Thursday, May 24, 2012

Message to my Norwegian friends, don't drop the ball on this!

Its true, Norway is truly one of the best places on earth to be a student. Tuition at public Universities and Colleges is free for both domestic and international students and although there are some problems regarding student housing and the high cost of living, over all the Norwegian state is extremely generous. 

Luckily for foreign students, Norway is in a unique position to afford such generosity. Thanks to oil and gas revenues, it’s one of Europe’s wealthiest countries, with a G.D.P. per capita (P.P.P.) of $54,600 in 2010, compared to Sweden’s $39,100 and Canada’s $39,400.1

However if you are a student in Norway, and particularly if you are involved in student government or politics in general my message to you is do not get complacent. Regarding Norway's generous policy towards international students, Stig Arne Skjerven (director of academic affairs at Aalesund University College) warns that, "It might be changing for several reasons, there is already pressure on the system and the box has already been opened by Denmark and Sweden".2

Typical Norwegian student (sorry Ingerid!)

Over the past decade, more and more countries all over the world (and particularly in Europe) have began to shift towards tuition based models of education financing. In 2003 England introduced its so called "variable tuition fee act"; under this act Universities in England began to charge tuition fees of up to £3000 a year for its domestic students. Within a few years both Northern Ireland and  Wales had both adopted this system and in 2009 the £3000 tuition cap was raised to £3225.3 Furthermore, International students from outside of the European Union now pay tuition fees independently set by individual Universities . With youth unemployment numbers hitting record levels in Europe (and much of the world) this type of legislation essentially makes it impossible for most young people to get an education without incurring what is often insurmountable amounts of debt.

Beginning in 2011, Sweden began charging tuition fees to international students from outside the European Union. Given the current economic climate across the world, it is in a sense understandable that nations begin to institute such policy changes, however the benefits of such a system may be short lived and in the end make countries like Sweden less attractive to skilled migrants. Although these changes only effect non-EU students, one has to wonder how long it will be before countries such as Sweden transition to models which resembling the English variable tuition system.

Last years student protests in the United Kingdom and the ongoing student standoff in Quebec signify a growing frustration felt by students all over the world. Not only are the fewer jobs to be had, but the costs associated with even being considered eligible for employment continue to rise. 

While there has been no official comment by the Norwegian government regarding the possibility of introducing tuition for international or domestic students, it is imperative that student groups and activist organizations keep themselves informed regarding this issue. It is not paranoid for Norwegians to wonder how long education in Norway will remain tuition free for international students and its own citizens given global trends and the example set by countries such as England and Holland. 

While charging tuition to international students attending public institutions is obviously within the right of any state, consider the precedence such a decision entails. While access to free quality education is seen by most in Norway to be a right, it is important to remember that rights often require defending and that complacency is a rights worst enemy. 


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