It is an argument that crops up in many political and economic debates. If you find yourself debating taxes, somebody will point to the Scandinavian model of higher taxes as a shining example. Norwegian justice will often be advocated as a great model of a liberal, progressive justice system. In the recent EU referendum campaign, both Norway and Sweden have been held up (by both sides) as examples of good and bad relationships with Europe.
But what about higher education? Does it work? Do Scandinavian students have a better experience? Is it better for the economy? And how does their accommodation system work?
Up until fairly recently, Norway, Sweden and Finland all offered free education for everyone, including EU and non-EU students. Students could travel from all over the world to study for free in these countries. Sweden now charges non-EU students and Finland has legislated to do the same in 2017. Norway still maintains free education for all as part of its social democratic outlook.
The UK uses the fees from both domestic and especially the higher fees charged for overseas students to drive growth in the university sector and to help fund world class research departments. Still, the Scandinavian countries are all deemed to have excellent education systems, funded and subsidised through a higher tax rate.
Martin Chase studied in England before moving to Norway for his postgraduate masters. “The two experiences are very different. In the UK the social expect is a lot wilder, but both seem to have really good universities and facilities Home Page.”
There are differences in how the accommodation side of things work depending on the country, but in Scandinavia there appears to be more support for students finding accommodation. Despite the social support that prevails throughout the political systems of Scandinavian countries, most universities in the region don’t provide accommodation for all of their students. Some, particularly in university towns in Sweden don’t have many spaces on campus at all. With that said, there are many schemes in place to support and help students to find flat shares and rental spaces in the private sector. Groups and university departments in Norway and Sweden help students find accommodation and provide information and legal advice about their rights as tenants.
Having lived in student accommodation in Norway and the UK, Martin prefers the Scandinavian way. “The system itself isn’t too dissimilar. But there was a lot more support and more regulations to protect students and tenants from landlords. It provides us with a more comfortable student experience.”
As well as not charging tuition fees for domestic and EU students, the governments also subsidise and support their living costs, paying for student accommodation as a kind of loan, which is paid back gradually once a student has graduated.
Attracting overseas students and postgraduate students is important economically to the Scandinavian region. Whether introducing fees for non-EU students will impact on that remains to be seen, but overall the higher education system and focus on education and the student above financial considerations seems to work for those countries. Whether it would work in the UK, a much larger economy with a much higher population is open to debate, but there are certainly elements of protecting student rights when renting in the private sector that could be adopted in the UK to improve the student experience here.