Fees make competition for students more equal

A bill proposing tuition fees for students from non-EU countries will enable Sweden to compete on a more level playing field with universities in other countries, argues Niklas Tranæus from the Swedish Institute.

Fees make competition for students more equal

Today the Swedish government, in a bill to parliament, proposes that students from countries outside the European Union pay tuition fees from the academic year 2011/2012. Until now, Sweden has been one of the few countries in Europe that has not charged any type of fees; all students – regardless of nationality – have been funded by Swedish taxpayers. But now it’s time for Sweden to compete on more equal terms with universities in other countries.

In the last decade, the number of foreign students in Sweden has more than trebled, totalling 36,000 in 2008/2009. And taxes have funded the studies for everyone. By charging fees the government now wants to award some of the money to higher education institutions that show particular excellence. Global competition for talent is increasing sharply and the government wants Swedish universities to compete with universities in other countries on the basis of high quality rather than free education.

For Swedes and EU nationals, Swedish higher education will still be fully tax-funded. Students from countries outside the EU will have to pay the full cost for tuition for studies that begin in the autumn semester of 2011. Higher education institutions will determine the size of fees themselves, based on the principle of full cost coverage. Students who have begun their studies earlier, i.e. before the autumn semester of 2010, will not have to pay fees. Exchange students will not be affected by the introduction of fees.

While implementing tuition fees, the Swedish government also wants to promote the internationalization of higher education. It will therefore continue to support academic mobility between Sweden and other countries by various means, including funding for scholarships. It plans to appropriate 30 million kronor ($4 million) annually to the Swedish Institute for scholarships targeted at highly qualified students from 12 developing countries. And it plans to appropriate an additional 30 million kronor for funding for scholarships for highly qualified students from all countries outside the EU. From 2012 it plans to increase this amount to 60 million kronor annually.

Recently, the Swedish government introduced more liberal labour migration laws, making it much easier to move to Sweden for work – or stay in Sweden and work after studies. Students that have a job when their student permit expires can easily change this into a work permit. Also, there is no set quota for work permits for citizens of each country. Swedish higher education institutions can make use of their ties to Swedish industry in order to attract fee paying students.

PhD students in Sweden are funded very generously and PhD programmes will continue to be free of tuition for all students regardless of nationality. Swedish universities will need to spend more on international marketing to be able to attract students at high levels and advertise their own benefits, something which they have not needed to do much, until now.

Despite the great increase in the number of foreign students in Sweden, the country remains a little-known study destination for the vast majority of internationally mobile students. The Swedish Institute, a public agency assigned with the task of making Sweden more well-known around the world, including promoting Sweden as a study destination, will be given increased resources for the latter purpose.

Sweden is known for its academic excellence, and is home to the Nobel Prize. It has the world’s highest spending on research and development in relation to its GDP, according to OECD statistics. In the 2009 issue of Academic Ranking of World Universities by China’s Shanghai Jiao Tong University, Sweden has four universities in the top 100 giving it one of the highest proportions of top ranked universities, in relation to its GDP and population, in the world.

Acclaimed universities, a climate of innovation and openness, additional excellence funding by the government and liberal labour laws will aid Swedish educational institutions in their endeavour to – now more than ever – attract eager and talented minds on the global education stage.

For more detailed information, see:

For more information on labour migration to Sweden, see:

Niklas Tranæus, Manager for Study in Sweden at the Swedish Institute

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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)