Ending years of intense political debate, Norway’s parliament voted this week to abolish the free-tuition policy for international students outside of the European Economic Area and Switzerland, leaving many people in the sector concerned about the future of the principle of free education.
It came as no surprise, but the parliamentary vote that took place on 9 June and officially ended the country’s provision of free university tuition to students outside of the European Economic Area and Switzerland was nonetheless met with disappointment and dismay.
The final tally was: 86 votes for the government proposal to end free tuition and 11 against. Those against came from the Red Party (4), The Liberal Party (Venstre) (3), The Green Party (2) and Christian Democratic Party. (2).
As expected, the vote essentially rubber-stamped the 6 June decision by the parliamentary committee on higher education and research to support the government’s proposal to introduce tuition fees for students from outside the EEA and Switzerland.
The support of the Socialist Left Party (SV) for the government’s proposal in the last round of voting was a particular focus of criticism.
MP Abid Raja, from Venstre, who was also a member of the parliamentary committee, told Norwegian newspaper VG that the Socialist Left Party is no longer a party for students.
Critical of what he said were the “many shifts in the policy” of the party, he accused it of contributing to ending free education in Norway and ensuring that only the children of the richest people from the global South can have a good education in Norway.
His sentiments were echoed by Emmanuel Ovon Babatunde, senior adviser in the Division of Research and Innovation at the University of Bergen, who told University World News he was shocked that the SV should support what he called a “disappointing, repressive, and discriminatory policy”.
“The shock of it all was that it has been supported by SV, a party that has stood for the weakest in the society,” said Babatunde, who is originally from Ghana and is himself a beneficiary of Norway’s free tuition programme.
Raja described the move as a “catastrophe” for Norwegian universities and university colleges.
“And by this the government has, with the support of the Socialist Left Party, the Conservative Party and the Progress Party, chosen to let Borten Moe [Norway’s research and higher education minister] continue his demolition of the academy.
“This is a dark day and a hair-raising day,” Raja said.
The Socialist Party claimed it was obliged by the national budget passed in December 2022 to support the government’s proposal (for which the budget had made provision).
However, its reluctance to support the move was reflected in two proposals: that the wording of the government proposal be changed to allow higher education institutions to decide whether or not to claim tuition fees; and to exempt collaborating country partners funded by the Panorama programme, a strategy for cooperation on research and higher education with Brazil, Canada, China, India, Japan, Russia, South Africa, South Korea and the United States.
The two SV proposals were the subject of votes in both the parliamentary committee and in parliament. Both proposals were roundly defeated.
Raja said he feared that Norwegian higher education institutions will suffer from the new law for years to come: “They will lose good students, experience a deterioration of their economic situation, acquire a bad reputation internationally and have poorer diversity on campuses,” he said.
Red Party member and Committee Chair Hege Bae Nyholt told University World News she believed the decision lacks solidarity towards students from other countries and is an incorrect strategy for securing the competence that Norway needs.
“Norway is dependent on communication and contact across borders and that should not be a one-way traffic, which will now be more the case, and this will mean we lose important perspectives and competence,” she said.