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The Swedish Ministry of Education and Research will shortly introduce a government bill affecting higher education. According to reliable sources, the bill will contain a proposal regarding fees for non-EU/EES citizens; a proposal that, without doubt, will affect the Swedish society negatively.
Today, Swedish universities offer a wide range of master´s programs and independent courses in English. The representation of foreign students on these programs and courses is very high. According to statistics from OECD, Sweden is one of the world´s most inclusive countries for education; 8.5% of the students come from abroad.
International students contribute with other academic perspectives, as well as other angles of approach to their studies, a fact that enriches higher education of all categories. Furthermore, many of them stay in Sweden after their degree, which is an important reinforcement for the Swedish industry and society overall. Since Sweden is a small country, the addition of international influence and competence is crucial to our growth.
The most important reason for international students’ attraction to Sweden is that we provide education without fees. Advocates of tuition fees claim that we are competitive because of our history of academic excellence, the Nobel Prize - the world´s most prestigious academic award, and our reputation as an innovator and creative force with famous corporate brands like Volvo and IKEA. This might certainly contribute to international students’ interest in Sweden, but predominantly, the preference for our country is, according to several inquiries, that we offer education without fees.
One argument for tuition fees is that Swedish taxpayers should not provide education for international students who, after benefiting from our educational system, return to their native countries. Disregarding the fact that many of them stay in Sweden after their degree, there are however other profits that are essential to us. International students who return to their native countries represent important contacts and global networks that our research, industry and society overall might benefit from.
If we prescribe tuition fees for non EU/EES citizens, we will regrettably lose important effects of international influence. The argument that incoming exchange students might provide this influence, is not valid. First of all, an absolute majority of foreign students in Sweden have made their own arrangements to come to Sweden, exchange students only represent a smaller part of the international student body. Secondly, most exchange students are from Europe, which makes the international perspective limited.
There is no doubt that fees will diminish the possibilities for Sweden to attract competent students from other parts of the world. If they have to pay for their education, they will probably prefer going elsewhere. The argument that scholarships could compensate for the cost is not valid, since it will not be possible to offer that many grants. Sweden’s educational policy is based on the recognition that a multicultural student body is a resource. Let us maintain this value by providing higher education to all students, without fees.