Beginning with the fall semester 2011 citizens from countries outside the EU and EEA are required to pay application and tuition surcharges to study at Swedish colleges and universities. The decision is the result of the proposal “Konkurrera med kvalitet [Competing on the Basis of Quality]” presented by the government in February 2010. According to the government’s website, the change results from “The Government want[ing] Swedish higher education institutions to compete on the basis of quality, not on the basis of a free education”. The statement notes generously that “Foreign students are an asset to Swedish higher education” but also notes that “costs involved in taking on these students have [...] risen” and that “Swedish tax revenues should primarily cover the educational needs of Swedish citizens”. That the government here blends national and European rhetoric does not change the essence of the case.
When it was presented the proposal immediately met with strong reactions. Critics, students, teachers, and politicians protested through meetings, events, petitions, and opinion pieces, showing that the measure in high likelihood would lead to a sharp decline in the number of applicants from non-European countries (which proved correct). In turn, the critics have argued, this will reduce diversity and worsen the possibilities of cross-cultural openness, exchange, and dialog at Swedish universities and colleges. Furthermore, income from the increased fees will be extremely marginal because students of substantial means probably will try to go to other countries’ more prestigious schools. The economic effects of the measure for colleges and universities will thus be uniformly negative, because federal subsidies will gradually be decreased when the fees are introduced. In spite of the criticism the bill was passed by Parliament in June 2010.
The decision belongs with the wave of new-liberal and culturally conservative reforms which are changing the structural conditions for higher education and the cultural realm in the Nordic countries (for instance, Denmark’s introduction of similar surcharges in 2006) and Europe as a whole. It is not difficult to imagine that education in the humanities and arts will be hit hardest. Partly involved is that these forms of education lack the infrastructure for private investments, stipends, and donations which, for example, make education in economics or medicine less vulnerable to the effects of “market adjustments”. Educational expenses are calculated on the basis of actual costs, which in the case of art schools lead to extreme results. The education of a candidate in the fine arts at some of the large colleges and universities costs “third-country students” (those from countries outside the EU and EEA) 285,000 SEK per academic year. A “third-country student” with a humanities major “only” needs to count on paying 100,000 SEK per academic year.
One may point out that these costs are comparable with expenses at top-ranking American universities like Harvard and Columbia. On the one hand it’s gratifying—if a bit perplexing—that the government has such great confidence in Swedish university education and its ability to compete internationally. On the other hand the statistics are unequivocal: the number of applicants for master’s programs and international courses has decreased by 73% on average; the number of incoming “third-country students” in the academic year 2009-10 was 16,600, whereas the number of such students who have paid education surcharges for the term just starting is 1,280.
Translation from the Swedish by Richard Simpson.
Konkurrera med kvalitet – studieavgifter för utländska studenter
Swedish-government English-language document “Competing on the Basis of Quality”
Statistisk analys av Högskoleverket
Statistical analysis of The Swedish Agency for Higher Education Services
ASAP: tredjelandsstudenternas protestorganisation på Konstfack
ASAP: third-country students’ protest organization at Konstfack, Sweden’s largest college for the arts
“Tusentals ungdomar stängs ute från studier i Sverige”, DN Debatt
“Thousands of young people kept from studies in Sweden”