In the last decade more European countries have introduced tuition fees for non-EU students. This move to differentiate tuition fees for international (non-EU) students versus domestic and EU students seems to be a trend (eg Austria, Czech Republic, Denmark, Ireland, Netherlands, Sweden, etc). In 2017, Finland joins the tuition competition as the national government passed new legislation in 2015 allowing higher education institutions to introduce tuition fees for non-EU students.
Each Finnish higher education institution has already decided or is currently deliberating on the tuition fee amounts with the minimum annual fee set by the national government at €1500. However, it looks like the tuition amounts will far exceed the minimum limit with the University of Helsinki leading the charge to define the tuition threshold amounts from €10,000 to €25,000. If market logic prevails, other Finnish universities will follow suit and agree on sticker prices comparable to the University of Helsinki. Of course, scholarships will be introduced as well, but the details are yet to be determined.
Is Finland following its Nordic neighbours?
In 2006, Denmark was the first Nordic country to introduce tuition fees for international students as part of a wider higher education reform. After the introduction of fees, the number of non-EU degree students fell from 1366 to 753. Tuition fees range from €6000 to €16,000 depending on the institution, discipline, and specific programme. While non-EU degree students must pay tuition fees, exchange students remain tuition-free.
Five years later, Sweden joined the tuition movement. With the introduction of tuition fees in the fall of 2011, the number of overall non-EU enrollments dropped by 33%, from 22,100 in 2010 to 14,700 in 2011. Currently, tuition fees are listed from €8700 to €15,300 Euro (SEK 80,000 and 140,000).
Tuition fees around Europe
Germany is a peculiar case study. In 2006, some German Länders (states) introduced tuition fees in the amount of €500 per semester. In 2014, undergraduate tuition fees were abolished for domestic and international students. Presently, some Master’s and PhD programmes collect tuition fees, but it takes a bit of homework for non-EU students to discover the financial implications of studying a postgraduate degree in Germany.
The tuition debate continues to evolve in France. In 2015, a think tank working for the French Prime Minister recommended the introduction of tuition fees for international students as a way to subsidise internationalisation practices. However, the recommendations were not embraced by the national government. As of now, minimal tuition fees – €190–€615 per year depending on degree level and discipline – are collected at publicly-funded French higher education institutions.
The UK publicly-funded institutions have differential tuition fees for home students (domestic and EU) and international students. Following the Browne Review in 2010, home students in England experienced a surge in tuition fee prices which meant international students did too.
The introduction of international student tuition fees comes with numerous implications for institutions to consider.
1. Potential change in the international student population
Case studies show that when implementing tuition fees the number of international students will decrease. Whether this number readjusts to pre-tuition quantities is dependent on various factors (ie marketing efforts, student satisfaction, institutional reputation and prestige, etc). In addition, the national makeup of the international student population will likely change with the introduction of fees, unless generous scholarship programmes for less affluent countries are introduced.
2. Additional administrative capacity and infrastructure needed
Tuition and scholarship processing requires ample administrative support and know-how. Policies and protocols must be created that feed into a system of billing, collection, and payment. It is a heavy investment in the beginning, but if set up properly it can be streamlined in an efficient way.
3. Investment in marketing and recruitment
New strategies need to be developed with targeted markets in mind and innovative marketing and recruitment tactics as the competition for fee-paying international students continues to grow.
4. Investment in student retention
Many institutions initiating new or rising tuition fees overlook the critical aspect of retaining international students. It is one thing to recruit them to your campus, but it is another to retain them. Intentional thought and discussion needs to occur surrounding the international student experience. If a tuition-paying international student is not satisfied with their experience – ie courses, teachers, services, accommodation, etc – they will complain (sometimes loudly), simply drop out and/or will not be your best future ambassador. Maintaining a candid two-way conversation with international students becomes essential, which can be easily done with evaluations, focus groups and mentoring programmes.
5. Inventory and assessment of international student services
Does the quality of your international student services match the value of the tuition price? To find out, conduct an inventory and assessment of international student services.
6. Students with a consumer mentality/identity come with higher expectations
Students who pay a tuition bill for higher education look at the transaction as an exchange. They are paying for something of value, which means they come with high expectations.
7. Faculty and higher education leaders have agency in the design of student consumer expectations[i]
Managing the student consumer expectations is one of the most important aspects to introducing tuition fees. During the recruitment, orientation, and retention phase the institutional policies, culture, and academic expectations must be explained in detail – both in writing and orally. Therefore, faculty, institutional recruiters, administrative staff and leaders need to have a cohesive and holistic message of the expected international student experience. Being candid about these expectations will help to manage unreasonable – and unsatisfied – international student expectations.
Leasa is Knowledge Development Adviser at the EAIE.
[i] Naidoo R., Shankar A. and Veer E. (2011). The consumerist turn in higher education: policy aspirations and outcomes. Journal of Marketing Management, 27(11/12), pp. 1142–1162.