Sweden to Charge Non-EU Students

July 9th, 2008 by IEFA

Almost two years ago on this blog, we talked about the debate in Sweden about whether to charge tuition to international students. Higher education in Sweden is free, but of course Swedes pay extraordinarily high taxes for high level services like free education. International students in Sweden so far have enjoyed the same free education as citizens — but unfortunately it looks like that is changing.

According to higher education minister Lars Leijonborg, no later than January 1, 2010, international students will have to pay tuition, unless they come from an EU country, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway.

From the Local online, Sweden’s News in English: “Our primary argument is that it is unwise of a country not to benefit from a payment system which obviously exists. Why should these students pay money to American or British universities, but not to Swedish [ones]?” Leijonborg explained to the Svenska Dagbladet newspaper.

The proposal includes stipends for students that cannot afford to pay the tuition. How those stipends would be implemented and how it would impact students from developing countries is yet to be determined.

The argument in favor of charging tuition to international students is understandable, as in general they don’t pay taxes into the Swedish system and most other country alternatives would require tuition payments. However, the simple fact that Sweden ignored this relatively minor revenue opportunity, and was gracious with its international student population, set it apart from the rest of the world of international education. While other countries have been criticized for viewing international students as a cash cow (for instance, in the UK international students typically pay much higher tuition than domestic students; in Australia universities have been criticized for enrolling students without sufficient English, arguably after the fees; and in the US international students are not eligible for subsidized federal loans like US students), Sweden has been the shining city on the hill, helping to attract the best and the brightest to its universities. As worldwide competition for international students continues to heat up, Sweden will likely lose a substantial portion of its international student population when it enacts this plan; there’s no doubt that it will lose some of its glimmer in the eyes of students from developing countries.

Click here to read the article in the Local.

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