International students in Norway react to the budget proposal from the Progress Party (FrP) for support for the introduction of tuition fees

 

By: Amine Fquihi- National President, ISU

English translation of Khrono's article that ISU Norway's National President, Amine Fquihi, wrote. To read the original Norwegian version of the article see: "Utdanning for noen, men ikke alle?"

 

The Progress Party (FrP) has recently introduced its alternative state budget. This proposal seeks to make significant changes to the government’s budget proposal when it comes to higher education.

FrP's reasonings for these changes revolve around improving quality, removing unnecessary bureaucracy, and making education more relevant.

We at the International Students’ Union of Norway (ISU) have some major concerns about how FrP seeks to accomplish these goals and the larger impact they would have on higher education and the economy in Norway. 

Like the Norsk studentorganisasjon (NSO), we are glad that our fellow Norwegian students will receive increased study support under this plan, but we are strongly against FrP’s plan to introduce tuition fees for international students.

The principle of free education has long stood as a cornerstone of higher education in Norway’s social democracy. This is because it, among other things, allows all people an equal opportunity to receive an education regardless of race, social status, and economic background. This means that one’s background no longer limits his or her access to education, rather it is only one’s knowledge, intelligence, and skill that determines their ability to access this.

One need only look at history to see the number of great thinkers who came from poorer backgrounds—like Henrik Ibsen, Alfred Nobel, Marie Curie, and Linus Pauling, to just name a few. 

If tuition fees are introduced for international students, many bright, yet poorer, students will not be able to access an education that would help them rise out of the limitations that their economic and social background has placed them in. 

Roy Steffensen, leader of FrP’s Education and Research Committee told Khrono that “We should attract intelligent people because we can offer quality, not because we are the cheapest.”

Based on this statement, it seems that Steffensen believes that people are coming to Norway simply because it is tuition free. This definitely is one of many reasons why many international students come to Norway to study, but it is not the only reason or necessarily even the most important that one chooses Norway.

Many public universities in Norway are already highly ranked globally because of the quality of education that is provided.

If you keep the current scheme, also for international students, several of the smartest and most intelligent students will have an opportunity to come to Norway to study. This means that Norway will have access to the most astute from all social strata.

 By introducing tuition-fees, a barrier will be created that will only allow those who are richer to come to study and push away those who are poorer, limiting both opportunity and diversity in Norwegian universities. 

We are aware of the cost that comes from providing tuition free education for international students, but the Norwegian public should look at this as an investment instead of a burden. In 2019, the Norwegian Agency for International Cooperation and Quality Enhancement in Higher Education (Diku) wrote a report in which they state that greater international diversity in higher education in Norway has an impact on quality. 

"Internationalization at home" is an important tool, especially in our global age, to train future workers to have an international perspective. It will be difficult for Norwegian students to achieve international exposure if tuition fees are introduced, because there will be a dramatic decline in international students who come to study in Norway, especially those from poorer backgrounds.

The positive impact of international students is not only on improving the quality of higher education, it expands further to also improve the economy. Research shows that in countries, such as the United States, immigration has a direct impact on innovation.

By training and including international students in the labor market, Norway will benefit from innovation and experience coming from immigrants who have already lived in Norway for at least 2 years.

It should not only be international students who are concerned about the proposal for tuition fees. By setting a precedent for tuition fees for a group of students in Norway, it is only a matter of time before this will expand to include other groups of students, including Norwegians.

The principle of free education ensures that education is available to everyone and not just some. We ask FrP and the Norwegian government to return to a focus on social democratic principles so that everyone who has intelligence, knowledge, and skills can have the opportunity to study in Norway, regardless of their nationality and background. This is especially important now in these times of a pandemic that is ravaging the world.

Although the FRP's budget proposal's direct impact on international students is one of our biggest concerns, it is short-sighted to focus on cutting budgets for directorates in higher education, especially in a time of crisis.

Similarly although bureaucracy can be restrictive, reducing the budget for higher education directorates will lead to the prevention of political work and research in higher education. Some of these directorates, such as Diku and IMDi, play an important role in helping to improve diversity in education and in strengthening internationalization. Limiting their work will have a negative impact on both international and Norwegian students due to the restrictions that will be placed on them and their work to improve Norway's education system.

We are also concerned about the FrP's focus on investing in "relevant" education. There has been a good deal of debate about what qualifies as relevant education since FrP, the Labor Party and the Center Party introduced their new plan for academic funding. Work and research in social research together with other research and medicine, can all have a positive impact on society and the economy. It can be dangerous to say that some types of education are more important than others, when it is not clear how they affect each other and possibly have benefits we have not studied yet.

In these pandemic times, it is positive that FrP wants to introduce study places for nurses and medicine, and in other fields where we lack competence. However, it is disadvantageous that they want to cut into law, financial and administrative programs. The plan seems very short sighted because these forms of education play a major role in the economy, and are necessary to help Norway return to the status quo after the corona crisis is over. This is a clear example of how the focus on what seems relevant right now could cause problems later.

It is ironic that the FRP emphasizes that they want to improve the quality of education, at the same time as they cut support for the Directorate for Internationalization and Quality Development (Diku). One wonders then whether it is internationalization that is the goal, since they claim that they want better quality.

Does FrP have any concrete solutions on how they want to create more internships for nursing and medical students? We want more, and hope that this is not just a proposal without content. If there is a proposal now because of all the media coverage, it is disappointing, because we desperately need these professions.

Cutting in Unit also seems to be contradictory since some of the brightest minds work there.

As far as we can see, the cuts are in higher education, and the grants in vocational education. Why can we not have both? We need both. The future lies in education, technology and innovation. For this we need smart people. Let's continue to make them.

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