Zweeds obstakel voor studie

Nieuws | de redactie
7 juli 2011 | In Zweden gaan de buitenlandse studenten collegegeld betalen. HO-deelname was kosteloos. Het effect is direct en ingrijpend: 90% minder aanmeldingen van buiten de EU. Werken zulke prikkels dus toch beter dan gedacht?

Sweden is set to experience a decline of over 75% in the number ofinternational students studying at its universities. This is mainlyattributed to the extraordinary increase in tuition fees introduced for theupcoming academic year. Until now, education was free for anybodywho came to study in Sweden, regardless of origin. From 2011/2012on, all non-European students will pay between 100.000 kronor(€11.000) and 230.000 kronor (€25.000) per annum.

Down to only 15.000 applications

The Swedish National Agency for Higher Education (HSV) has nowpublished a report predicting the number of incoming students. In2009/2010, international students accounted for 25% of new entrantswith a total number of 41.000. The same year, Swedish universitiesreceived 132.000 applications from international students. With theintroduction of tuition fees for non-European students. This numbershrunk to 15.000, a decrease by almost 90%.

All accepted students from outside Europe were supposed to paytheir tuition fees by June 15 in order to start their studies inautumn. Numbers from HSV showed that only 1.280 students had paidtheir fees in time which implies a substantial decrease ofnon-European students from last year’s 16.600. Torbjörn Lindqvist,adviser to HSV and co-author of the report, stated that “it was expected thatthere would be a drop, we had seen that from other countriesintroducing similar schemes, but how large it would be no one couldsay in advance”.

Setting Sail for Norway

With Sweden imposing tuition fees, Norway remains thelast bastion of free studies in Europe. This has caused significantstrain on the Norwegian higher education landscape. Universitiesthere indicate that they had a massive influx from internationalstudents with some seeing an increase of 45% in applications likeTrondheim’s Norwegian University of Science and Technology.

Already last academic year, 5.000 undergraduates were not able tostart their studies due to capacity shortages. Calls for chargingtuition fees to fund these bottlenecks get louder accordingly. TheSocialist Left government meanwhile insists that higher educationhas to remain free for everyone. Tora Aasland, Norwegian Ministerfor Higher Education and Research, pledged that “as long as thisgovernment is sitting” there will be no change in policy.

Policymakers and advisors in Sweden for now try to make sense ofthe recent turn of events.  “I think the expectations are thatthe Swedish higher education will hold such a high internationalstandard that students will come anyway,” according to Lindqvistfrom HSV.

Quality vs. Tuition Fees

However, increasing tuition fees significantly claiming that yourexcellent universities are worth the while may backfire. What thisshows is clear: opting for higher education always remains aneconomic decision by individuals.

This insight could also indicate future developments in otherEuropean countries as British universities are set to triple theirfees by 2012. Recently, the conservative-liberal coalition of DavidCameron and Nick Clegg published a WhitePaper on higher education lining out that “the beneficiaries ofhigher education would need to make a larger contribution towardsits costs”. Alongside this policy change, the availability ofstudent loans will be expanded massively.

Basis for this view is the neoclassical belief that studyingmeans investing in human capital which pays off with highersalaries in the future. The Swedish case, however, shows that suchan approach can lead on a slippery slope where studying becomes aprivilege of those who can afford it.

Dutch courage

As such, the debate of higher education in Europe shifts from thequestion of excellent teaching towards how much students could becharged to attend universities. It is therefore even moreremarkable that Dutch HE-minister Halbe Zijlstra strongly defends the increasing number of foreign and inparticular German students in the universities and hogescholen inthe Netherlands.

He disagrees with the critical approach in questions from his ownconservative-liberal party in Parliament on this issue. Germanstudents were a good influence on the quality of education, becausethey tend to be very motivated and focuses in the studies, hestressed. For the Dutch ‘knowledge economy’ a much moreinternational classroom is an impetus as well, so he sees noreasons to put a brake on the influx of good students fromabroad.

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