International students call on Sweden to cut tuition fees as coronavirus crisis drags on

A group of international students has asked the Swedish government to adjust tuition fees and criteria for residence permits, as their economic situations have been severely affected by the ongoing coronavirus crisis.

International students call on Sweden to cut tuition fees as coronavirus crisis drags on
Swedish universities have introduced distance teaching during the coronavirus crisis. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

In Sweden, students from EU countries do not generally pay tuition fees for higher education, but students from outside the EU pay fees.

Under the name Education Uninterrupted, the letter was signed by over a thousand people, including many fee-paying international students currently attending institutions all over the country. 

In the letter addressed to the government, the Swedish Migration Agency and universities, American Sarah DeArruda and Mohammad Mafizul, from Bangladesh, wrote on behalf of the international student body: “We are requesting solutions from the Swedish government, migration agencies, and universities regarding our tuition fees, due dates, and residence permits.”

“The coronavirus has greatly affected me both mentally and economically,” co-founder Sarah DeArruda told The Local.

“Before the coronavirus, I had three jobs. I was fully confident in my ability to pay my tuition and living expenses. Now with Covid-19, one of my substitute jobs is no longer taking the risk of exposing the kids or teachers by bringing in unnecessary staff, such as substitutes. And my waitressing job hours disappeared just like the restaurant customers,” she said.

“It is a very scary time for international fee-paying students. In the US, I worked really hard, saving money, and securing my success here in Sweden. It has been the greatest experience to live and study in Sweden, and I don't want it to end. It will break my heart to have to go back to the US during a pandemic that is completely out of my control.”

Professor in mathematics Tom Britton supervises a student through Skype. Photo: Emma-Sofia Olsson/TT

The coronavirus crisis has had a considerable impact on many of the students, 10,000 of whom are on a Swedish student visa, and on their finances, the organisers stated.

The student body requested “immediate action in postponing, reducing or eliminating these [autumn 2020 semester] fees in coordination with the Swedish Migration Agency”, in order to prevent jeopardising the renewal of their student visas.

“As a diverse community,” the letter read, “we have come from all over the world to pursue our education in Sweden. In past semesters, we have paid the fees required of us; as well as followed the regulations and laws to obtain and hold our student visas, and worked diligently in our university studies.”

“Many of us in the international student body have also immersed ourselves into the workforce of Sweden, paying Swedish taxes on our income, boosting the economy with our purchases and occupancy, and contributing to the diversity of this nation. We support and invest in the success we will gain from our education in Sweden, and it is requested that the Swedish government, migration agencies, and universities listen to our call to action and invest in us, your students, during this crisis.”


Should Sweden cut tuition fees for international students?

Yes, cut tuition fees now

No, tuition fees should not be changed

Many of the students, according to DeArruda, have lost their part-time jobs in Sweden, while few are eligible for unemployment benefits. Others are no longer receiving parental contributions as the economic situation in their home countries has deteriorated. 

“The corona situation has affected my source of income back home”, international student Mubarak Eljack from Sudan, told Education Uninterrupted, explaining that inflation in his home country had impacted his finances. Eljack is enrolled in a Masters programme in international business and trade at Handelshögskolan.

“The students not only risk losing their education,” the two co-founders of the group wrote, “but also the ability to renew their visas”.

The Swedish Migration Agency requires international students to have paid their tuition fees in full and have the equivalent of 8,000 kronor per month before granting or renewing the students' visas.

The Stockholm University. Photo: Veronica Johansson/TT

Tuition fees for international students coming from outside the EEA, EU or Switzerland were introduced in 2011, and international students pay between 80,000 and 247,000 kronor per year in tuition fees, according to

Sweden's Higher Education Act stipulates that universities must ensure the fees are used for the full cost of instruction, counselling, health services, and other student services.

Following the transition to online learning as a result of the coronavirus, the students expressed “concern that the money from our previous tuition instalments have not been fully used in respect to the services and instruction offered by the school”, the letter continued. The writers proposed that these spring 2020 semester payments could allow for a reduction in the autumn 2020 semester fees.

The group also proposed an international student relief package, improved access to (international) student loans and an increased number of both need-based and merit scholarships.

Member comments

  1. Totally agree with the students’ demand (though I’m an employed academic and not being affected). Hope the Swedish government will reduce or eliminate tuition fees for international students, though it sounds a bit unrealistic since many Swedish universities are now so pleased with the quality of their online education and the Swedish government are so proud of their “successful” model of handling the corona.

  2. I see their point, but a lot of academics in Sweden are themselves on precarious contracts and are reliant on the fees from students. If fees are reduced, then teachers will loose their jobs. Also, we have put a lot of time and effort into making online education as best as possible on very short notice.

  3. First, Swedish universities are stated-funded. Academic teachers/researchers get salaries from state funding. If tuition fees for international students are reduced, this does not mean that academics will lose their jobs. Second, Sweden just introduced tuition fees for international students since 2010 to facilitate the demand of the neoliberal right-wing parties. This means that Swedish universities become more and more neoliberal, and it is this neoliberalization that puts the well-being of both (international) students and academics at risk. However, in this current situation, I see the demand of international students legitimate because they are more vulnerable than their academic teachers/researchers.

  4. Academics who have permanent contracts will be fine. Academics who are paid per course or hourly will not be fine. I agree that the underlying issue is neoliberalisation of higher education; but there are both vulnerable students and vulnerable academics.

  5. Academics who lose jobs can have a-kassa or different types of unemployment benefits. But international students do not have such benefits.

  6. Universities in Sweden hold that online education doesn’t reduce the qualify of education, because everything doesn’t change much in terms of teaching group,course content, and any academic resources. Yea at this point, the school did as much as they can to keep it as before. But, are these only the reasons international students pay 10 times high tuition fee to come to this particular school in Sweden? No, absolutely not! we came here also bc we desired to learn from other peers, we enjoyed person-o

  7. —-this follow up above comment which didn’t finish —

    we enjoyed brainstorming workshop,seminar. we missed the time immersing in the lab with your peers to figure out one hardcore. Lunch time you shared the differences and similarities towards new solution. These things made up why we would pay the tuition and came along from another country to be here, while now it all gone.

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Did Sweden’s state epidemiologist really get a big job at the WHO?

For his supporters, it was well-deserved, for his detractors a case of failing upwards. But when Sweden's Public Health Agency announced this month that state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell was taking a job at the World Health Organisation, both sides assumed it was true.

Did Sweden's state epidemiologist really get a big job at the WHO?

Now, it seems, the job might not be there after all. 

At the start of this month, Sweden’s Public Health Agency announced that Anders Tegnell was resigning to take up a post coordinating vaccine work with the World Health Organisation in Geneva. 

“I’ve worked with vaccines for 30 years and have at the same time always been inspired by international issues,” Tegnell said in the release. “Now I will have the chance to contribute to this comprehensive international work.”

During the first and second waves of the Covid-19 pandemic, Tegnell shot immediately from obscurity into the spotlight, gaining such celebrity status in Sweden that one fan had his profile tattooed onto his arm.

Internationally he was hailed by lockdown sceptics for his reasoned arguments against overly restrictive measures to control the spread of the virus. 

His new WHO appointment was reported all over the world. 

But on Tuesday, the Svenska Daglabdet newspaper revealed that the job had not yet been awarded. A spokesperson for the WHO said at a press conference in Geneva that “there is some confusion”, and that “this is an internal question.” 

According to the newspaper, there is even “a certain level of irritation” behind the scenes at the WHO that Sweden acted too soon and dispatched Tegnell to a job that did not actually exist yet. 

“We have received an offer from Sweden, which is still under discussion,” the organisation’s press spokesperson, Fadela Chaib, told the newspaper. 

On Thursday, the Public Health Agency’s press chief Christer Janson conceded that there had been a mistake and that the negotiation had not been completed.  

“We believed it was done, but it wasn’t,” he told Expressen in an interview. “It’s been a much longer process to get this completed than we thought. There’s been a misunderstanding and we regret that.”