University of Aalto, Finland

The impact of new international tuition fees in Norway and Finland

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Thaís Roberto
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Non-EU students will have to pay tuition fees in Norway from Autumn 2023 following months of debate, with international tuition fees in Finland also expected to rise. 

The change will impact the higher education scenario, creating more barriers for international students and new challenges for universities. 

But how will the decision impact higher education across Europe and the accessibility of education for international students studying in Norway and Finland? 

Background on the decision

The discussion entered the Norwegian parliament in late 2022, but it wasn't until an overwhelming vote of 86 to 11 on June 9 that the decision was made official. Justification for the new policy was found partly in the fact that Norwegian students often don't have the benefit of tuition-free education in other countries.

Ola Borten Moe, Minister of Research and Higher Education, said in a press release, "Norway is one of very few countries that has offered free education to all international students. At the same time, Norwegian students in the vast majority of cases have to pay tuition fees in other countries. There is no reason why it should be any different in Norway."

In Finland, most universities already charge non-EU students tuition fees, with part of the costs being funded by the government. Now, as the new administration has decided to no longer cover the costs for international students, tuition fees for international students will increase to an average of €8,000 per academic year, and they will be left to fund their education fully. 

NTNU Trondheim

Challenges for international students

Student organizations worldwide have manifested dissatisfaction with the new regulations implemented by both countries. With the sudden and steep increase in the costs associated with international education, large groups of students will be unable to pursue a degree in Norway or Finland entirely.

A survey from November 2022 concluded that up to 80% of prospective international students might be deterred from choosing Norway as their destination depending on the level of tuition fees introduced for the next academic year.

The decision also affected students already on their way to starting their studies in Norway. According to the new regulation, any non-EU student starting their studies after August 1 must pay tuition fees - adding to the problem, the payments must be made before May 15 to ensure the necessary visas can be issued.

This sudden change means that students who applied in November, before the proposals reached parliament, will now have to either cover unexpected and expensive tuition fees or step back from their plans to attend university in Norway.

Impact on higher education

The significant drop in student enrollment will be only one of the many challenges universities must overcome. Many institutions have criticized the lack of guidance from the government regarding the implementation of the new tuition fees. 

National Union of Students in Norway leader Maika Marie Godal Dam believes that the new policies will cause a great loss of diversity in higher education, which comes with even larger issues: "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."

Experts also show concern for the future of programs with cohorts of mainly international students. With a decreased interest from international applicants, many graduate programs could become unviable in the near future, running the risk of being shut down completely. 

Norway tuition fees blog plug (1)

Moreover, the financial implications of these policies may lead to budgetary challenges for universities. Many institutions rely on the presence of international students to generate revenue, and the implementation of tuition fees may put strain on school administrations, with less money flowing into Norwegian and Finnish universities and operational costs staying the same.

For André Bryntesson, research coordinator at Uppsala University, the new regulation could gravely disrupt universities' planning in the long term. He told Times Higher Ed, "How does one ensure that higher education institutions can maintain programme structures and staff in place despite very few students so that they are ready when student numbers are expected to start increasing again?"

Impact on Europe

Finland and Norway have long been at the forefront of promoting global engagement and fostering cross-cultural understanding. However, with the introduction of high fees for international students, both countries risk sending a message that higher education is becoming less accessible to students from abroad.

To counteract the inevitable reluctance of international students to choose Finland as a destination, the government plans on launching new incentives for students planning on working in Finland post-graduation, such as a quicker path to permanent residency for students graduating from a Master's program in a Finnish university.

In addition to a possible shortage of international workers, many education specialists fear that this is the beginning of the end of free education in Europe. Matteo Vespa, president of the European Students' Union, said, "This is a tragic day for equal rights to education. 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."

Uncertain future

While the new policies aim to address economic challenges, it is crucial to carefully consider the potential consequences to higher education and internationalization as a whole. 

The new barriers to international students will challenge Finland and Norway's spot as a favorite destination for brilliant researchers worldwide, and perhaps take a step in the opposite direction in moving away from accessible education.

 

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