In Sweden, students from EU countries do not generally pay tuition fees for higher education, but students from outside the EU pay fees.
Under the name Education Uninterrupted, the letter was signed by over a thousand people, including many fee-paying international students currently attending institutions all over the country.
In the letter addressed to the government, the Swedish Migration Agency and universities, American Sarah DeArruda and Mohammad Mafizul, from Bangladesh, wrote on behalf of the international student body: “We are requesting solutions from the Swedish government, migration agencies, and universities regarding our tuition fees, due dates, and residence permits.”
“The coronavirus has greatly affected me both mentally and economically,” co-founder Sarah DeArruda told The Local.
“Before the coronavirus, I had three jobs. I was fully confident in my ability to pay my tuition and living expenses. Now with Covid-19, one of my substitute jobs is no longer taking the risk of exposing the kids or teachers by bringing in unnecessary staff, such as substitutes. And my waitressing job hours disappeared just like the restaurant customers,” she said.
“It is a very scary time for international fee-paying students. In the US, I worked really hard, saving money, and securing my success here in Sweden. It has been the greatest experience to live and study in Sweden, and I don't want it to end. It will break my heart to have to go back to the US during a pandemic that is completely out of my control.”
Professor in mathematics Tom Britton supervises a student through Skype. Photo: Emma-Sofia Olsson/TT
The coronavirus crisis has had a considerable impact on many of the students, 10,000 of whom are on a Swedish student visa, and on their finances, the organisers stated.
The student body requested “immediate action in postponing, reducing or eliminating these [autumn 2020 semester] fees in coordination with the Swedish Migration Agency”, in order to prevent jeopardising the renewal of their student visas.
“As a diverse community,” the letter read, “we have come from all over the world to pursue our education in Sweden. In past semesters, we have paid the fees required of us; as well as followed the regulations and laws to obtain and hold our student visas, and worked diligently in our university studies.”
“Many of us in the international student body have also immersed ourselves into the workforce of Sweden, paying Swedish taxes on our income, boosting the economy with our purchases and occupancy, and contributing to the diversity of this nation. We support and invest in the success we will gain from our education in Sweden, and it is requested that the Swedish government, migration agencies, and universities listen to our call to action and invest in us, your students, during this crisis.”
Should Sweden cut tuition fees for international students?
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No, tuition fees should not be changed
Many of the students, according to DeArruda, have lost their part-time jobs in Sweden, while few are eligible for unemployment benefits. Others are no longer receiving parental contributions as the economic situation in their home countries has deteriorated.
“The corona situation has affected my source of income back home”, international student Mubarak Eljack from Sudan, told Education Uninterrupted, explaining that inflation in his home country had impacted his finances. Eljack is enrolled in a Masters programme in international business and trade at Handelshögskolan.
“The students not only risk losing their education,” the two co-founders of the group wrote, “but also the ability to renew their visas”.
The Swedish Migration Agency requires international students to have paid their tuition fees in full and have the equivalent of 8,000 kronor per month before granting or renewing the students' visas.
The Stockholm University. Photo: Veronica Johansson/TT
Tuition fees for international students coming from outside the EEA, EU or Switzerland were introduced in 2011, and international students pay between 80,000 and 247,000 kronor per year in tuition fees, according to studyinsweden.se.
Sweden's Higher Education Act stipulates that universities must ensure the fees are used for the full cost of instruction, counselling, health services, and other student services.
Following the transition to online learning as a result of the coronavirus, the students expressed “concern that the money from our previous tuition instalments have not been fully used in respect to the services and instruction offered by the school”, the letter continued. The writers proposed that these spring 2020 semester payments could allow for a reduction in the autumn 2020 semester fees.
The group also proposed an international student relief package, improved access to (international) student loans and an increased number of both need-based and merit scholarships.