Free Education In Norway: Die Hard

Norway can be compared to Australia in a number of things: great nature, passion for outdoor activities, a small population ratio to territory and the importance of natural resources to their economy.

Surprisingly enough, the direction of political development is somehow similar. Though, Norway is often taken as an example of Scandinavian welfare model – which it surely is – the Parliamentary election of 2013 brought a right-winged government to power.

While in Australia Tony Abbott’s government introduced reforms in education, among other things, the conservative Norwegian government has been more careful. Certainly Abbott’s policies have pros and cons, but the pragmatic reason behind deregulation of the Australian universities is clear: to let universities raise the funds to compete world-wide.

Some liberals assert that besides pragmatism the newly introduced policy is simply ‘just’; it will make prospective students ‘responsible’ in their degree selection and those who pay a lot for expensive degrees will get higher salary after the graduation.

In Norway, however, the situation differs significantly. Those who are at odds with deregulation may find a Norwegian system ideal. As a deregulated system, the Norwegian system has pros and cons as well. Here’s a short overview.

Higher Education is free for both citizens of Norway and international students. There is a small fee (around $100 AUD) every student pays per semester which is called a ‘semester registration fee’ and supposed to cover some administrative services provided by the universities. There is State Educational Loan Fund (Norwegian HESC-HELP) which provides loans for students’ living expenses during their educational period. No interest is implied.

What’s an overall picture then? Norwegian universities don’t perform as well as American and British ones in worldwide rankings, however, they attract lots of students from around the world. International students enjoy not only the absence of tuition fee; some of them experience the benevolence of the welfare system even more as the Norwegian HESC allows them to take a loan to support themselves in Norway.

Since Norway is the most expensive country to live in the world, students from developing and some Eastern European countries struggle to afford the cost of living without support. The loan given to these students (‘Quota’ students) is supposed to be paid back if student stays in Norway after graduation or is converted to a scholarship if the student returns back to the home country i.e: when a student comes back to their country, Norway cancels the debt. To not be a mindless squandering of funds, such benevolence to international students has a justification.

The short cut answer is appealing to principles of the right to education, which can be interpreted differently and is widely used by opponents of liberal reforms. Luckily, it is not the only reason. Pragmatism plays an important role as well: such ‘squandering’ is a long-term investment in foreigners who can contribute to Norway in future.

While more and more counties not only introduce fees, but raise them for both local and international students, Norway enjoys the advantages of not going with the stream. By introducing degrees in English, Norwegian universities attract many students from Germany, the US, Russia, China and other countries. Surprisingly, Norway also attracts a large population of Scandinavian students and many students from Sweden find it appealing to come to their Western neighbor on the peninsula.

The current government has begun to discuss the expediency of these policies. The new budget proposed by the Conservative party and the Progress Party is about to introduce tuition fees for international students outside of EEA (European Economical Area). The pragmatic reason behind it is clear: to save money for the budget. The other reason is that it seems unfair for many Norwegians that they pay high tuition fee when they go for exchange outside of EEA, while international students pay nothing for education in Norway.

This proposal is not new. Last year the same policy was discussed however it was not implemented and it’s unlikely it will pass now. The Conservative party and the Progress Party do not have a majority in the parliament and in order to pass this proposal they will need votes from either the Liberal party or the Christian Democratic Party, both of which opposed the proposal last year and are about to do it again.

The latter parties supported the strong opposition from student unions and referred to principles of a right to education (Liberal party) and the possible damage tuition fees can do to the internationalization of education (Christian Democratic Party)[1].

Therefore, regardless of a will to introduce tuition fees, it seems like education in Norway would still remain free for international students, at least for another year.

Iurii is a Masters student at University of Bergen in Bergen, Norway. Originally from Kiev, Ukraine, Iurii came to the ANU in the Winter of 2014 as a visiting student at the School of Philosophy.

[1] http://www.studvest.no/krf-and-the-liberal-party-oppose-tuition-fees/