The Norwegian government’s proposal to introduce tuition fees in 2023 for all full degree students from outside the European Union (EU), the European Economic Area (EEA) and Switzerland, has been criticised as a flagrantly discriminatory policy which targets the world’s most vulnerable groups, particularly those in the Global South.
Up until now, all students at Norwegian universities, including international students, have enjoyed tuition-fee-free study.
In defence of the proposal, Minister of Research and Higher Education Ola Borten Moe said that Norwegian students as a rule have to pay tuition fees in other countries.
“There is no reason for this to be different in Norway. Norway shall still be open for students from abroad, but we think that they should also pay for their studies here,” he said at the presentation of the government’s budget on 6 October 2022.
The Ministry of Education and Research has drafted a 10-page note on the background of the proposals which will entail changes to the legislation, with a deadline for comments set for 7 December 2022.
The tuition fee levels have yet to be set but it is proposed that higher education institutions will be allowed to set their fees at a higher level for courses in high demand and the budget will be structured so that the institutions will be motivated to attract as many students from abroad as possible. The tuition fee plan excludes exchange students.
Quality is enough
“Our universities and university colleges are well fitted to attract international students because the quality is good, not because they are free of charge. I believe that tuition fees will give us more motivated international students,” Borten Moe said. “Since we will have fewer international students, this will release both study places and housing for Norwegian students,” he said.
“The world is in a great crisis leading to greater pressure on public funding and Norway is not an exception. We are still going to invest in higher education and research, but higher education institutions have to look out for alternative ways of funding,” Borten Moe said.
“If the institutions succeed in attracting more international students, this will increase the higher education capacity in Norway,” he said.
The government estimates that tuition fee income will be NOK74.4 million (US$6.9 million) in 2023, increasing to NOK297.7 million (US$27.6 million) in 2025. The savings to higher education is estimated to be NOK1.2 billion.
Based on the experiences of Sweden and Denmark, the Norwegian government has estimated that the introduction of tuition fees will lead to 70% fewer international students, which will free up 2,600 study places for two-year courses for Norwegian and EU, EEA and Swiss students.
In 2019, there were approximately 19,000 international students in Norway and half of these were taking a full degree.
In 2020, the 10 countries outside the EU, EEA and Switzerland sending most international students to Norway were: China (834), Iran (650), Syria (623), Pakistan (525), India (514), Nepal (501), United States (424), the Philippines (322), Bangladesh (274) and Russia (273).
The question of tuition fees for international students has been raised in parliament several times in the past, the most recent being November 2021 when Roy Steffensen of the Progressive Party reminded Borten Moe that he had in the past suggested support for the introduction of international student fees.
“Norway is one of the very few countries in the world which is offering higher education free of charge for international students. Approximately 25,000 students from abroad are studying in Norway at an average cost of NOK200,000 [US$18,500] and this means that this is costing Norwegian taxpayers approximately NOK5 billion [US$464 million] each year, or approximately one-seventh of all resources invested in higher education,” Steffensen told parliament last year.
At the time, Borten Moe responded by arguing that internationalisation was important for securing the quality of Norwegian higher education and that “the government’s principle of free higher education would still be practised, including for international students”.