A government commission that began investigating the idea in 2006 received support from Higher Education Minister, Lars Leijonborg, in 2008. He said last June that if the motion passes, university would remain free for EU students, but would cost a fee for non-Europeans beginning by January 1st, 2010.
But now, “Fees could be introduced starting 2011, no earlier,” said Steinwall. The bill won’t be presented to parliament until October this year. If passed, initiating the charges will take time to coordinate.
The proposed bill states each university would be able to decide its own fees, but Steinwall said the estimated average is 70,000 to 80,000 kronor ($9,000 to $10,000) per year.
“We do not want to introduce fees to deter students, but in order to limit the cost borne by the taxpayer,” said Steinwall. “We hope to be able to attract students from all over the world, even after the introduction of fees.”
He said universities would need to introduce scholarships and increase marketing to recruit international students, who would then have to pay.
Still, the introduction of tuition fees might not affect enrollment rates, according to Uppsala University’s director of student affairs, Einar Lauritzen. He said tens of thousands of international students apply yearly to the school, most from Asian and African countries like Pakistan and Nigeria.
“The number of students who actually come is a fraction of the applicants,” explained Lauritzen, meaning enrollment numbers could remain the same despite charging fees.
He also said the university is in favour of the idea. “We don’t think that Sweden, and the Nordic countries for that matter, can be different from other universities in the world concerning fees in this matter,” he explained. “We have to change the current system.”
Despite administrative support, students don’t necessarily see the proposal as positive.
“We are very opposed. We think that education is a right, and not something you can buy and sell, like clothes or shoes,” said Moa Meuman, chair of the Swedish Association of Student Unions (Sveriges förenade studentkårer).
She said she feels this law would decrease the number of students studying in Sweden and would have little financial gain. Calculations estimate a profit of one per cent for universities, which doesn’t include scholarship hand-outs, she said.
“The concept of free education in Sweden is something we can be proud of,” she said. “International students could stay here, or be an ambassador for Sweden wherever they go afterwards. The students will contribute to education in Sweden, bringing experiences that Swedish children might not have had, which can enhance education.”
Meuman said this could be the first step in creating tuition fees for Swedish students, which has occurred in countries like Ireland. “The government promised the students that starting tuition fees for internationals wouldn’t affect them. Then a few years later they started charging the Irish students as well,” explained Meuman.
Expressen columnist Sakine Madon has written about the pending legislation change and is in favour of the fees. “I want students to come to Sweden because of good education, and not because it’s free,” she told The Local, adding that paying might increase respect for education.
Madon said recent changes in immigration laws make it easier for foreign students to stay in Sweden once finished schooling, so they can contribute to society.
If the law is passed, current international students would be able to complete their degrees tuition-free. New university students starting in 2011 would have to pay, according to ministry representative Steinwall.