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Norway confirms end of free non-EU tuition to dismay of student groups

Norway’s student organisation leader has called the parliament’s overwhelming vote to introduce tuition fees for non-EU students a “betrayal”.

This is the second time that the government in power has tried to introduce tuition fees for students outside of the EEA and Switzerland. Photo: Pexels

The move will reportedly free up some 2,600 study places

After months of debate and opposition from many universities in the country, the Labour Party-run government will introduce fees for non-EU students. Some 97 votes were cast by the Storting regarding the “personal payment for citizens from outside the EEA and Switzerland”. An overwhelming 86 were for the introduction, and just 11 were against.

“The free principle is hereby buried. It is a sad day for students and for equal opportunities,” said the National Union of Students in Norway leader Maika Marie Godal Dam.

“When it really mattered, neither the Socialist Left Party, the Labour Party nor the Center Party was willing to stand up for free higher education,” she continued.

The move will reportedly free up some 2,600 study places, but the Ministry of Education also estimates that there will be a 70% drop in the number of international students going to Norway.

The vote took place on June 9, but officials in the education committee in the Storting on June 6 made the recommendation officially to parliament, only two parties opposed it – the communist Rødt party and the centrist Venstre.

Rødt’s Hege Bae Nyholt, who is currently the head of the education and research committee at the Storting, said it was a day of “mourning and solidarity” when the recommendation was filed.

Speaking to The PIE News, Godal Dam outlined several concerns about the long term effects the decision could have on the education system.

“I don’t think Norway is introducing tuition fees to make money”

“We’re greatly concerned that Norwegian HEIs will become less international and diverse with the introduction of tuition fees.

“The quality of higher education is enhanced when students can be part of international communities where they are exposed to other cultures, perspectives and ideas.

“Furthermore, we’re concerned that this is the first step in a process where more and more people will have to pay for higher education in Norway – it’s a domino effect,” she explained.

Speaking to Khrono, the Center Party’s Marit Knutsdatter Strand said that the management of the new law will be “followed closely”, especially in regards to the national budget.

“[This is] not least [about] how the law plays out, both with regard to student groups and various programs and institutions,” Strand said. “We take all feedback seriously and will keep a close eye on what happens.”

The European Students Union, representing the wider student community on the continent, even went as far as to say it “mourned the death” of free education in the country.

“The continuing trend of abolishing free access to education in Europe is deeply concerning. ESU reiterates that education is a fundamental human right irrespective of one’s origin.

“It furthermore creates great uncertainty for the international students that have already applied for this academic year, adding even another layer of irresponsibility to what is already a bad political choice,” Matteo Vespa, ESU’s president, said.

A current student, Miguel Rosas – who is enrolled on an urban ecological planning course where 80-90% of students have been international since 1993 – sat down with the paper to talk about the impending law.

“I don’t think Norway is introducing tuition fees to make money. I think that it is a way to prevent non-EU students from coming here,” the Venezuelan student claimed.

Rosas told Khronos that he would “never be able to study this international master’s program if they were to start” in this year’s intake with fees – it would have been unaffordable.

“The government and a majority in the Parliament have refused to listen to what consequences this will have for the students and higher education in Norway. We expected far more from our top elected officials,” Godal Dam added.

This is the second time that a Norwegian government has tried to introduce tuition fees for students outside of the EEA and Switzerland – a withdrawn attempt took place in 2014 under then PM Erna Solberg, the leader of the Conservative Party and current leader of the opposition.

Many had previously warned of the consequences this would have on Norway’s system., which in November 2022 predicted the proposed legislation would deter 80% of prospective international students.

Jerome Rickmann, who has extensively researched the topic of tuition fees in Nordic countries, said previous examples of this introduction show it’s not just about the legislation.

“The government and a majority in the Parliament have refused to listen to what consequences this will have”

“The [initial] drop in numbers was quite massive in Sweden [when fees were introduced in 2011], but when you look a bit behind the numbers and examine over time, it does come down to the individual institution and to the specific school and programs, etc.

“Of course, the larger policy affects the opportunity to recruit, but there is the second side of, ‘how much are universities actually leaning into the change?'” Rickmann told The PIE.

Protests from universities have been ongoing, some have already started to pre-empt the move and have released preliminary fee figures – despite the institution’s stance on the matter.

Studyportals also released a report on Europe as a study destination in June, which indicated that Norway had seen a 19.1% drop in interest for both bachelor’s and master’s degrees – something it said was likely due to the tuition fee introduction.

“We regret that another financial barrier has been introduced for students aspiring to study in Norway,” Edwin van Rest, CEO and co-founder of Studyportals, said in a statement.

The implementation appears “rushed”, he said, “causing uncertainty among our students and putting pressure on our partner universities to adapt within a very short timeframe”.

“We believe that the imposition of tuition fees for international students will create unnecessary barriers and may hinder the country’s efforts to remain a preferred destination for talented individuals seeking a world-class education.”

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