Higher education tuition fees – marketised academic world?

From free to fees

Next year Finland, following its Scandinavian neighbours, is introducing tuition fees ranging all the way up to 25,000 euros for non-European Union (EU) and non-European Economic Area (EEA) students.

Finland is not the first nation to introduce tuition fees – and certainly will not be the last. Of the Nordic countries the only ones still offering tuition free education for international students are Iceland and Norway, both of whom have said that they highly doubt ever introducing any fees.

In general, Europe-wise, tuition free higher education is limited to the two Nordic countries of Iceland and Norway, as well as Germany and France. Globally, many other universities are only charging a registration fee, such as in Brazil and Argentina.

The effects of the change in Finland are still uncertain, but based on what came about in other Nordic countries, Denmark in 2006 and Sweden in 2011, the quantity of international applicants and students is likely to decrease – unless that is, the universities manage to maintain the student flows with effective marketing.

Milla Eronen, the head of communications at Aalto University, says: “We still aim to attract international students with our high-quality teaching and the variety of study choices. In the beginning, the adoption of tuition fees is certainly going to lower the number of international applicants. This has happened everywhere, and to tackle this some innovative actions are needed.”

In Sweden the number of international students has dropped from over 22,100 to 14,700[1] following the introduction of tuition fees for non-EU/EEA students in 2011. However, the Swedish institutions have managed to change course and raise the number of non-EU/EEA students with a steady increase. The Swedish example illustrates the value of well sustained marketing and recruitment.[2]

By the rising of and introduction of tuition fees, universities are challenged even more in attracting overseas students and maintaining their internationality. Similarly to Finland, the second most important factor in deciding on a place to study for international students was the cost of their studies (previously free).[3]

The three most expensive countries for studying are still the UK, USA and Australia, all of which also have the most universities in the world’s top 100 ranking lists. (Though these lists are not extensive meters of student satisfaction, as our research has shown.)

“Of course, the introduction of tuition fees is going to bring some extra income to Aalto, but then again, improving the services and creating a scholarship system are going to produce some expenses. So, this practice evens out the profit making-aspect of the tuition fees – at least in the beginning”, Eronen continues.

Increasing the existing tuition fees

The British government has once again proposed to raise their tuition fee -ceiling from the current £9000. With only two weeks to go before the dreadful Brexit-vote, especially the students of the European Union are facing the chill of the winds of change.

When the United Kingdom introduced the maximum tuition fee of £9000 – which was almost thrice higher than it had been – it was noticeably visible in the applicant numbers, which dropped 12 % between 2011 and 2013. And not only does the rises in the fees dry out the applicant flows in the home countries of potential students – but it also drives students to look for alternatives abroad. Many applicants from the United Kingdom started to see other European countries as more attractive when that of their own homeland became increasingly expensive, and some fear that as a result, the fee cap is to be eventually removed altogether. [5]

The drop in only international applicant numbers rather than the general admissions of locals can be explained because international students and native students quite commonly pay different tuition fees. For example, in the University of Cambridge the tuition for overseas students can be up to £38 000[4], whereas the locals and EU-citizens pay only up to £9000 for their undergraduate degree.

What is known as the domino effect in this matter is that, while the tuition fees are first introduced only to the international students of Finland, later on it might change to apply to even the local students. And even though the fees are introduced in response to cost cuts, for example in Denmark the same amount that is acquired from the tuition fees is now used for talented students’ scholarships. Thus with the fundamental shift towards non-free education, in a marketised academic world it is becoming increasingly important for universities to amp up their marketing strategies. Something that Study Advisory can certainly help with.

[1] Sweden on the rebound from tuition fee fallout, http://monitor.icef.com/2012/09/sweden-on-the-rebound-from-tuition-fee-fallout/ accessed 11/6

[2] Sweden’s international student numbers up for the first time since 2011 http://monitor.icef.com/2015/12/swedens-international-student-numbers-up-for-the-first-time-since-2011/



[4] International fees and costs http://www.undergraduate.study.cam.ac.uk/international-students/fees

[5] UK university fees to be linked to quality of ‘student experience’ http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/35e4599e-1933-11e6-b197-a4af20d5575e.html#axzz4C699VeGu 

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