to about 70 % in Danish universities, Sweden decided to impose tuition fees in 2011, for non-EU/EEA students. The motives also seem to prevent the students coming from so called third world countries. The number of non-EU/EEA students has dropped by more than 80% in Swedish universities. In both countries, the majority of reduced numbers of students are from developing countries, though they have experienced a sharp rise of EU students.

Nevertheless, Norwegian conservative government stresses on introducing tuition fees. This means they would follow the same discriminatory provision, as this has primarily an effect on students coming from poor countries. If the Norwegian government would be conscious about distributive equity in having higher education, they would not have focused on tuition fees, rather focused providing increased opportunities to the poorest class of people from different corners of the world.  If they want to improve the quality of higher education sector, they would have produced good measures that help to recruit more and more talented international students. If they are abiding by their laws, historical connections, or any others, how can they keep following discriminatory provision in light of their sustained campaign for equality, equality and freedom in the globalized world?  If it is a business, why should some pay and why some get the same thing free? For this reason, tuition fees seem to be biased and unjust. It will keep perpetuating inequity in terms of distributing educational opportunities in light of increased globalization/internationalization of higher education.

Tuition fees and students from developing countries

It’s obvious that provision of tuition fees will seriously affect the international students coming mainly from developing countries rather than others. It’s not a big deal for American, British, Canadian, or other students from developed countries to pay tuition fees as they are paying expensive fees back home. Since they have internationally renowned and top ranking universities at their own home countries, I doubt if they will see any point of coming to study here in Norway or Nordic countries.

Norway is one the most expensive counties in the world and provisions of tuition fees will double the cost of studying. Majority of the students who desire to have a university degree are from lower middle class as they see education as an inevitable force to ensure and upgrade their social mobility. Because of the underdevelopment of higher education system back home, students from developing worlds look for opportunities abroad.  Most of them even sell their properties like house, land, etc., in order to pursue higher education abroad. Tuition fees will make it harder for them for international degree. It will make many families pauper for their children’s education.

Students from developing countries come to Norway because it offers free and good quality higher education. Those students who come to Nordic countries most often return to their home countries because of the stringent immigration rules and regulations, and in case of Norway, for instance, Quota scholarship implies sending them back home after they complete their education. Nordic countries are so far helping the developing countries to tackle the alarmingly increasing problem of brain drain that they are facing with now. Brain drain is seriously undermining the development in poor countries. However, tuition fees will make the students look for other destinations where cost of living is cheaper. Those students who go to the US, or Canada or Australia, etc., hardly return to home countries, they rather easily settle there.  Finally, the tuition fees imposed for non-EU/EEA students may worsen the problem of brain drain in developing countries. Nordic efforts of eradicating poverty will be much harder, almost unachievable.

Furthermore, the Nordic countries have different development agencies, like NORAD, DFID, DANIDA, etc., working in developing countries for combating poverty and capacity building in different sectors including higher education. These organizations need skilled and talented people in order to implement their programs in a local setting. However, there are only limited numbers of skilled and educated workforces in developing countries and they are also moving out of the countries in search of better education and careers. Provision of tuition will prevent many college graduates coming to Norway or Nordic countries for higher education. Without sufficient number of talented educated workforces, how can these agencies make their projects effective and fruitful?  Their mission of capacity building and transparent management and distribution of development aids will go amiss because of the lack of experts and educated workforces. Thus, there seems to be a mismatch in their mission of capacity building in developing countries and imposing tuition fees for non-EU/EEA students.

Concluding comments

Tuition fees may bring those students who are rich, but not necessarily the talented ones. Those who are talented can be recruited by other competing top universities elsewhere in globalized world. Hardly any Norwegian universities rank in even top 50 in the Times World University Rankings. Those talented students who wish to pay tuition fees are more likely to choose universities in English speaking countries as it is much easier to settle there. So, Norway may lose the talented pool of international students, who are inevitable to promoting knowledge economy.

There are many students from developing countries in the programs being taught in English in Norwegian universities. Majority of them are self-financed students. If the tuition fees imposed, many of these programs, as they did in Danish and Swedish universities, may be closed.

There is no guarantee that tuition fees will ensure quality in higher education, it may rather degrade quality as universities may focus on promotional issues of attracting for tuition paying international students in order to afford the budget deficiency, rather than enhancing institutional mechanisms for increased student engagement in teaching and learning activities both within and outside the classroom to obtaining higher quality outcomes.

Norwegian HEIs are well-funded and tuition paying students may have a little or no budgetary impact on HEIs. So, imposition of tuition fees for non-EU/EEA students seems to continue to worsen the issues equity and equality within higher education sector. It may be interpreted as the beginning of changing political view in recognizing higher education as from “subsidized public good” to “competitive market good”. Market forces further poses barrier to easy access to higher education.