Report moots fees in Sweden

Leading Swedish academics want sweeping changes to the way universities are funded, including the right to charge tuition fees.

Swedish universities and colleges of higher education are prohibited by law from charging tuition fees. But change may be on the way with the Ministry of Education, Research and Culture exploring the possibility of charging non-European Union students tuition fees.

A study titled The University of Tomorrow , by the Royal Academy of Engineering Sciences, criticises the current model of state funding that leaves universities hard pressed to teach more and more students and maintain standards without any significant increase in funding.

It says that universities should be free to charge both home and foreign students tuition fees to ensure the continued quality of educational standards.

"There's a lot to say for free education," Lars Haikola, chancellor of Blekinge Institute of Technology, told Swedish news agency TT. "But I cannot see how we can solve higher education's need for funding over the next ten years unless more money comes into the system from a variety of sources. I don't see the state being willing to take on more of the cost of education than at present."

The academy's controversial report urges the Government to consider allowing individual universities and colleges to charge fees at the level they see fit. The academy proposes the introduction of a new grants system, to support those without sufficient funds to study, and a major overhaul of the student loan system.

Furthermore, the report recommends that not all courses carry the same fee.

For example, those that may not be popular, but are important to the continued development of Sweden's economy, should have lower fees or be entirely without charge.

In addition, the academy proposes changes that could free more income for teaching and research. These would include measures such as tax breaks on donations to universities and colleges, and allowing universities to rent out their property.

Leif Pagrotsky, Minister for Education, Research and Culture, vehemently opposes the suggestions. "I'm completely against (tuition fees) and want to (further) legislate against charging Swedish students fees."

It remains to be seen, however, whether Mr Pagrotsky will be in a position to safeguard free education. A general election is scheduled for September and the Social Democrat Government is trailing in the polls.

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