Foreign student fees delayed until 2011

The Swedish government’s proposal to charge university tuition fees to non-European students has been postponed by one year, Anders Steinwall of the Ministry of Education told The Local.

Foreign student fees delayed until 2011

A government commission that began investigating the idea in 2006 received support from Higher Education Minister, Lars Leijonborg, in 2008. He said last June that if the motion passes, university would remain free for EU students, but would cost a fee for non-Europeans beginning by January 1st, 2010.

But now, “Fees could be introduced starting 2011, no earlier,” said Steinwall. The bill won’t be presented to parliament until October this year. If passed, initiating the charges will take time to coordinate.

The proposed bill states each university would be able to decide its own fees, but Steinwall said the estimated average is 70,000 to 80,000 kronor ($9,000 to $10,000) per year.

“We do not want to introduce fees to deter students, but in order to limit the cost borne by the taxpayer,” said Steinwall. “We hope to be able to attract students from all over the world, even after the introduction of fees.”

He said universities would need to introduce scholarships and increase marketing to recruit international students, who would then have to pay.

Still, the introduction of tuition fees might not affect enrollment rates, according to Uppsala University’s director of student affairs, Einar Lauritzen. He said tens of thousands of international students apply yearly to the school, most from Asian and African countries like Pakistan and Nigeria.

“The number of students who actually come is a fraction of the applicants,” explained Lauritzen, meaning enrollment numbers could remain the same despite charging fees.

He also said the university is in favour of the idea. “We don’t think that Sweden, and the Nordic countries for that matter, can be different from other universities in the world concerning fees in this matter,” he explained. “We have to change the current system.”

Despite administrative support, students don’t necessarily see the proposal as positive.

“We are very opposed. We think that education is a right, and not something you can buy and sell, like clothes or shoes,” said Moa Meuman, chair of the Swedish Association of Student Unions (Sveriges förenade studentkårer).

She said she feels this law would decrease the number of students studying in Sweden and would have little financial gain. Calculations estimate a profit of one per cent for universities, which doesn’t include scholarship hand-outs, she said.

“The concept of free education in Sweden is something we can be proud of,” she said. “International students could stay here, or be an ambassador for Sweden wherever they go afterwards. The students will contribute to education in Sweden, bringing experiences that Swedish children might not have had, which can enhance education.”

Meuman said this could be the first step in creating tuition fees for Swedish students, which has occurred in countries like Ireland. “The government promised the students that starting tuition fees for internationals wouldn’t affect them. Then a few years later they started charging the Irish students as well,” explained Meuman.

Expressen columnist Sakine Madon has written about the pending legislation change and is in favour of the fees. “I want students to come to Sweden because of good education, and not because it’s free,” she told The Local, adding that paying might increase respect for education.

Madon said recent changes in immigration laws make it easier for foreign students to stay in Sweden once finished schooling, so they can contribute to society.

If the law is passed, current international students would be able to complete their degrees tuition-free. New university students starting in 2011 would have to pay, according to ministry representative Steinwall.

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Swedish university exam unlikely to go ahead at all this year

It is looking increasingly unlikely that 'högskoleprovet' – an exam used by thousands of students every year as a way to enter Swedish university will go ahead – despite a government U-turn.

Swedish university exam unlikely to go ahead at all this year
In a normal year, 100,000 students sit what is known as the SweSAT or 'högskoleprovet'. Photo: Malin Hoelstad/SvD/SCANPIX

The Swedish Scholastic Aptitude Test (SweSAT, or högskoleprovet) is normally held twice a year, but was cancelled in spring and then later in autumn due to the coronavirus pandemic. But after pressure from opposition parties, the government last week said it would pave the way for the test to take place on its usual date in October in a limited format, open only to people who had not previously sat it.

Usually around 100,000 people sit the exam each year, around 40 percent of them doing so for the first time. The exam is not compulsory, but many people use its results to get into university, and it is seen as a crucial second chance for those who are not able to get accepted based on grades alone.

But any hope lit by the government's announcement last week was quickly extinguished this week, when university principals said it would still not be possible to organise a coronavirus-safe sitting. In the end it is up to the exam organisers to decide whether or not to hold it, so the government holds limited sway.

“They [the university principals] do not want to take responsibility for conducting the exam during the autumn, but would rather spend time and resources on conducting two tests as safely as possible in spring,” Karin Röding, director-general of the Swedish Council for Higher Education (UHR), told the TT news agency on Tuesday.

“I have no reason to have another opinion,” she added.

“It appears to be the case that you are going to have to wait another few months before an exam can be carried out in an infection-safe way,” confirmed Sweden's Minister of Higher Education, Matilda Ernkrans.

Meanwhile the political pressure eased on the Social Democrat-Green coalition government to ensure the test could be held before the deadline for applying to the spring semester of university, when the Liberal party joined the centre-left in voting no to pushing for an autumn sitting. Last week there was a majority for a yes vote on the Swedish parliament's education committee, consisting of right-wing parties Moderates, Christian Democrats, Sweden Democrats and the Liberals, but after the latter switched sides the committee voted no.

The Mdoerates blamed the government for not acting sooner to help the exam go ahead, by for example allocating more money and investigating the possibility of using more venues.

“There is one person who is to blame. That's Matilda Ernkrans,” said the party's education spokesperson Kristina Axén Olin. “The government has handled it really poorly and now it is thought to be too late and impossible.”

Ernkrans argued that she and the government had done everything they could, including making sure that test results from previous years will be valid for eight years rather than the usual five, as well as allocating extra funding to make it possible to hold more than one exam next spring.

Swedish vocabulary

cancel – ställa in

test/exam – (ett) prov

second chance – (en) andra chans

government – (en) regering

semester – (en) termin (note the false friend – the Swedish word semester means holiday)