me, myself & andrei

23 Jun 2008
Free Swedish tuition at its end?

UPDATE 20100117: Tuition fees up to 90 000 SEK/year will be imposed on 2011 applicants along with an application fee of 1000 SEK.

UPDATE 20090203: John Wedderburn, web editor at Lund University, posted that sources acknowledge that the vote will be once again delayed to November 2009, which means that tuition fees may not be introduced earlier than January 1st, 2011.

In today’s (n.r. June 23, 2008) Svenska Dagblade (Dagens Nyheter too), an article was published stating that this autumn a bill introducing tuition fees for higher studies in Sweden will be under vote. If it will get the necessary votes, then starting January 1st, 2010, at the latest, Swedish universities will ask for a tuition fee and they will also be able to give scholarships. Who said all that? [wiki:en:Larsh_Leijonborg Lars Leijonborg], the current Swedish minister for Higher Education and Research.

The Local covered this story as well, but in a light English version.

The Press Release of the Swedish Government on this topic can be read in English.

After just one day of votes, an SvD poll shows 9000+ people answering YES! to the question Is it right to impose fees for overseas students?

There are also negative voices around starting from the chair of the Swedish association of student unions, and ending with the universities themselves. You can browse some comments on thelocal.se here and here.

This action probably also related to the increasing number of foreign students, especially due to a presumed high number of Pakistan applicants (50% of the total international applicants), which puts a pressure on the centralized system, that the system obviously cannot or can hardly cope with.

On July 27, The Local stepped up and provided a round up of all the Swedish news and positions regarding the tuition fee.

But to retain the essential:

  • the bill focuses on improving student exchanges and quality of teaching
  • the bill introduces introduces tuition fees as a way to gain more money and improve resources
  • the bill will go under vote this autumn (n.r. 2008)
  • the bill also introduces the possibility of scholarships
  • the fees will be regulated by each university, but should be around 8500€
  • doesn’t involve international students coming from EU member states, Iceland, Liechtenstein, and Norway
  • with a positive vote, the fees will be implemented by January 1st, 2010 at the latest

Svenska Dagblade

Original Swedish article
* this translation is Google automated. Errors are bound to show up
* the article has plenty of comments following it, but in Swedish as well

No longer free to study in Sweden
Sweden facing charges for overseas students. The announcement now gives the college and Research Lars Leijonborg (fp). “Sadly”, according to Swedish National Union of Students.

In February 2004, the then Education Minister Thomas Östros (s) a U-turn. Let colleges offer foreign students training in return for payment, he wrote in an acclaimed debate article.

  • It is entirely reasonable that we take out the cost, so of course we are in the health care system, said Thomas Östros since he received his party with him on the requirement.

Sweden is today one of the few countries in the world that does not take charge of students from other countries. The Socialist government were investigating how a charging scheme could be designed, but there was never any legislative proposal from the Ministry of Education during the last legislature. Higher Education and Research Lars Leijonborg (Lib) has so far fit in the controversial issue. Now he gives clear message: Government agrees to introduce tuition for non-European students.

  • I think that is absolutely right. Our main argument is that it is unwise for a country not to use it to pay that obviously exist. Why should these students pay money to American or British universities, but not into English, wonders Lars Leijonborg.

The number of foreign students in Sweden has risen sharply over the last decade, according to statistics from the Higher Education. Today plugs around 8 000 people from countries outside the European Economic Area (EU countries plus Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway) at the country’s colleges and universities. The government’s stated ambition is to “at least as many” young people should go here in the future - despite the fact that the courses will no longer be free.

  • Many may either receive a scholarship from their home countries or are so rich parents that this could be funded anyway. Then, it will be a net addition to the Swedish Treasury of perhaps half a billion dollars. In any case, a part of the money can be used to sharpen the quality of our universities, “says Lars Leijonborg.

But even overseas students who can not afford tuition fees should have the opportunity to study in our universities, he stresses. Therefore, it establishes a system of grants.

  • It is of course in Sweden’s interest that we should be able to attract talented young people, even if they can not arrange the financing themselves.

The fees will “in principle based on the higher education cost”, according to a memo from the Ministry of Education. The previous government investigators outlined at an average fee of 80 000 per academic year. For Swedes and the EU / EEA nationals will be training at colleges and universities continue to be free, stresses Lars Leijonborg.

  • There is an old tradition and based in Sweden, and we think it is right to hold on to it.

The proposal for tuition is part of the proposition on how the international exchange in higher education may increase, which the government will present in autumn. The idea is that the system should be introduced later than the January 2010.

According Kåre Bremer, the Rector of the University of Stockholm, it is “not reasonable” to the Swedish tax payers should pay for the training of large groups of people from other countries. But he is still sceptical about the tuition.

  • Fees are expensive to administer and collect. It would be better to set a quota for the number of foreign students the universities may accept.

Elin Rosenberg, chairman of the Swedish National Union of Students (SFS), is highly critical of Lars Leijonborg information.

  • It is sad that the government so lightly touch on the principle that education is a right, not a commodity. Now open the floodgates, and soon, we have fees for English students, “she says.

Facts:

  • 25600 Swedes studied at university abroad, with student aid from CSN, the academic year 2006/07.
  • 4701 people plug in the most popular country, Britain, or in Northern Ireland.
  • 61 percent of the foreign students from Sweden during the academic year 2006/07 were women.
  • 27900 students from other countries studied at University College in Sweden 2006/07.

Dagens Nyheter

Original Swedish article
* this translation is Google automated. Errors are bound to show up

*Fee for foreign students are introduced **
*Overseas students should no longer be able to study free of charge in Sweden. The revenue is needed to give Sweden University in international top, “said college and Research Lars Leijonborg (fp).

Sweden is one of the few countries in the world where students from other countries can study for free. It attracts each year thousands of foreign students to the Swedish institutions. But 2010 is the end to gratisåkandet. The government agreed to introduce tuition for students who are not EU or EEA nationals.

  • Many of the more than one million students around the world, which plugs in other countries have funding in place and then it is unwise to just the right Sweden does not understand the money. They can be used to further improvement of the quality of our universities, “says Lars Leijonborg.

According to Leijonborg is both government and the so-called Globalisation Council agreed that Sweden has no other choice.

  • Sweden must have the universities of international excellent and this can help us to get it, “he says.

According to a study published last year by the Higher Education and the Swedish Institute, many of the students who sought to Sweden from other countries to refrain from studying here if charges are imposed. Leijonborg admits that the charging system will be a test of how competitive the Swedish universities really are.

  • Previously, we have enough attracted some who have sought because of fee waivers, but now it is up to proof if we can attract when we take out the same fee as any other, “he says.

While the charging system is introduced will also be the Swedish stipendiesystemet be extended to students who can not cope with the funding on their own, however, should be able to study in Sweden.

The proposal will be presented this autumn and the idea is that the charges should be imposed on the first January 2010. Currently studying about 8000 students from countries outside the EU and EEA area in Sweden.

  • We expect the number eventually will become as big or like higher. It is possible that it may be a temporary downturn but I think that if this stipendiesystemet is well designed so you can avoid it becoming too large, “said Leijonborg.

Things to consider

I read quite a lot on this issue and the main problem with this topic is that everyone understands whatever they want to understand. The simple matter of lacking information and figures doesn’t trigger a question, but a supposition.

This section is a “this is what I managed to gather up” section for now, along with a personal opinion here and there.** **

Universities closing down

People say that smaller universities with little or no reputation will eventually close down, because they will not be able to attract enough Swedes and EU students to work it out, and certainly not enough non-EU students since those will not be willing to pay a tuition fee to go follow a programme under a low-prestige university.

But did you understand the fact that the fee is uncapped? That each university will be able to arrange it’s own tuition fee? The estimation of 8500€/year is an estimation of the previous government, which, if I’m not mistaken, had in mind to regulate the tuition fee instead of letting each university to establish its own.

If I got it right, the bill that will be voted in autumn will allow each university to establish its own fee. After all, the subsidy that one university gets from the state for one student doesn’t need to be the equal of a future tuition fee. So, if now a university gets 8500€/year from the state for each enrolled student, that does not mean that from 2010, the university will ask for those 8500€ from the student instead. Why? Mostly because I think they can do with a bit less. It’s the same thing with pocket money - if you have 10€ each day “given from above”, you will have the tendency to spend it all and spend it on unnecessary things; if you get 50 cents each day, then you will just stick to the holy water, which may be the only thing you need.

And cities going dead

Some people also triggered this problematic topic. Some cities live basically on the shoulders of foreign students which bring in finances, and therefore create jobs that otherwise wouldn’t exist.

I even read a comment from an American student estimating that he would spend roughly around 18000$/year (11500€), and in the most weird way he assumed that each foreign student would do the same. I have to remind you that this year there were presumably 10000 Pakistan applicants out of around 20000 total applicants. Can you imagine each Pakistani person bringing that money into Sweden each year? I guess not. Speaking from memory, one Pakistani can live in Sweden with 400€/month or less because of good financial management and low needs, which make up to less than 4800€/year - just a bit more than a third of what the American would spend. Roughly that would be like paying around 4 full-time monthly salaries. 3 Pakistans will pay a one year round full-time employee.

Take the [wiki:en:University_of_Kalmar University of Kalmar] with cca. 6000 undergraduates. Lets take it to the extreme and go with one third of its students being only foreign students with roughly the same financial input as a Pakistani and with none of them being employed in Sweden. That makes around 2000 people paying the yearly salaries for around 650 people from money coming from abroad. Remember - this is not just a virtual scenario, but an extreme one as well. Kalmar is a really small university, it has no English website, and I do not see many foreigners going there, but just for the sake of an argument. The university has around 400 people employed, and the Kalmar population reaches 35000. You figure it out: is the city going dead?

Not to mention, that after reading the next section, you will see that there will be more EU students coming to Sweden, and since EU has a higher quality of life (more needs; higher costs), those students will spend more than 4800€/year.

Swedes versus EU versus non-EU

One thing that people easily forget is the small, yet important NON. That small negation turns the situation into a disadvantage for non-EU students, and an “advantage” for EU students. Let me explain why. First of all, universities like KTH or SU placed 50% of the Masters places for Swedes and EU students, and 50% for International students. While it was possible, a very small amount of EU students enrolled for those 50% International places so far, and that was when students were applying on their own, without any “marketed campaign” uni2uni. Therefore a large number of EU students were fighting with Swedes for the roughly 50% of the places, where the competition was high.

That means that very few EU students made it to Sweden. I don’t have the statistics, but it’s a strong supposition. That’s also due to the fact that English courses in Sweden haven’t been marketed that much and EU students haven’t heard of free yet high-quality studies in Sweden. Sweden has mostly focused on countries like China, Pakistan, Iran, etc for obvious reasons.

So, with that in mind, I think it’s safe to say that the number of International students (both EU and non-EU) will not have a big downturn after introducing tuition fees. There will be more EU students taking the place of non-EU students, and in time I’m sure it will even out.

Quality education for everyone, not just for the economic elite” way of thinking has a good seed, but it is used wrong. Once again - Swedes and EU students will not need to pay tuition and gifted non-EU students will have a good chance of getting a scholarship. If you will, this measure will only shift the balance towards EU students, citizens of an European Union which will face quite fierce situations in the time to come and need the best education they can get to cope.

Scholarships

Someone stated today that EU students will have one more advantage: they won’t pay for tuition but they will be entitled for scholarships. I’m sorry to say that this seems to be a misinterpretation of the Swedish articles. Swedes will definitely not be entitled to these scholarships, and EU students will be in the same boat. This is the only thing that makes sense. EU students weren’t entitled for SI Scholarships either. Simply because of a presumed high quality of life that can cover living costs in a reasonable manner.

These scholarships, given “at the mercy” of each university.. now these will be true scholarships for the really gifted ones, no matter where they come from, no matter their country.

We have seen this year, and I won’t apologize for the following, how some very gifted students didn’t get a scholarship from the Swedish Institute. Either because of stupid separation rules (Visby, Eastern Europe, etc), either because of a narrow list of eligible programmes. With those filters, I can guarantee that the success rate for giving SI scholarships to the most gifted and the most in-need students can go lower than 25%.

Processing time & number of applicants

Processing time, even with a centralized system (or should I say: especially because of a centralized system), can span quite a lot. But EU diplomas and universities have a higher degree of trustfullness, which in turn makes the processing time smaller.

Also, having in mind that the estimates go as far as saying that this year (n.r. 2008) there were around 10000 Pakistans out of 20000 foreign applicants, enforcing the tuition fee filter will put many of these to bed. Those who don’t believe they stand a good chance will not apply at all, because they will be put down by the eventual tuition fee. This will also stop VHS from coming up with weird solutions like ignoring applications because of insufficient processing time.

But the bottom line is that if there isn’t a financial side to this matter (n.r. Sweden will gain money by implementing tuition fees), why not just strengthen the requirements and make the number of applicants drop down?

Swedes paying for non-Swedes

You can easily see that this is at least a bit unfair. Swedes pay high taxes to the Swedish budget, which in turn subsidizes around 15% of foreign students’ courses, if I remember correctly.

While the process is natural when talking about Swedish students, and, in the European spirit, also about EU students, it is not easy to understand why paying for an African student’s courses, while Sweden has a compact employment market and so doesn’t need to fill job positions. So, Swedes pay for his education which he/she won’t put to use for Sweden’s well-being. Of course, we can talk about foreign policy, but socially speaking it is simply not fair to redirect funds. I don’t take that as transparency. A Swedish citizen should know that 1% of the taxes payed go to a Swedish youngster’s education and 1% goes to the education of an African student which will contribute to his country’s well-being. I’m saying that because this is a long-term foreign policy. A foreign aid is something else and needs to be decided on the spot, and demands a government’s responsibility.

I was coming to Sweden only because of the free tuition

A person had the nicest reply to that and I’ll sum it up: If that’s the only thing why you were coming to Sweden, then maybe you should not have the right to come at all. As plastic as that may be, that is what I think as well. If a Swede hears this is your only reason, for sure he/she won’t like to indirectly pay for your studies. Sweden as a whole has a lot of pride and tradition and respect and uniqueness. Sweden has spirit! Regardless of its troublesome services like studera.nu, every foreign student living in Sweden will tell you that it is a unique experience that every student should have as a personality-and-knowledge building experience.

Step by step. First you have a high quality of education in Sweden. Everyone will tell you that, and you can see at least one Swedish university in a top list, in most of the domains out there. You even have the Nobel Prize in Sweden, which not only has its reputation, but speaks out what Sweden stands for. Maybe your Swedish diploma will not equivalate to an Oxford diploma. But the hell with it! As a mentor once told me: there is no genuine fake! So if you want Oxford, go to Oxford! You want MIT, go to MIT!

Secondly, one fact is clear: when you will say “I graduated .. , in Sweden”, most of this globe’s citizens will disregard for the moment the title of your programme, your grades, and will think about the things relating strictly to Sweden. The package, the whole that you will become, will probably worth more than the knowledge your diploma certifies!

Thirdly, you must be honest about it and admit that this free-tuition gave many of you the possibility not to take government or private grants that obliged you to come back to your countries, after finishing the studies. I read a stupid comment today saying it’s such a pity that Sweden will have tuition fees and all, because he wants to travel around the world and he doesn’t want to accept grants which state a come-back rule. That’s just crap! You cannot expect Swedes to pay for your tuition, so that you can have extra money to travel around.

The fourth point is that while some people state, and I quote “Why pay fees to come and suffer here when you can add a bit more money or for the same amount go and study where jobs are available?”, you forget to see the dynamic of the situation. If there will be less foreign students, or if the foreign students will come to Sweden with a grant, then I guess it’s natural to say that there won’t be so many people looking and filling a job position. Therefore, there will be more available positions. And then again: are you studying at some place because you can get employed easily there? If you go by that rule, I think it’s simpler not to be a free mover and stick to your own country at least, if not your own city.

Hmm. I’m still trying to maintain my open mind here, but all this “Well I wouldn’t have come to Sweden if I wasn’t being given free stuff” doesn’t sound like a huge commitment to the place in return for what you’re getting, and if we’re talking about people who fly in, take the freebies and bog off again then I’m beginning to wonder why Swedes haven’t withdrawn this already. (by VikingHumpingWitch, in a comment on thelocal.se)

Sweden, UK, USA, ..

I think it’s wrong to say that less and less people will choose Sweden over UK or the USA.

For the sake of human kind - decide people! Do you go for prestige and quality of studies or for the level of the tuition fees?

Maybe you say that studies in UK or the USA come in a better light. I assure you that it’s not the same for any university, may it be British or American. And also, the tuition fee is not actually the same. You can pay £8000 in UK, in comparison to 8000€ in Sweden, for instance. And the difference will definitely not show up in your salary after getting the diploma.

Not to mention that if indeed you can pay a tuition fee in UK or the USA, then why not go there in the first place?

And don’t forget:

University Courses in the UK can be pretty low level. (by Puffin, in a comment on thelocal.se)

Although much depends on where you study in Sweden (some of the small colleges do run some Mickey Mouse courses) - I found that the courses in Sweden to be tougher an higher level than in the UK. I hold a bachelors degree from both countries and there was one subject that overlapped - we covered more extensive material in 3 weeks on the Swedish course than in over 10 weeks on the UK course.

I found that the student experience is a bit more demanding in Sweden and required more independent working from the student - there were major differences in:

  • the time that you were expected to study - the Swedish course required 40+ hours a week to cover everything required each week whereas you could get a great mark on the UK course with about 25 hours a week.

  • Swedish degrees tend to be longer as Swedish Universities run for 40 weeks a year - whereas my UK degree ran for 30 - I have heard that at some UK Universities the academic year is only 22 weeks.

  • In the UK it is usual to just pick an essay title from a list - even for course essays at Masters level - whereas it is common in Sweden that students formulate their own essay questions (uppsats/PM).

  • when you write an essay in the UK it is normal to just hand it in - but in Sweden there is an oral exam (Ventilering) as well - it is common that at undergraduate level this is done within the seminar groups with a fellow student picked out as the opponent - however this model continues all the way up to PhD which are examined orally at an examination open to the public.

  • Even if students are not language specialists they are expected to be able to cope with University level texts in English and Scandinavian languages. I can immagine for example handing the average UK student studying - say sociology - a book in French to be read in 2-3 days.

  • I found the pace a lot higher in Sweden - in the UK there was often a long revision period so some work could be deferred - however exams and assessmenet is often continuous in Sweden so you have to keep up or risk falled behind and having to take a term out to catch up. When I started my Swedish BA lecturs started on Septermber 3rd and the first exams were on Septermber 22nd - covering 3 textbooks and an article compendium. I took a history class and the first exam 3½ weeks later covered 3000 pages of text. Usually if you have not passed at least 75% of your classes you cannot continue with that subject the next term.

  • When I was a student in the UK there were no classes on Wednesday afternoons as that was “games and sport afternoon” and I can remember ever having a class on friday afternoons in the UK - this definitely does not exist in Sweden - in fact Fridays seem a popular day for classes - sometimes running until 6pm

So don’t mistake reputation abroad with standards and quality. Two different things!

Figures

The above is simply just an opinion, like the rest of the people spitting it out. We lack the figures, and we lack the demographic and social dinamic side! From a moral point of view, I think it’s fair to introduce tuition fees. Maybe I’m subjective because I’m an EU citizen and I’m not affected by this. On the other hand if you will, non-EU citizens can opt for other EU studies, where tuition fees are as low as 450€ (Romania). So there are options.

2006 report

A report was published in 2006, compiled by the former president of the Swedish Institute, looking at this specific topic.

The key points are (and remember these are only suggestions, not law - we’ll have to wait until the Autumn to see what will definitely happen)

  • Fees will be for under and post graduate education, but not for PhD students

  • Fees will be fixed by each university, at a ‘limited’ number of levels

  • Students who will be exempt from paying will include: citizens from EEA countries, people with Swedish residence permits, students in an exchange programme and citizens of countries that have entered into free movement agreements with the EU (e.g. Switzerland)

  • The right should exist for universities to charge application fees

  • Work permit rules should be amended so that it is easier to remain in Sweden, to work, after graduation

  • Scholarship funding should be increased

John Wedderburn

Conclusion

To sum up the paragraphs in “Things to consider”:

  • universities closing down and cities going dead = not a very clean argument
  • fewer non-EU students, more EU students
  • a nice marketing campaign will start, in order to attract more EU students
  • gifted non-EU students will stand practically the same chance to study in Sweden, even with the fee in place, because of the scholarships
  • it doesn’t sound fair for Swedes to pay for the education of non-Swedes
  • Sweden has more to offer than just free-tuition
  • Swedish studies are comparable on many levels with studies UK, USA, Germany etc.
  • we lack the figures and a draft of the bill

It will be very interesting to see how the politicians will back up this initiative.

But overall it will be like taking with the left hand and giving with the right hand, while scaring away those with little chances in the process. All in all, I think there will be a shift from less-gifted non-EU students (with an average economy) to less-gifted EU students, and the rest is very well summed up by this comment:

the proposal would allow for scholarships to students from developing countries that would then be more targeted and based on need. The main “losers” would be to those who study in Sweden from developed countries but outside the EU who currently study for free and would be unlikely to get a needs’ based scholarship.(by Puffin, in a comment on thelocal.se)

Personally, disregarding the neutral arguments or the around-the-bush talk, I see two sides to the story:

  1. The principle of free quality education is undermined by this decision, and it should not take into account the large number of applicants. If you need less applicants because you cannot cope with such a large number, then tighten the requirements, and end up with some financial requirements only as a last measure. Not to mention, fixing the methodology and the software for the centralized admission system is a must, no matter the number of applicants, but even more needed with an increasing number of applicants. But I see no news/changes in that direction. That’s the bad side.
  2. The good side is that there will be scholarships for the truly gifted students, no matter their national background.. and I don’t see a low number of scholarships (like the ones from SI). So potential, top-wittiness and commitment will be repaid and asked to join the Swedish “gang”.

Andrei