Unions slam fees for foreign students

Student groups have roundly criticised the Swedish government's move to charge fees to non-EU/EEA college and universty students from the autumn term 2011.

Klas-Herman Lundgren at the Swedish National Union of Students (Sveriges Förenade Studentkårer, SFS) argued that the government should be allocating more resources if it wants to improve the quality of education on offer at Swedish seats of learning.

“The government should take its responsibility for further education. Introducing fees will only harm the internationalisation of Sweden’s universities, and do nothing for quality,” he told The Local on Friday.

Lundgren pointed to the example of Denmark, which experienced a dramatic decline in the numbers of international students after introducing fees, and warned that students will look elsewhere.

“This will hurt universities in Sweden. Both financially, as they will lose the income that foreign students bring in from the current financing system, and also the international angle.”

Lundgren, whose organisation represents 250,000 students in Sweden, argued that international students need to be regarded as a resource.

“International students are not simply a cost, or a business opportunity, they also contribute to learning and to their colleagues by bringing different experiences,” he said.

Minister for Higher Education and Research Tobias Krantz, in presenting the government’s proposal to reporters on Friday, argued that the goal is for Sweden to claim a larger slice of the international higher education market on the quality of the product and not on price alone.

Krantz expressed confidence in Sweden’s potential to attract international students in the longer term, arguing that the country has strong English language skills and high levels of expertise.

The Local on Friday spoke to Houssam Toufaili, a Lebanese IT student at the KTH Royal Institute of Technology, and asked why he chose Sweden.

“Within IT, Sweden is one of the best countries. That was a factor for me, but the main motivation was that it was free,” he said.

Would you have come if you would have had to pay?

“That would depend on how much the fees were. For the levels I have heard quoted I would have chosen somewhere else,” Toufaili told The Local.

“The English is also a factor. The university courses are in English, but the society is not – I found it hard to fit in. Going to the UK was my dream, but Sweden is what I could afford,” he explained.

Do you think Sweden can compete for foreign students on quality?

“That depends on the field. If I compare to my country, Lebanon, Sweden can definitely offer better IT courses; but not in medicine for example. Sweden would need to focus its marketing on its strengths.”

The government also announced on Friday the introduction of two new scholarship systems with one offering 30 million kronor ($4 million) to students from its 12 key Swedish development aid partners.

The Local asked Klas-Herman Lundgren if Sweden had a responsibility of solidarity to students from less well-off countries and whether taxpayers should be expected to foot the bill for their higher education.

“Sweden has a responsibility to ensure that it it not the size of one’s wallet that dictates their choice of university.”

“These scholarship allocations would have to be six times as large in order to get close to covering demand,” Lundgren claimed.

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