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Fees bury Swedish unis in added work: report

The new fees for non-European students at Swedish universities have created a workload disproportionate to the number of fee-paying students, according to a new report from the National Agency for Higher Education (Högskoleverket).

Fees bury Swedish unis in added work: report

This year, Swedish universities accepted 4,600 applying students from outside of Europe for the autumn term. However, only 1,350 – or 29 percent – of these actually accepted their place at the university and paid the fees.

The agency has conducted a survey to follow up on the work carried out by the universities to implement the reform.

The answers show that the institutions have spent a lot of time on the adjustment and that many feel that the workload is disproportionate to the number of students who have paid the fees.

At the same time, many of the hiccups seem to be passing and have happened due to the haste the reform was launched, according to the agency.

In many places, the institutions have increased their support for the fee-paying students by guaranteeing them accommodation, language support and a mentor programme.

Many universities are also putting more efforts in to marketing and many are flagging for the need of a joint strategy for Sweden as a study destination, according to the agency.

When fees were introduced, Sweden created a number of state funded scholarships in order to boost recruitment of students from non-European countries.

According to the agency, about 40 percent of non-Europeans who started their studies at a Swedish university were on a full or partial scholarship.

But almost a third of those that were offered a scholarship turned it down, due to living expenses in Sweden were seen as too steep.

The survey also showed that many universities report unexpected effects of the reform. The fact that all applicants are required to pay fees, before anything else has been established, has meant a huge increase in workload for the universities.

That prices had to be fixed for all courses, even those given in Swedish, has also been seen as a arduous and unexpected task, according to the report.

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UNIVERSITIES

What’s it like coming to Sweden as an international student during a pandemic?

The international student experience is enriched by the chance to travel abroad and meet new people, but what happens when a pandemic makes those two things difficult or dangerous? Students who had arrived in Sweden for the autumn semester shared their thoughts with The Local.

What's it like coming to Sweden as an international student during a pandemic?
Some students missed the start of term because journeys to Sweden were so complicated. Photo: Veronica Johansson / SvD / TT

Around 3,000 fewer exchange students are studying in Sweden this year, while other international students (who had planned to move to Sweden for a full degree rather than just an exchange semester or year) faced logistical challenges.

Raghav, an Indian Masters student at Uppsala University, is starting his second year. Although he was able to renew his student permit, there were no direct flights available from India, which remains on Sweden's entry ban (holders of a student permit are exempt).

As a result, he was one of many forced to take multiple connecting flights, delaying the journey to Sweden and meaning he missed the orientation week.

He will be studying almost entirely online, and said: “The whole 'international student experience' experience will be less. Online learning leads to sharp drop in socialising and thus networking is really non-existent. [That leads to] low internship opportunities.”


The library at Uppsala University. Photo: Cecilia Larsson Lantz/Imagebank.sweden.se

Yue Jie, who is starting a Masters at Lund University, also faced difficulties travelling from his home country of Singapore.

“I was denied from transit through another EU country to Sweden. So I had to cancel that flight and take another flight that goes directly to Copenhagen without a transit,” he said.

He was pleased with the support offered by the university, particularly a housing guarantee which means he doesn't have to worry about finding a place to live, although he thought that the Arrival Days should have been extended to accommodate international students whose journeys were delayed.

“In my country, the use of face masks is compulsory everywhere you go, as long as it is outdoors. In Sweden, none of the locals seem to wear a mask. So it is interesting here.”

Ignacio, a student from Panama, said he had had to cancel his plans altogether.

“Because programmes have been changed [to be] online, we cannot apply for a resident permit. Embassies and consulates are not open to interview anyone aplying for permits, we feel [as if things are up] in the air even for 2021 semesters.”

As The Local has previously reported, some students have been left in limbo after Swedish embassies abroad closed, leaving them unable to get their residence permits.

In Iran, around 60 students have had their permit interviews postponed until January, but even then, several students who spoke to The Local said they're worried they won't go ahead, or would get their permits too late to attend the spring term – meaning they'd have to drop out of their course and lose their paid tuition fees.

When The Local asked the Foreign Ministry if they could offer any guarantees that the students would get their permits by a certain time, a press spokesperson said: “These bookings are preliminary and the Embassy continues to monitor the Covid-19 situation in Iran on a daily basis.” 

Raha and Maryam, two first year Masters students at Uppsala University, told The Local they had chosen to start their classes online rather than have their tuition fees refunded. 

But this leaves them facing a lot of uncertainty.

“I have paid my tuition fee in May and I have to pay my spring semester tuition fee before January, but I don't know if the immigration office will grant my resident permit. I have to register my daughter in school, which started from August 15th in Sweden,” said Maryam, who like many others felt that an alternative solution should have been found, such as an email or phone interview, or submission of further evidence.

One concern shared by many students was the slow internet speed in Iran hampering online learning. Programmes such as Zoom may not be accessible.

“The website of Chalmers university is unreachable because of the sanctions and I have to use bypass apps to get there. Preparing the course materials is another problem as we can not go to library or buy them,” said Nika, who emphasised that they had put a lot of time and money into his dream of studying at Chalmers University in Gothenburg. 

“I am forced to accept a big risk to register not knowing whether I will have the permit [in January] or not. I feel like no one cares.”

Thanks to all the students who responded to our survey; even if we could not include all the responses in this article, we read them all and will use them to inform future reporting. If you have questions or a story to share about studying or living in Sweden, get in touch with us at any time by emailing [email protected] and we will do our best to respond.

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