Loss of talent feared as Norway goes ahead with non-EU fees

Decision to deter non-EU students with fees likely to ratchet up pressure in an already stretched labour market, particularly for energy and other engineering graduates

January 25, 2023
Source: iStock

Engineering deans and industry leaders have said that Norway’s introduction of tuition fees for non-European Union students will worsen energy-related skills shortages, potentially undermining the economic case for their introduction.

The government’s push to end free education for non-EU students, confirmed by a parliamentary vote last month, has been met with dismay by universities and students. Critics say the expected drop in overseas enrolments could force the closure of programmes.

The introduction of fees has been defended as economically necessary by the government, which has also argued that the change will deter up to 70 per cent of non-EU students, freeing up thousands of places for their Norwegian and EU peers. At the same time, it expects those who do come and pay to study to bring in NKr900 million (£76 million) in revenue.

The impact of fees on applications, enrolments and graduate numbers will be closely watched by Norwegian industry, which is already facing shortages of highly skilled workers. The government should take notice, too – in 2022, it raked in more than NKr1.3 billion in revenues from oil alone, in part because of spiralling prices and sanctions on Russian rivals.

“We know for sure that the coming years are going to be a high-activity period in the traditional oil and gas industry, and in addition, we will also have companies trying to grow within the renewables market,” Øystein Stjern, deputy chief executive of the IKM Group, an energy consultancy and services company, told Times Higher Education. “It’s not good that we’re reducing the amount that we’re able to recruit from.”

Olav Bolland, dean of the Faculty of Engineering at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), said he expected a “significant reduction” in the number of students enrolling on energy-related programmes, such as mechanical, civil and marine engineering.

He said applications to study at NTNU were already down 30 per cent on last year, with many dropouts expected as students realise that their education will no longer be free. “We have a very low unemployment rate, and it’s so hard to get the skilled and good people,” he said. “We can consider the government paying tuition fees as a good investment in getting enough manpower for the future.”

Among those programmes “vulnerable” to closure is the University of Stavanger’s master’s in marine and offshore technology, according to the dean of the institution’s Faculty of Science and Technology, Øystein Lund Bø.

He said a straw poll asking who among the current crop of students on the two-year MSc programme would still have enrolled if they had had to pay fees was universally negative. “Most of them are coming from lower-income countries, so the cost to come to Norway is high in the first place,” he said.

There are currently 39 students from outside the EU, four from within the bloc and 16 Norwegians. “Some people think we could fill up with Norwegian and EU students then, but the number of applicants is not so high, so the basis there is not as good as we would like it to be,” he said.

Prof Bø said the programme needed to have a bare minimum of 20 students registered in each year to remain viable. The loss of 70 per cent of non-EU learners would leave Stavanger, which sends about 170 graduates to the oil industry every year, with a difficult decision about the course’s future.

In a response to a parliamentary question, the education minister, Ola Borten Moe, said that about 20 per cent of master’s programmes in Norway had at least 20 per cent non-EU students.


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