International students deserve to be heard and granted an education uninterrupted.
Below you will read the letter we, the international fee-paying students in Sweden are sending to the Swedish government, migration agencies, and universities. We are suffering. We may be in Sweden during the coronavirus crisis, but the effects are felt with an internationally heavy hand and heavy heart in ways that the media and our society is not discussing.
Our economic stability and mental health are under great tension as universities throughout Sweden can not offer us any aid in our loss of jobs, income, and our tuition fee payments, jeopardizing our visas and our education. Our individual calls of action for relief have not been heard and we need your help to raise awareness and action from our government and universities.
Please read our letter and show your support for our international student body, by adding your signature to this petition and to help share our message with the world. Help our cause to continue education uninterrupted today.
A letter to the Swedish Government, Migration Agencies, and Universities,
This letter is from Education Uninterrupted, a movement made by international fee-paying students from universities all across Sweden. We, the founders of this group, Sarah DeArruda (USA) and Mohammad Mafizul (Bangladesh), are international fee-paying students working in coordination with fellow student Tim Aresimowicz (Sweden) and with all our members of Education Uninterrupted, to write this letter on behalf of the international fee-paying students of all universities in Sweden. We are requesting solutions from the Swedish government, migration agencies, and universities regarding our tuition fees, due dates, and residence permits.
During the current global Coronavirus crisis, international fee-paying students are greatly affected. According to the Swedish Migration Agency, there are nearly 10,000 students in Sweden on a student visa. There are thousands of us who are international fee-paying students that have not received scholarships or grants for our education, thus paying entirely out-of-pocket. Our economic situations, here and from our home countries, have consequently influenced our ability to pay the fees required of us for the Autumn 2020 semester, jeopardizing our visas. We request immediate action in postponing, reducing, or eliminating these fees in coordination with the Swedish Migration Agency, given the current international crisis. We also ask you to consider new payment and scholarship options that we detail in this letter.
As a diverse community, we have come from all over the world to pursue our education in Sweden. In past semesters, we have paid the fees required of us; as well as followed the regulations and laws to obtain and hold our student visas, and worked diligently in our university studies. Many of us in the international student body have also immersed ourselves into the workforce of Sweden, paying Swedish taxes on our income, boosting the economy with our purchases and occupancy, and contributing to the diversity of this nation. We support and invest in the success we will gain from our education in Sweden, and it is requested from the Swedish government, migration agencies, and universities to listen to our call of action and invest in us, your students, during this crisis.
Our home countries’ economies, well beings, and individual circumstances have been critically hit by the Coronavirus. Students have lost their jobs in Sweden, and have lost their means for income to pay our tuition fees. For many of us, we are not eligible to collect unemployment, due to our work contracts, losing our hours of work but not officially being documented as “fired” or “laid off”, not meeting the requirements with Arbetsförmedlingen, or other complications. Continuing, many students also utilized an income from their home countries, or other familial contributions, which are no longer applicable given the economic hardships they are also now facing. Also, loan options are limited for students because most universities in Sweden are not connected to other international loan agencies. This is hindering students from acquiring student loans to assist in the payment of tuition fees. All of these facts, contribute to why our ability to pay fees is a great concern, and why they should be addressed.
According to our communications with the university tuitions offices, student unions, and migration agency, if we do not pay the fee on time, we not only risk losing our education, but we risk losing our ability to renew our visas and continue to invest in the Swedish nation. For a large amount of the students, we don’t have a necessarily stable life to go back to if our visas are not extended. Not all of us have jobs, housing, or opportunities in our home countries at the moment, and our livelihood and education options are at risk. We are grateful for the ability to live and study in Sweden, and pausing our education, or taking a “gap” in our studies is not a feasible solution given the circumstances of a global pandemic. The migration agency requires our full registration in our universities, determined by the payment of the tuition fee, before our visas can be renewed. Therefore even if the universities allow us to pay after the due date, it only traps us into not being allowed to get a visa in time, thus we still lose our education. This combined with the per month funds that are required of us to have in our bank accounts at the time of renewal, accounting for over SEK 8,000 per month for our visa, creates an extra tension to our ability to pay the fees. It is a necessity that the government work with the universities and migration agencies to create a way for our visas to be renewed, and our tuition fees postponed, reduced, or eliminated.
Recommendations to Consider:
The first of our recommendation to the Swedish government, migration agencies, and universities is to postpone, reduce, or eliminate the fees due for the Autumn 2020 semester, while working in coordination with our visas being renewed. When tuition fees were first introduced in a revised Higher Education Act in 2011 by the Swedish government, it was with respect to quality assurances and to compete for talented students, according to 2011 reports and ideas of the education ministry, as quoted in local news cycles. Higher Education Institutes (HEI) must ensure the fees are used for the full cost of instruction, counseling, health services, and other student services. As all of our institutions have moved to an online format, there is concern that the money from our previous tuition installments from the winter/spring semester 2020 have not been fully used in respect to the services and instruction offered by the school. It is in this understanding that the money from our previous tuition could allow for a reduction in the Autumn 2020 semester fees, because the tuition has not been fully utilized for the intended purpose. This is due to classes being moved online and because the universities campuses have been closed for the past 2 months (and what we assume to continue through this semester, possibly into the next), therefore limiting the amount of services and infrastructure available to fee-paying students.
In regard to the government budgets for 2020 set in place by the Ministry of Education on November 27, 2019, we kindly request these bills be reexamined to include a relief or tuition reduction considering the new circumstances of the global pandemic that is Coronavirus. This 2020 crisis for students was not accounted for in 2019 when drafting these budgets. In relation to expenditure area 15, “Financial support for students” and expenditure area 16, “Education and academic research” in the 2020 government budget, UbU2 (area 15) and UbU1 (area 16) should be revised with possible funds contributing to the alleviation of tuition fees. For expenditure 15, UbU2, for study support, the total budget of funds at about SEK 25.5 billion is distributed by about SEK 17.7 billion for tuition, and about SEK 4.4 billion for study aid, as found on the current reports by Sveriges Riksdag. When calculating these distribution totals (17.7 and 4.4), the sum only comes to SEK 22.1 billion, which leaves about SEK 3.4 billion unaccounted for on this government report. We understand this “leftover” money from the budget is probably used for something in education, but it is not specified in this official report, thus we make a conclusion that this money, that is not accounted for in the approximations, could also be used to alleviate the tuition fees for international fee-paying students this coming semester. Moreover, these budgets could be increased to allow for a relief package on international fee-paying students, and for the tuition to be postponed, reduced, or possibly eliminated for this coming semester during the current crisis. This recommendation would be in congruence with universities and migration agencies, to allow students to renew their visas without the complication of tuition fees.
Furthering this recommendation, in looking at expenditure area 16, UbU1, of the budget report, according to Sveriges Riksdag, more than SEK 83 billion is allocated to education and university research. This money is used for grants to universities and colleges, authorities in the field of education, government grants for school development and enhanced quality in schools, as well as research and infrastructure. In regard to the quality of schools, having a diverse and global population in your universities is a very attractive piece of this quality. Having international students in your register is valuable and sets a great example to other countries and universities. Thus, you could consider allocating some of this money for the “quality” of your schools, by aiding the international fee-paying students to stay in your education systems. Also, in the considerations of research, as university students, we are required to write a thesis, which is a research paper that the universities we attend are able to gain credit for when our research is published, with partial ownership going to the university we wrote it for. Thus, our education contributes to the research areas of Sweden, and also creates an international viewership when international students share their publications and quote other students’ work in their future thesis. We contribute to an international database of research on behalf of Sweden’s universities. It is in this understanding that the money allocated for research, though it is a different approach to the normative use of research budget funds, could be used to aid in the relief of our tuition fees.
Finally, we would like to bring to your attention the need for universities in Sweden to be connected with international student loan agencies, specifically outside the EU/EEA or Switzerland countries. If all universities were registered with an organization that aids in distributing student loans, navigating the current crisis could also be made easier for students. Currently, regular loan options are not feasible due to the economic downturn and high increase in many individuals, who are not students, requesting loans to support themselves during this crisis. This brings us to another need, which is for the government and universities to consider creating need-based scholarships as well as more merit scholarships. Currently, many students who do not come from a strong socioeconomic background, do not receive grants or scholarships, however, if need-based grants and scholarships were introduced to the universities on a larger scale, it would also allow for many more students to attend this fine education in Sweden, increasing your diversity and equality for education.
Considering all of this information, it would be recommended that in some form, our visas should be accepted for renewal with a new consideration to the tuition fees required of us for this renewal. This could be in allowing students to renew their visa with a letter from the universities or government stating the considerations being made to the fees. This would allow international fee-paying students more time to pay the fees, while not jeopardizing our visa renewals.
We ask that all actors and stakeholders offer real-world solutions and consider this following letter, detailing our concerns and recommendations for tuition fees to be postponed, reduced, or eliminated, and for more options on paying tuition fees to be considered. Also, these recommendations must be understood in relation to the migration agencies and universities, to allow the receipt of our tuition fee payments to not be needed when applying for renewal, or to be altered in some way, so we can renew our visas during this crisis time. We appreciate the time you have taken to read this letter, and all the other work that you are doing in Sweden during this difficult time. Kindly, we ask for you to respond to us and our recommendations by immediate action. You are welcome to email, call, or set up an online meeting with our movement and representatives if you have any further questions, and for us to hear your response and solutions. Together, we can unite and create a movement, not just in Sweden, but as an example to the world on how students, governments, and institutions can manage, communicate, and solve the issues of our society during a crisis.
Please consider this call of action,
Your International Fee-Paying Student Body