Universities struggle to implement new tuition fee ruling

Norwegian universities are struggling to implement the government’s decision to demand tuition fees from non-European students seeking to study in Norway this fall. Apart from logistical challenges, academics are concerned about the deeper impact of the move on the sector and international student enrolment.

Universities have specifically criticised the lack of guidance emanating from the government on how to handle the issue of tuition fees for students from outside of the European Economic Area (EEA) and Switzerland who applied for a study place before the new tuition fee regime was approved by parliament in December 2022. Currently, there is no legal mechanism in place to accept fees from students.

Universities Norway (UHR), the union of Norwegian higher education institutions, is coordinating efforts among universities. In a recent letter to the education committee in parliament, UHR highlighted the fact that relevant information, notably on citizenship status, has not been requested from many of the international students applying for admission for the 2023-24 academic year which begins in August.

In December 2022, the UHR criticised the lack of clarity in the government’s plan, which comes without guidelines or resources, saying: “The government proposed a cut of NOK74.4 million [US$7 million] for 2023, based on the assumption that approximately 70% of the students will disappear, but this estimate is uncertain. The ministry’s calculations are neither transparent nor related to which students are in the target group for having to pay tuition fees.”

The budget cut is significantly higher than what universities are likely to collect in tuition fees for 2023 and universities are likely to suffer a financial deficit if the fees are not collected. While the ministry has acknowledged a lack of precision around the issue, it has indicated universities are to proceed with implementation of the proposal to charge fees to all students from outside the EEA in 2023.

Meanwhile, universities are doing their best to prepare, while also ensuring that they continue to provide high-quality education and support to all their students regardless of their financial background, and that there is no impact on accessibility of quality education in Norway.

Jørgen Melve, a senior executive officer in the faculty of social sciences and the head of the Norwegian Civil Service Union (NTL) at the University of Bergen and member of the academic board, criticised the Ministry of Education and Research, particularly the sector minister Ola Borten Moe, for making decisions without proper assessment.

Melve said that it is rare for a ministry to make such poorly founded decisions, adding that the ministry does not have a clear idea of how many students will be affected by the new tuition fees and how much a study place will cost.

In a statement on 10 March published in Aftenposten, Norway’s largest newspaper, head of UHR Professor Sunniva Whittaker expressed concern that the government’s poorly executed decision may deter international students from coming to Norway this year.

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