Universities oppose fees for international students

The government has been warned by academics and unions that proposals to introduce tuition fees for international students at Sweden’s universities could discourage gifted foreign students from coming to study here.

An official report on the issue was commissioned by the last government from former Swedish Institute director Erland Ringborg and presented in January. It recommended that all students coming to Sweden from outside the European Economic Area should pay for the cost of their education. All undergraduate and Masters students in Sweden currently have their costs paid by the Swedish state, regardless of their nationality.

But in submissions presented to the department of education on Thursday, universities and unions argued that fees could dissuade foreign students from coming to Sweden, a situation which they say could leave many colleges with gaps in their budgets and which would deprive Swedish institutions of valuable foreign talent.

The Swedish National Agency for Higher Education said it remained against all tuition fees in Swedish universities.

Anders Flodström, president of the Royal Insitute of Technology (KTH) in Stockholm was cautious about the plans.

“I think we would prefer a tuition fee system – for Swedish students as well in the long run – but a tuition fee system has to be accompanied by stipends and scholarships. We don’t see such a system being put forward at present.”

Flodström said that KTH was expecting over 2,000 non-European students next year, but said that tuition fees would “definitely put them off coming” if there was no scholarship system.

“If this was the case, they would go to places like Imperial [in London] and MIT [Massachussetts Institute of Technology] instead.”

He said that while industry sponsors PhD students at KTH, the only realistic source of sponsorship for undergraduates and Masters students was the government.

“There would be an economic loss in our case of around 70 million kronor per year if we were not compensated,” he said.

“More seriously, there would be a drop in quality – we get some excellent students from non-European countries.”

The report recommended providing stipends, to be administered by the Swedish Institute. But according to the Swedish Agency For Public Management, the 11 million kronor cost of providing stipends for foreign students, together with the cost of administering the stipends and handling fee payments, would actually wipe out any gains to the public purse.

Union organization TCO, which represents many teachers and lecturers, said in its submission that it “understands the need to introduce charges for some university students.” But it also warned against creeping towards a system such as that in the UK, where domestic students are now also charged tuition fees. It also stressed the importance of stipends for foreign students, “so that we don’t abandon our view of education as a human right.” It also said that if a fee-charging system for foreign students was introduced it would be necessary to take steps to avoid Swedish students being marginalized.

Education minister Lars Leijonborg as previously said that he would look at the issue of charging non-European students. But his spokesman, Johan Britz, told The Local on Friday that he had not yet decided what to do about the issue.

“We plan to read the submissions and to consult with universities and organizations,” said Britz.