On the 6th of October 2022, the Støre Government presented their planned national budget for 2023. Included is the proposal to introduce a tuition fee for international students from Non-EU/EEA countries, students from Asia, Africa, South- and North America. If accepted, international students who want to study in Norway and come from outside of the European Union, European Economic Area and Switzerland must calculate with paying 130.000 NOK up to 150.000 NOK a year, starting in the Fall of 2023. The final amount of the contribution is determined by the respective university.
This proposal applies to full degree-seeking students; exchange students are exempt from the tuition charging. Additionally, as a second part of this budget cut for the education section, the government considers reducing financial support for Norwegian students abroad.
A decision that could make studying more difficult
Currently, international students pay the same as Norwegians for studying at university: nothing. According to a report by the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD), around 13,000 international students are currently enrolled at Norwegian institutions of higher education. They don’t get Lånekassen. Numerous of them work alongside their studies. Most of them are part of exchange programs and get financially supported with scholarships. However, Norway’s long tradition of offering free education is the reason for many foreign students to go abroad and apply for a full degree here.
Two-thirds of currently enrolled international students come from outside the EU. Some of these countries don’t have a proper, stable educational infrastructure or affordable upper education. In these cases, young adults need to consider going abroad for studying. In doing so, Norway becomes a popular destination since the degrees are available free of charge to all students, regardless study level or nationality. It also needs to be considered that Norwegian students seeking abroad to study currently pay the tuition fees of their host countries. With the government’s additional suggestion of reducing financial support for those, their stay becomes even more expensive.
Economic necessity and addressing the “more motivated”? A highly controversial proposal
Higher Education Minister Ola Borten Moe (Sp) justifies the introduction of a mandatory tuition fee as economically necessary. Against the backdrop of the ongoing economic crisis, free education could no longer be guaranteed in its entirety. He considers the fees and reduction of funds as part of Norway’s austerity policy and states that if the Norwegian economy is “under pressure”, there’s a “strong need for reduced government spending.” (University World News, 28 October 2022). However, it quickly becomes clear that this argument is not the only reason for the planned student fees. Moreover, the government plans to address “the more motivated” international students. Borten Moe explains at a press conference,
“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. Since we will have fewer international students, this will release both study places and housing for Norwegian students.”
Another intention of the government is that they want to incentivize educated students to stay in the country. A study by the The Norwegian Directorate of Immigration (UDI) and the European Migration Network in 2012 revealed that most international students leave Norway within the first few years after their bachelor’s or master’s degree.
Since the proposal was first made public, it has been heavily criticized and debated. Student activist groups, student organizations, university administrations or the opposition in parliament criticize the government’s rationale as nationalistic and argue that it is part of a discriminating, ideological policy. Also, the narrative to only attract the “most motivated” international students, is highly controversial. The mandatory fees would predominantly affect students from the East and Global South. Students who, compared to students from the European Union, have already had to overcome several, sometimes costly, obstacles in order to begin their studies in Norway. On Instagram, the Student Parliament of the Ås University rates the government’s plan as a “shortsighted suggestion that threatens the quality of Norwegian higher education.” (The Student Parliament NMBU, Instagram, 21 October 2022). Emmanuel Kofi Ovon Babatunde, senior advisor at the Division of Research and Innovation department of the University of Bergen, accuses the plan of a discriminatory intention:
“The shocking thing about it is that it is targeted against the most vulnerable groups – those coming from developing countries in Africa… It was bad enough that they decided to deny Africans the funding scheme to take their degrees in Norway. But to introduce a fee and to even threaten the universities not to undercut these fees is an encroachment on the autonomy of the university as an independent institution,” he told University World News.
Local media reported that students in Oslo, Trondheim or Stavanger already went to the street to protest. Moreover, a petition against the introduction of the fees for Non-EU/EEA students has collected 3,000 signatures and only needs 2,000 more to be discussed. NTNU in Trondheim has stated that they consider reorganizing their scholarship awards for the benefit of affected students in case the proposal gets accepted.
In Agder, SAIH Kristiansand is currently drawing attention to the fees within UiA and plans further actions with the Erasmus Student Network (ESN) Kristiansand. According to SAIH, education is a human right and not a privilege. Nevertheless, it has remained comparatively quiet so far in the county. By now, the administration of UiA has not commented publicly on the matter. The possible introduction of tuition fees is briefly mentioned on the UiA website. Unikum has not received a response to a journalistic inquiry sent to the International Office on the matter so far.
Negotiations are still ongoing
At the moment, negotiations between the Støre Cabinet and other parties within the parliament are still going on. Abid Raja, Member of Parliament of the Liberal Venstre party, criticized the government for breaking prior promises and Lars Haltbrekken (SV) assures that this proposal will not receive support from the Socialist Left as well. However, the minority government of the social-democratic Arbeiderpartiet and the Senterpartiet is dependent on votes from the opposition.
A final decision on the non-EU student fee plan is expected by mid-December 2022.