Juliana Koury Gaioso, Brazilian Master student of Development Studies
Once upon a time, there used to be a model of human development full of solidarity and equality in the cold kingdom of Norway. Most likely, if you are from outside Norway, you have heard the narrative in the news or the World Bank’s economic ranks. If you are Norwegian, you are probably very proud of the national identity construct. And if you are an activist in your country, you have used the Nordic model to defend public policies against conservative exclusions. This fairy tale has been driven for an outcome without «happily ever after».
In view of the facts, last year, the Norwegian parliament approved charging tuition fees in public education, going against the stream of universal access to education, which means giving equal opportunities to study in public institutions, regardless of who you are. As it states, «universal» is supposed to be for everyone on this planet and beyond. It gets worse. The tuition fees will only be charged for international students outside the European Economic Area (EEA) and Switzerland. African, Latin American and Asian students must pay at least 130 thousand Norwegian kroner (khrono.no). But the majority of rich European countries will not. The Minister of Education and Research of Norway, Ola Borten Moe affirmed that «it is a fixed principle and that it is not appropriate to shake it» (regjeringen.no). So, his logic is basically: we charge the poorest and let the privileged ones have it for free.
The Norwegian government is not a pioneer in segregating the Global North from the Global South. One may repeat what the established elites in the country have been preaching, «Norwegian students need to pay tuition fees outside, it is fair to charge for those fees». If you know history and have an acute sense, you know this is bullshit. Europe has a historical debt with the former colonies, and Norwegian companies have been taking advantage of those historical inequalities to profit (if you are curious, I highly advise you to search for «Barcarena water contamination by Norsk Hydro» or perhaps «Electric cars cobalt from Congo»). That beautiful speech of fair play does not work in this situation if we are discussing asymmetrical powers.
Note that these are not regular tuition fees. For courses such as clinic and art, it can be approximately 1 million Norwegian kroner. And the lowest course price can cost around 130 thousand Norwegian kroner (khrono.no), which cannot be accessible even to middle classes in developing countries. Besides that amount, for the student visa’s sake, the students must also provide money or a job contract that they have enough resources for living each semester, which is more than 130 thousand Norwegian kroner.
The minister is full of excuses to charge those fees for non-European students, saying that the investments are high to guarantee quality education. His eurocentric perspective does not even consider that the participation of different perspectives from around the globe can, and do, challenge and improve the taken-for-granted knowledge. Education is a two-way street. The Brazilian educator Paulo Freire, who even has his pedagogy applied in Norwegian institutions, stated that the student is not the object of teaching but the subject of learning. Education is a collective construction. Diminishing access from the international students is to reinforce the monolithic and exclusive idea that quality is what is expensive.
In particular, the bachelor’s and master’s degrees offered in Development Studies are sustained by miscellaneous knowledge and perspectives. I also attended English and British literature classes, and students from the Global South fueled exciting classes and debates. And the presence of this diversity is disappearing, as Hanna Haaland stated for a local newspaper and also highlighting the non-collaborative role, «A tuition fee for students outside Europe is a solid goodbye to global educational solidarity» (FVN.no).
Another of Borten Moe’s absurdities is to decrease students from Global South to make more student spots and housing available for the European ones. It is discrimination being institutionalized. The world is to decolonize, and he promotes segregation. This is an insult, as foreigners pay high taxes and work while we study, guaranteeing contributions to the country. We are not taking the spots of anyone. We worked hard to get one. We applied and delivered a stack of documents that cost approved translation, apostille, and immigration fees. We have been through a complicated and challenging process. He practically advocates a system of maintaining privileges for the already privileged.
Thankfully but not enough, we have allies in Norway that recognize the loss and the shame of such a proposal. Inside the university, in the student organizations, NGOs and in our neighborhood. More than a kingdom of empty narratives, Norway is a country with the ability and resources to be a good model and choose not to. The fairytale of equality and diversity is easily and freely available for some and for sale for those who need it the most. We hope and count on you, students from the Global North, that this is not The End.