Competing on the basis of quality - tuition fees for foreign students

In June 2010 the Riksdag voted in favour of the proposals and assessments made by the Government in its Bill 'Competing on the basis of quality - tuition fees for foreign students' (Govt. Bill 2009/10:65). This means that higher education will remain free of charge for Swedish citizens and citizens of an EU/EEA state or Switzerland. Citizens of other countries ('third country students'), in contrast, will pay a fee for their higher education as of the autumn term 2011. The change is intended to ensure that Swedish higher education institutions compete internationally on the basis of quality, not on the basis of free tuition.

Free of charge for citizens of Sweden and EU/EEA states

Sweden has a long tradition of free higher education paid for by the taxpayer. Education gives people the opportunity to shape their own lives and to influence their own situation, and is thus very valuable at individual level. But higher education is also of strategic importance for our common future. Sweden's ability to maintain and develop welfare depends to a large extent on our country's ability to manage knowledge. A well-educated population is crucial for a country wanting to assert itself in the face of ever tougher global competition. The Government therefore proposes that the Higher Education Act be supplemented with a provision stating that higher education is to be free for Swedish citizens and citizens of an EU/EEA state or Switzerland. These are countries whose citizens Sweden has undertaken to treat in the same way as Swedish citizens.

Sweden in the global education market

The number of students applying to study across national borders has risen dramatically throughout the world over the past ten years. The number of students coming to study in Sweden has trebled since 1999, and these students currently make up just over eight per cent of the student population in Sweden. Interest has grown particularly in countries outside Europe. Prior to the autumn term of 2009, Sweden received 120 000 applications from students from countries outside the EU/EEA.

Today, there is a fully developed global education market, in which Sweden and Swedish higher education institutions are actors. Swedish higher education institutions are already competing with those abroad. The Government considers that our higher education institutions should, in future, compete on the same terms as foreign higher education institutions in the countries with which Sweden wants to be compared. Sweden is currently one of very few countries to offer free education to all foreign students. In the EU, it is the norm for students from non-EU countries - 'third country students' - to pay fees.

Swedish higher education institutions must compete on the basis of high quality and good study environments, not on the basis of a free education. As Swedish higher education institutions are characterised in many areas by high quality and good study environments, these institutions have good prospects of successfully competing in the global education market.

The introduction of tuition fees for third country students will also give higher education institutions the possibility of working more strategically on recruiting these students.

Fees for students outside the EU/EEA to be introduced from 2011

Foreign students are an asset to Swedish higher education. They help to strengthen the international environment and diversity at Swedish higher education institutions. The number of third country students at Swedish higher education institutions has risen rapidly. The costs involved in taking on these students have therefore also risen. Although third country students are good for Swedish higher education in many respects, this is not reason enough to offer free education paid for by the taxpayer without restrictions to all foreign students. Swedish tax revenues should primarily cover the educational needs of Swedish citizens.

The Government therefore considers that citizens from countries outside the EU, the EEA and Switzerland - third country students - should pay a fee for their higher education as of the autumn term of 2011. Everyone who has begun their education before then should be able to complete their education at a normal pace of study without having to pay tuition fees.

Tuition fees are to be introduced for first and second cycle education (undergraduate and master's level). Third cycle (doctoral) studies will remain free of charge, also for third country students.

Not all third country students should be required to pay fees. People considered to have strong links to Sweden, who have a permanent residence permit or a residence permit in Sweden for reasons other than studies should be treated in the same way as Swedish citizens, and should thus be able to undertake higher education without paying tuition fees.

The design of tuition fees

It is intended that higher education institutions themselves determine the level of fees, based on the principle of full cost coverage. The level of tuition fees will therefore depend on the design of educational programmes.

All or some of the tuition fee should be paid in advance in order for a student liable to pay fees to be able to begin his or her education. The revenue from tuition fees should be at the disposal of higher education institutions. As tuition fees are introduced, it is intended that the central government appropriations for undergraduate education will be gradually reduced. The funds saved will be used for other essential investments in higher education, such as increased quality in education.

Scholarships and information for third country students

Swedish higher education institutions must continue to have good opportunities to recruit highly qualified students from all over the world. The aim is for qualified students to choose a Swedish higher education. Many countries offer scholarships to qualified third country students, and the Government considers that scholarships should also be offered at Swedish higher education institutions. Scholarships are an important strategic tool for higher education institutions when competing in a global education market. In future, higher education institutions should also build up their own long-term scholarship funds for these students. As a complement to already existing programmes, the Government considers that two new scholarship programmes should be established to make Swedish higher education institutions even more attractive.

One scholarship programme, with SEK 30 million available per year, will target highly qualified students from countries with which Sweden has long-term development cooperation. The funds, which will be distributed by the Swedish Institute, are intended to cover both living costs and tuition fees.

The other scholarship programme, which will target highly qualified third country students from other countries outside the EU and EEA, will cover tuition fees but not living costs. Under this programme, from 2012 onwards a government agency will share out SEK 60 million per year among higher education institutions, which will then distribute scholarships to students.

Higher education institutions are responsible for spreading information about their own educational programmes, both in Sweden and internationally. When tuition fees are introduced, it will be important to spread information about Sweden and Swedish education in general. The Swedish Institute is currently responsible for communicating the image of Sweden and Swedish higher education abroad. Prior to the introduction of tuition fees, the Government will increase the resources at the disposal of the Swedish Institute to enable it to provide clearer information about Sweden as an education nation.

When tuition fees are introduced, there is a risk that the number of third country students will decrease. Active work on information, recruitment and reception of third country students will help to counter this reduction and also provide new strategic opportunities for Swedish higher education institutions and for Sweden as an education nation.