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New fees prompt fears of cuts at Swedish universities

Clara Guibourg · 22 Aug 2011, 15:29

Published: 22 Aug 2011 15:29 GMT+02:00

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Great changes are afoot for foreign students at Sweden's universities after the country abandoned its position as an educational free-for-all haven for students with shallow pockets from all corners of the globe.

Previously free for all applicants, Swedish universities have now introduced tuition fees for foreign students, except for exchange students and those from within the EU and Switzerland.

Tuition fees for international students will range between 90,000-250,000 kronor ($14,000-39,000) per year, depending on the programme and school.

The introduction of the fees has caused applications from non-European students to plummet and given rise to concerns that some universities may be forced to cut certain programmes.

“With fewer students in the system, in the long term, we may be forced to reduce the number of programmes and courses that we offer,” Eva Malmström Jonsson, vice president of Stockholm's Royal Institute of Technology (KTH), tells The Local.

As part of the introduction of the fees, the government also announced it would offer scholarships to ensure that talented students from developing countries wouldn't have to forgo the opportunity to study in Sweden due to high tuition costs.

Several experts remain unconvinced, however, about the merits of the new set up.

“This isn’t entirely good,” Torbjörn Lindqvist, analyst at the Swedish National Agency for Higher Education (Högskoleverket), tells the The Local of the new model.

While the Swedish government projects that retracting free higher education for non-EU students will save the state roughly 500 million kronor every year, it has only set aside 90 million kronor per year for scholarships to help foreign students who lack the financial resources pay the new fees.

“By no longer offering everyone - including those who are able to pay - free education, we will now be able to give special attention to students from countries with which we have development cooperation and to particularly gifted students,” said former higher education minister Tobias Krantz in a statement announcing the introduction of the fees.

A third of this money, to be awarded by the Swedish Institute, will go to students from twelve countries in Africa, South America and Asia which which Sweden has long-term aid cooperation to cover both tuition fees and living costs, providing roughly 90 full scholarships per year.

The remaining 60 million kronor, however, will go directly to the universities, where the funds will be distributed according to student body size and used as the universities themselves see fit.

As a result, it remains unclear how many international students may end up receiving scholarships, as some schools may provide full scholarships, while others plan on offering partial scholarships.

Linköping University in central Sweden, for example, is providing 100 half-scholarships, meaning students must be able to fund half of the studies on their own, while KTH will have roughly 80 full scholarships instead, funded partly with state money and partly with private funding.

“We’ve chosen to only award full scholarships,” Malmström Jonsson explains, adding that students will still need to fund living costs on their own.

Despite government claims that the scholarships would provide a helping hand to international students unable to pay tuition fees by other means, ensuring that these students are prioritised in the admissions process has also proven difficult in practice.

“It’s hard enough to chart a Swede, and even more difficult if applicants come from a country without any transparency or public data,” Linköping University’s information director Lars Holberg said in a recent interview with Sveriges Radio (SR).

KTH’s Malmström Jonsson shares Holberg's assessment, saying it “would be very difficult to assess” whether or not applicants' economic situations had been taken into account in decisions about scholarship awards.

“What we can assess, reasonably, is students’ study results,” she adds.

Instead, Malmström Jonsson suggests students who cannot afford tuition fees to the development scholarships from the Swedish Institute.

However, since students are only eligible to apply for these scholarships if they come from one of 12 developing countries with which Sweden has development aid cooperation, people unlucky enough to be a poor students from rich countries will be hard pressed to find any scholarship money coming their way from the Swedish state.

“Scholarships are awarded based solely on academic excellence, so only the best students will be given scholarships,” explains Malmström Jonsson.

Meanwhile, the introduction of tuition fees has caused foreign student numbers to plummet in Sweden.

While over 16,000 non-EU students were enrolled at Swedish universities during the last academic year, fewer than 1,300 are registered for the 2011 autumn term.

“This was hardly entirely unexpected,” said the National Agency for Higher Education’s Lindqvist, comparing with similar developments in other countries, such as Denmark, that recently introduced tuition fees for certain groups.

Sweden’s formerly free education has been an important selling point for attracting prospective students.

“Naturally if you’re trying to choose, one education programme which is pretty good and also happens to be free might be more appealing than another programme which is also pretty good, but costs money,” says Lindqvist.

However, he emphasises, studying for free hasn’t been the only selling point for universities in Sweden.

“Nobody wants something substandard, even if it’s free,” he explains.

Declining international student numbers are a cause for worry at universities, however, prompting some universities to consider cutting their course offerings.

“It’s going to streamline our education programmes,” says Malmström Jonsson of the effects of declining numbers of foreign students.

Lindqvist agrees that a diminished course offering is a real risk for Swedish universities, adding that advanced courses and master’s programmes are in particular danger.

Story continues below…

“International students very often enroll in master’s programmes, so we’ll have to see how many of these we can continue to offer,” he says.

Lindqvist hopes that the high quality of Swedish tertiary education will nevertheless continue to attract foreign students, despite the new tuition fees.

“Many Swedish universities have good reputations, not because they’re free, but because the education they provide is good. So we’ll have to work towards continued quality in our education,” he explains.

However, whatever reputation Swedish universities may have for quality hasn't been enough to counteract declining numbers of foreign students, forcing the country's institutions of higher learning to work in a number of ways to stay attractive internationally.

Stockholm University, for instance, has invested millions into a programme called Academic Initiative, with the sole aim of furthering internationalization at the school.

Meanwhile, KTH is planning to cooperate with a number of Swedish companies to help give foreign students a leg up on the Swedish labour market.

“We’re trying to create attractive packages, so that companies will want to provide money towards attracting foreign students who can then join the company through summer jobs or internships,” explains Malmström Jonsson.

Such cooperation remains in the planning stage, however, thus making it is impossible to gauge how effective such measures may be be.

So while the Swedish state can count the savings reaped from ditching free education to all university students, it remains unclear how much Sweden may stand to lose in the long term in terms of declining foreign student enrollment and diminished course offerings.

Clara Guibourg (clarabara@hotmail.com)

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Your comments about this article

04:35 August 23, 2011 by afridiqau
As I am already enrolled in my master chemistry at Linneaus University, I will say I am really enjoying studying here and will say to everyone to come and study here. Swede are nice people and Education standard is very good but I would like to mention here that student from Pakistan, India, China, Iran and Bangladesh would hardly afford these newly introduced tuition fee and if someone can even afford they would prepared English speaking country because of the language and already having a community there.
07:23 August 23, 2011 by sunnchilde
I could have come to Sweden and gone to school there for FREE!? So long as I paid to support myself and such, the schooling would have been FREE!!!!?????

Excuse me, I think I'm going to be sick.
16:56 August 23, 2011 by lendvaiSamy
That is such an unfortunate step on the part of the Swedish government. Education is not where money should be cut from. The problem with the decision to introduce tuition fees is not only that the number of foreign students has dropped drastically, but also the fact that Sweden will loose so much on the long term both politically and economically! Most international students who don't stay and work in Sweden return back to their countries and take a part of Sweden with them.. They set up business and communication networks between Sweden and their home countries that allow far more economic and cultural cooperation opportunities than the 500 million the state is going to save now. It is simply sad! sadder is even a Master's class atmosphere where a bunch of Swedes talk about the rest of the world while the rest of the world is not represented at all. I think it is an overall bad policy and I hope that it will be taken back.
20:04 August 23, 2011 by ukusa2011
Of course there are mutual benefits, bith for non-paying students and SWEDEN!

But if a person wanna pay and come to BTH, I can say he or she is without inteligency!

Here, at BTH, everything is worst! no good library, no good study programs, no supports from teachers, lecturere, and some bad-behavior personel, no good laboratory, no good welcoming, no hope, no culture for internatialization,...

You will find both BTH and the whole environment and city boring!

THere is no opportunities not academically nor anthing else! if you pay and come here, you will waste your time and money and opportunities!
02:06 August 24, 2011 by Smartone
Many programmes/courses have been closed down in Högskolan Dalarna because of insufficient number of students. Swedes are mostly not into literature and languages therefore for all international students the circumstances are discouraging! I would recommend all the international students who wants to gain quality education must seek admission in English speaking countries or at least Germany where they can find a better future in both educational and professional life.
09:23 August 25, 2011 by here for the summer
the is the latest in a series of silly articles about something that is not published in the Swedish papers nor of concern to most followers of Swedish news. Why is this such a big deal at the local ?
10:16 August 26, 2011 by johan rebel
All this just goes to show that foreign students chose to study in Sweden because the stupid Swedish taxpayers footed the bill, not because of the academic standards offered by all these obscure provincial colleges that are only there to subsidize/bribe rural and less affluent parts of the country.
16:38 August 26, 2011 by churchofpickle
I wish Sweden had found more of a middle ground. I think it would have been possible to weed out the fraudulent students from those who were genuinely adding to the educational system here. Good students add value to their Universities. Alma Matters.

The estimated costs in this article to a student are seriously understated and tuition does not cap out at 39k.
02:32 August 27, 2011 by Stoopnagle
"here for the summer": it might be because The Local caters to non-Swedes who may be foreign and students. Just a hunch.

With a centralized authority for higher education (actually education period), the streamlining of advanced programs at regional institutions is probably good policy. Certainly places like Lund and Uppsala will continue to offer a wide variety of programs. It's not clear that all universities or higher education institutions need to offer everything.

As far as tuition goes, this is also a sensible policy. It makes sense to offer less in need based aid than what was supposedly being spent subsidizing all foreign students. I'm not sure how any of this could be controversial (how Swedish!) since there's a policy in place to provide aid to students in developing countries via SI. Now, is there a policy providing that those students return to their home countries? Because if this is being peddled as "developmental aid," then it won't do the home nations much good if the educated workforce stays in Sweden, will it?
03:15 August 27, 2011 by sunnchilde
I wish there was a way to "Volunteer" to Sweden like you would the Army. As a foreign student you would in effect make an agreement with the host country. I will come to Sweden and my education will be free, however, then I will stay. I will stay to help and contribute to Sweden's economy for a period of no less than 10 years. If I leave before that, I will repay some or all of the tuition fees to the state. That way it could be a win/win.
18:23 August 27, 2011 by calebian22

Become sambo (kind of like a common law partner) to a Swede. Then you can live here and get free education, if that is what you want.
19:57 August 27, 2011 by Mukr
Iam Not against the fees but any one could respond to the logic now.when tuition fee was started their is reduction of students say for example 10,000-since they cannot effort.But now they were replaced by 10,000 students of Erasmus,tie.up universities and etc etc which they don't have to pay tuition fees.Instead they wont get degree from this university shame that studying for free and wont get Swedish university degree-
22:46 August 27, 2011 by ashiquemgt
As a result Sweden will suffer in long run. Why meritorious students will pay tuition fees and study here, where there is no part time job opportunity for English speakers even in restaurents!!!.

If any Policy makers or Parliament members read my comments, for their kind information, lots of qualified students studied in Sweden and applied for work permit in Denmark.

End of the day who looses...it is Sweden
11:40 August 28, 2011 by anony1
I think their policy of introducing the tuition fee is not to admit genuine students to the swedish universities. (there are better ways than introducing money, such as making qualification tests of those students, Using the techniques in PhD education system to qualify master students, ...)

I am sure this is to control the countries' input from middleeasterns.

there are lots of exchange program with developed countries that swedish are happy to see them in their country (China, Turkey, Eu which is free anyway).

Unfortunately I haven't heard of any exchange program from countries such as Iran, Pakistan (which also have quality students).

Some kind of Racism, Who knows?!
22:41 August 28, 2011 by proteasome
Halfway there! Just need to start charging Swedish University Students. You get what you pay for. Free = low quality of education. Everyone who academically qualifies should have the right to secondary education. First please pay your taxes into the system. Second there has been for years high Swedish student loans not for the classes but for student housing costs and living expenses. Would be a possible improvement to have the students get free housing and living expenses from the government and instead have their loans go to pay their teachers and schools. I was amazed at how little swedish students complain about weak teaching and poorly organized courses. If you are taking a student loan to register for a course you would expect to get your moneys worth out of it. Money equals power and prestige, and the Universities and their teachers need both.
14:23 August 29, 2011 by gorgepir
And how much of the 500 million that the government used to spent funding non-EU students is being paid back in taxes from the same (former) students now working in companies or as PhDs? I got a free education for my masters here, and have already paid back more than what was spent on me with taxes, and that is not even taken into account the money I brought over with me and spent here.

Considering you are accepting asylum seekers instead of highly educated and motivated young people, I am dumbfounded to see how this makes sense (economically and socially).
21:51 August 30, 2011 by aoi
A free-for-all position?

That's stupid. It can never be free for all.

The money has to come from somewhere. If not from fees, then from taxes.

It's not free!
10:52 August 31, 2011 by Taxlady
As someone who works at a major Swedish university in the social sciences, I will say this; on average over the last 10 years the quality of students admitted is very low at all levels. I would say 1/2 of the students are not college material and would be better off in a trade school. Departments within universities are paid by the number of students that finish a course and given such a cost method, will of course affect what is going on. The over supply just reduces the value of the degree. If a student has a choice to study here or say in the UK I would definitely tell them to stay where the quality is best.

Salaries of staff are very also very low and are about 50% of what they would get in North America. Most professional staff I know have no incentives to do their best. And if they publish in a top journal it has no meaning with respect to their salary as it does in other countries. So paying for an education? I only agree with this if the money is put back into the education system.
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