The Swedish Centre for Studies of the Internationalisation of Higher Education
SIHE Report: The Economic Logic of the Swedish Tuition Fee System
Title: Det svenska studieavgiftssystemets ekonomiska logik. En kritisk diskussion
(The Economic Logic of the Swedish Tuition Fee System. A Critical Discussion)
Author: André Bryntesson
Since the autumn of 2011, free-mover students originating from outside the EU/EEA-area who study at Swedish higher education institutions have to pay tuition fees. These fees are generally set based on the average cost for tuition, plus expenses related to administration and universities' marketing abroad. The explicit goal of the system is mainly to maintain high levels of so-called third country students, while relieving Swedish tax payers from the economic burden of providing them with free education.
Based on this political goal, a new SIHE-report critically reviews some of the economic principles on which the level of fees are based, and claims that fees could potentially be set significantly lower if they were to be calculated differently.
Firstly, setting fees based on the marginal cost of providing tuition for an additional minority of international students, instead of the average cost of tuition for all students, would result in lower fee levels.
Secondly, tax revenue generated by the incoming students' expenses for accommodation and subsistence could be taken into account when setting fee levels.
Thirdly, if the high tax revenue generated by the minority of third country students who integrate into the Swedish labour market after graduation were also taken into account, the benefit of receiving international students may even outweigh the cost of providing the group as a whole with free tuition, based on estimates in previous studies. If the aim is for third country students as a collective to inflict no cost on Swedish tax payers, it is therefore possible that charging them for the tuition may be superfluous. Such long term effects are, however, much more complex to analyse and predict.
At the same time, the discussion casts doubt on whether the current tuition fee system also fulfils the hopes of a more quality-centred competition between Swedish and foreign universities, by removing the advantage of free tuition. The main problem here is not that fee levels could be set lower, but that they are already too low.
The fact that Swedish tuition fees are tied to the cost structure of the university instead of being a product of supply and demand means that there are two problems related to, in particular, more prestigious institutions. On the one hand, the choice to study in Sweden may still be based on economic considerations rather than on the perceived quality of teaching and research, since the Swedish tuition fees are still much lower than those of many foreign prestigious institutions. The fees thus fail to produce a quality-centred competition. On the other hand, some students may instead choose to study elsewhere since the lower fees in Sweden can easily be taken as an indication of inferior quality.
Opening Ceremony for SIHE
On Tuesday the 7th of November, Uppsala University's Vice Chancellor Eva Åkesson inaugurated the Swedish Centre for Studies of the Internationalisation of Higher Education (SIHE), in connection to the celebration of the ERASMUS-programme's 30th anniversary. The centre is intended to act as a node for research and analysis, both on a local, national and international level. It is also meant to be a platform for collaboration with external actors such as government agenices in posession of relevant data and in need of analytical expertise.
The opening ceremony was preceded by an internationalisation fair and a series of lectures on the internationalisation of higher education and opportunities for students to study abroad. Professor Mikael Börjesson, André Bryntesson and Ashley Haru, who make up the permanent staff at the centre, presented preliminary results from an ongoing research project on Swedish ERASMUS+-students in collaboration with the Swedish Council for Higher Education (UHR).
– Research on the internationalisation of education is for some reason lacking in Sweden, despite the intense efforts to internationalise Swedish universities and trying to make them attractive in the competition for international students. Much of the research that is conducted, however, stems from Uppsala University, and we also have collaborations with several government agencies dealing with the issue. Therefore it feels natural to gather this research and these collaborations within a more formal centre, says Mikael Börjesson, Professor in Sociology of Education and Scientific Leader at the new centre.