270,000 SEK per year to be in Umeå?

September 29 2010

I just got some shocking (yet expected) news from some former colleagues.

Starting Fall 2011 – non-EU students would have to start paying 270,000 SEK (approx $40,000) per 60 credits, inorder to study in Sweden. (This excludes living costs in Sweden.)

At the risk of sounding pessimistic – I believe that if this law is passed, the best and brightest talent from outside the EU, will think twice before considering Sweden as an option to study in. And the decision will be sadly, based on numbers.

I’m trying to understand the short and long term implications of this rather bold decision. I’m trying to compare it with loftier Swedish political thoughts that I’m well aware of – about immigration and other drains on the economy. I’m trying desperately to sympathize with a larger reasoning behind the decision, from a political viewpoint – and a LOT of it makes sense. A lot many people come to Sweden to take advantage of the ‘free education’ system, piggy-back on it and then leave when they’re done. On the flip-side, hard-working Swedes who are paying taxes to let us have our free education are not allowed the same privileges when they’re studying in most non-EU/EU countries. Understood. This is not a fair situation. But is charging fees the solution? Or does it aggravate the problem?

I’d like to take a selfish UID/IxD perspective in this discussion, because that’s what I care most about. Like most of us presently studying or recently graduated from UID, I missed the chance to say something about the ‘Artistic Campus thingie’ while it was being cooked in concealed kitchens behind closed doors in UmeÃ¥. I hope this discussion ignites something early with this issue with the hope that it will give the powers-that-be some precious time to understand the Storm that’s coming their way; not just to UmeÃ¥ and UID, but perhaps to Sweden in general.

I’ve been a Swedish tax-payer now for over a year. I’m happy that I got an opportunity to do an MA (yes, for free!) in Sweden. I’m even happier that I’m being able to repay the debt that I owe to a progressive nation like Sweden that allowed such a thing to happen. I LOVE being in Sweden! But hey, I had it good! I dont have a 540,000 SEK debt to repay. If I did, I probably would be way more demanding and result-oriented.

More importantly, the fact that we didnt have to pay fees made me overlook a lot of flaws and loopholes in the education system. It made me value the importance of being small groups of deserving students, tightly-connected and embedded in the midst of a peer group of equals, each of whom had the same expectations and played by the same rules (more or less).

When I was accepted at UID, I had to choose between Art Center (Pasadena) and Parsons School of Design (NYC), but chose UID instead. The decision was dead easy back then. I’ll be honest, a huge part of the reason was the numb€r$. A lot many significant reasons were to do with Scandinavia, exotic locales, European culture and design sensibilities. These were however slightly secondary.

The passing of this new law (the details of which I cannot find yet) changes things drastically. I’m not sure if EU students have to pay at all, or pay a smaller fee. I believe UID is going to find itself cornered as a result of this decision. It will struggle hard to stay afloat in a competitive World, given the current limitations and threats it has allowed itself to be surrounded by and overlooked for the past 20 years.

With the passing of the law Рone thing becomes clear. UID and ALL other Swedish universities have put themselves at the same level now as RCA, Art Center, Parsons, NYU Tisch, RISD and a bunch of other international programs that have enormous resources, locational advantages and infrastructure to pull the best students from across the World to it. Is Ume̴ up for the challenge ?

Location: – Would I want to pay $40,000 a year (plus living expenses) to be in UmeÃ¥??? Even if it was Cultural capital for the next 10 years, I dont think so. Not unless I had some serious scholarships and teaching assistant programs that allowed me lessen the blow. Otherwise, I’d happily make such a heavy investment to study in another place where numbers and probability offered better odds. I’m thinking cities like New York, London, Copenhagen, San Francisco, Chicago, Providence, Boston where there’s a lot more going on. The romance of being in UmeÃ¥ to study just vanished for me with a figure like 540,000 SEK. And it would take more than just scholarships to bring it back for me. It would need a big enough job market in the region to ease the risk on such an investment, for starters.

Infrastructure: Learning from classmates ?? – Hannes Seeberg (APD 2007) brought up an interesting point made by Pete Avondiglio in his farewell speech to the 2009 batch. With such a law being passed and half the students paying fees while others dont – you can forget about learning from peers. You can forget about goodwill, family and all other feelings of shared learning. A system of fees will give rise to grading, competitiveness and expectation. It will put extremely high demands on infrastructure, facilities, staff and curriculum. Students that are going to pay 270,000 SEK per 60 credits will expect appropriate return on investment – and it had better be a lot more than your classmates as teachers. I know this sounds harsh, but that’s the reality that will now need to be dealt with. Charging fees opens the floodgates and the Swedish education system has some serious soul-searching to do. Charging fees throws the ball back in the court of the UmeÃ¥ University administration – and a sluggish response will damage the situation beyond repair.

Compare some numbers with colleges elsewhere:

  • Art Center College for Design = $50,000 per year, excluding Pasadena living costs.
  • Parson’s NYC = $37,000 per year, excluding NYC living costs.
  • Rhode Island School for Design (RISD) = $38,000 per year, excluding living costs.
  • Royal College of Art (fees for non EU) – $40,000 per year, excluding London living costs.
  • NYU Tisch School of the Arts – $39,000 per year, excluding NYC living costs.
  • IIT Chicago – $32,000 per year.
  • UmeÃ¥ Institute of Design – $40,000 per 60 credits, excluding living costs.


Think of the sheer numbers of gifted students from Canada, U.S.A, Australia, New Zealand, Korea, Brazil, China, Japan, India, Pakistan, Mexico and other ‘non-EU’ countries that have all spent years learning at UID, and other institutes in Sweden. Would you all have paid the same fees to study in UmeÃ¥?

With the intention of being very pessimistic early on, I’d like to say that I believe the Swedish education system has just shot itself in the foot, in the interest of tax-payer’s preservation. It is a fair decision on paper if you think of profit-loss in a myopic way, but its repercussions are going to be big. And they will not be rosy.

I understand that there are far bigger concerns than UID or a bunch of complaining designers. Just like the Artistic Campus is soooo much bigger than UID. But that’s really not the point.

The point is –
The Swedish Education System now needs to make rapid leaps if it needs to compete internationally, or perish to being mediocre and incestuous in its breeding of talent and skill. No longer will we be able to hide behind the same old excuses, that were generously overlooked in previous years. It’s money talking now, and fikas wont be so sweet anymore like they used to.

Aah, dont even remind of the winter…

September 30 2010
moydi permalink

I think that’s crazy numbers! I would opt for Art center or RCA. If I have to pay so much!….I always thought international students who studied at UID or for that matter any other Swedish institution is great investment for Sweden.

They bring business and trade back to Sweden. For example so far I have done business with many Swedish Design agencies… I would not have done it if I wouldn’t have exposure to people and culture while in Sweden as a student! Its just a example one person!

I know so many classmates and seniors who studied at UID bring trade to Swedish agencies/companies that’s a huge returns Sweden get out their free education system. And mainly these students are Non-EU or from Americas.

UID might lose its edge? and become a money magnet!…..compare to other schools its bit a different school, different ethos and culture and a nice place to be honest. Might lose its charm and values going forward! Now students are of right composition from EU and Non-EU……..in coming years it might end up as major EU students studying at UID. Might be boring place…less of peer-peer learning!
For me studying with students from all over the world was huge advantage it helps me in day to day work.

If the fees will become real…then UID should atleast provide some scholarships for Non-EU students to keep the diversity at the school…it is very important in today’s business!

September 30 2010

Well, this is the result of an Europe-wide decision from the Bologna agreement. All EU nations have (or soon will have) tuition fees for non-EU students. It’s been in place in Denmark for a few years. Sweden has been late to comply to the directive. Now it’s happening.

The new fees don’t bring any new money to UID. Budget-wise it’s the same as the fees are representing the real costs of education for each program. The government was financing the studies independent of the student’s origin. Now it will not cover the cost for students outside the EU, so they have to pay directly.

So I expect a very heavy shift in the applications for next year, with most if not all applications coming from EU countries. I’m pretty sure we’ll maintain the number of students in the long run, so no drastic cut or major downsizing. Only non-EU students will be rare and the exception for some years. It will be more european than international. It’s not the ideal situation, but it’s not the end of the world either.

I wouldn’t have come to UmeÃ¥ if such fees were in place back in the days. But time changes and competing on quality of education, not on price, is a good thing overall I think. The scholarships are totally insufficient for the first year (only 3-5 scholarships for the whole UmeÃ¥ University), so I hope this will change rapidly to at least keep a minimum influx of non-EU students at UID.

From a teaching perspective, it will be weird to have two types of students: paying ones and non-paying ones. That will put a lot of demands and pressure on the school, staff and administration. This is not totally bad either. We’ll have to question, rationalize and justify a lot more what we do and how we do it.

In the end, these new fees might be very scary, but they represent how much it costs to educate people the UID way. As you can see it’s not cheap. It’s easy to forget and loose perspective while we are in the loop at school.

270 000 sek over 40 weeks (60 credits), it boils down to 1350 sek per day of education per student. Yikes!


September 30 2010
Mikko permalink

The tuition fees were not part of the Bologna process, but through various loopholes the governments of some countries have managed to introduce them for non-EU students. Finland and Norway are still free for non-EU students. In Finland you go to Aalto University (New Media and Industrial and Strategic design programs) or University of Lapland (brr) (Industrial design). And in Norway there’s at least AHO. But none of the are full-on hardcore interaction design programs. Hopefully one of those school will start an IxD program to attract those students that would have come to Sweden to study in UmeÃ¥, Malmö, Konstfack or Chalmers. All in all this whole thing makes me feel ashamed to be European.

September 30 2010

I thought it would have been an interesting thought to have the tuition fee for EU students.

October 1 2010

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October 1 2010

I agree with Rahul’s article. I think that this change will unfortunately make a difference. I still don’t understand the reasoning behind it, but I guess that the government got tired of paying the education to people that come to Sweden and leave the country as soon as they’re done with their education.

I can partly understand that, but at the same time, I think that we are making the city of Umea economically healthier in several ways. Basically, I might not pay for my education, but every year I spend at least 7-8000 euros in the city. Supermarkets, grocery stores, transportation… In a city with such percentage of foreign students, take an important amount of them out of the picture and I’m convinced that a lot of businesses wouldn’t do so well…

We’ll see how it goes, but I agree on the friction that might appear with paying and non-paying students… specially in an education where the amount of work you put in is up to you. Some people might be disappointed expecting to have more staff behind them. I’m not saying it should be like that, but people become more “sensitive” when they pay 1350 per day and something is not as they expected.

Maybe there’s a chance to get more private funding and reduce those prices. At CIID they’ve been lucky enough to have funding and their students haven’t had to pay. That’s something that was told to the students once they were already there, so the kind of news like “btw, we got funding you don’t have to pay 15.000 euro” make the people feel grateful and more dedicated.

Anyways, I know the school will do their best and hopefully everything will work out, but I agree, this is sad for all of us…

October 2 2010
matt b permalink

1. There have been a lot of people asking me about Umea since I’ve been back in the States- one thing that I’ve noticed is that they don’t know that there is no tuition. So that’s a good thing in this situation.

2. I hope that the school doesn’t lose the special atmosphere that it has. I can’t really explain what it is but I hope they don’t lose it.

3. I’ll always be thankful to the country of Sweden for letting me study there tuition free. I was so happy that there was a country in the world like that- I think a lot of us feel that it should be like that everywhere.

4. If there was tuition I wouldn’t have gone- wouldn’t have had all of those great experiences, would have never met Valeria, wouldn’t be working at a fun place like IDEO…The thing is- it’s not that I would have gone somewhere else like RCA or Pratt, I just wouldn’t have gone to grad school at all.

5. With the tuition, places like Krogen Krogen should offer serious discounts to non- EU students.

October 2 2010

The initiative behind the introduction of tuition fees in Sweden came originally from OECD in Paris http://www.oecd.org which is VERY much focused on economy and… nothing else.
The Swedish government, who historically always have been prone to obey any international demands, gladly swallowed the message in 2006 and begun to prepare for introduction.
Strangely enough, both left-wing and right-wing politicians have been remarkably positive towards the introduction of tuition fees in Sweden for non-EU students – no matter how much all Swedish Universities, teachers and student unions, and independent experts have protested (and we’ve protested a lot, believe me). My analysis of the lack of political debate has been that this issue only concerns a relative small number of students, and since they are only foreigners there are no votes on stake.
One interesting detail in the OECD recommendations is that they recommend Sweden to introduce tuition fees for ALL students, both EU citizens and Swedes, in order to keep up and increase the quality of our higher education due to the near future demographics with a aging population and fewer kids. This will indeed be a hot potato for the politicians…

October 2 2010
Niklas permalink

Some statistics of the ratio of non-EU applicants to IxD in 2010:

99 complete applications were submitted – 83% non-EU/EEA citizens
40 applicants were shortlisted for interview – 77% non-EU/EEA citizens
10 students were finally accepted – 80% non-EU/EEA citizens

If we don’t get similar numbers of applicants from the rest of the world in 2011 we only have two options:
1. fewer students in the program, or
2. lower the portfolio demands dramatically

October 4 2010

Thanks for the comments everyone! Keep spreading the word please!

This is such a passionate subject. I’m very sure that UID as a family will do everything in its power to ensure that the situation is salvaged as best possible.

My concern has always been that we’ve been the ones doing the work for 20 years, and we’re always the first once to get our wings trimmed when the time comes. Case in point – the Artistic Campus and UmeÃ¥ Cultural Capital 2014 was done using us as significant leverage. Where’s the recognition?

In my opinion, the 10+ students who were coming to UID per MA program per year were already on ‘scholarship’ and extremely deserving. We’re not asking to admit 45 students for free! We’ve spread the word through our efforts, we’re globally recognized and respected. The hard work is paying off and it needs to be recognized and protected. Not dismantled to flatten the system out, like all the other Universities would want.

I think the administration/politicians at the highest levels are being myopic in their views and forgetting the amount of international traction this School is bringing to Sweden. I can imagine the number of seats in Jonköping University or other universities becoming lesser and paid for. But why kill the goose that’s laying golden eggs!?? This is so baffling…

To Niklas’ point – I do agree, that the solution could be lowering students or the standards expected. I would say a) is the lesser of the evils.

I only hope that enough people raise their hand in protest so that we can salvage as much as possible from what seems to be a sinking ship globally. It seems to be the trend to draw stronger lines across borders and personally I think its sad.

There is so much to gain from diversity, and so little from being petty and myopic.

October 6 2010
Vitorio permalink

As Niklas pointed out, the decision has been made in a sphere that is very far away and disconnected from the problems of the Umeå University or one of its departments, UID.

The subject hurts us because we are all close to the issue, but if we step back and try to look at the big picture, it shows a different story. UmeÃ¥ University might accept around 10.000 new students per year. UID takes around 100. That’s 1% and a very hard case to argue against in University or Governmental levels. (If anyone has the precise numbers, please correct me).

I would suggest that we focus our ideas, (we being all of us, present and past people that care about the school) to find close level solutions to the problem. That would be the Swedish and International design community. Scholarships could be awarded to best selected students in the application process. Partner companies, those hiring the students from UID should help on this.

Scania, Volvo and Saab could take care of transportation and ADV programs. IKEA, Electrolux could sponsor the APD program, Sony-Ericsson, Maquet and others could do the same for IxD.

Lowering the acceptance criteria for applicants will inevitably bring down the overall quality of the school, and this affects the school, the present students, the former students and the companies hiring the future students.

October 7 2010
Stina permalink

It does seem like we have a good thing going on over there at UID, doesn’t it?

Indeed, the new cost structures are bound to have some serious negative impact. We might look back at our time at UID and refer to it as ‘the good old days’. To be realistic and cynical, there is probably little we can do to change the decision made on a national (and EU) level. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t make a difference to individual students. I think Vitorio is on to something. Is there a way we can get some of the sponsors to chip in to support non-EU student? Can the school have a yearly fundraiser? Can WE who all got a free education give back and chip in to help someone come to UmeÃ¥? Its worth thinking about.

In comparison to the current situation were it is free for everyone, scholarships certainly seem to be an inferior solution but maybe the best we can do.

October 7 2010

Great comments my old friends :) I’ll add a few loving points for the sake of old fashioned ‘fika’ debate.

I do agree that a bunch of non-descript designers will never influence bigger EU decisions. This article never intended that. These are changing times, and alot of good and bad things will be washed away with the tide. We’re small players in this complex socio-political game.

Which is why, it becomes MORE important for the UmeÃ¥ University/Kommun to step up its efforts to protect as much of what is CORE to UID/Artistic Campus as possible. It’s time for those that reckon that ’20 years of UID’ is important to their own excellence (in even a small way) – to step up and chip in. This is not to say that UID is not going to be great with just EU students. That’s not the point of this debate. Its about valuing international flavor, competence and diversity – and preserving it desperately.

Corporate sponsorships are a great way forward in this, and would be MOST welcome. However, I believe that is not a clearly sustainable way forward in this. Companies are influenced by their own politics. Their sponsorship money could come with their own interests/results attached and this could affect our course curriculum. It might not be such a bad thing in the end, because we’ll be tightening up our own course shoelaces alot, if there was a innovative corporate interest keeping a close eye.

If such a thing were to happen, it would need the Nokia’s, Microsofts and other giants who have budget for innovation to step in. Otherwise, we’ll have less room to play, be creative without thinking of the ‘market’ and have to conform to their views on how Design should be done if we want the money to keep flowing in. We can barely get enough funding to sponsor our previous projects. Think about degree projects too…

Corporate sponsorships smells of the same fate Ivrea suffered years ago. When corporate money died, it withered too! Correct me if I’m wrong. Its original alumnus are still doing great things across the World, but who’s heard of their 1 year course (now at the Domus Academy) doing anything meaningful? When I last heard from my acquaintances who studied there – Domus offers 30% discounts for a 1 year course. Maybe that smacks of a bad course structure…?

The fittest survive. Others perish. That is evolution, and nothing we can do can change that. UID (as we remember and cherish it) WILL survive if it is meant to survive, else it will evolve into something else. All that we can hope for is for Umeå University and the Kommun and perhaps other well-wishers elsewhere in the World, to start acknowledging that UID is important to them and start putting the right measures in place to soften the inevitable blow.

December 8 2010
Cavia permalink

I moved to Norway 30 years ago, took my free education in Norway – but stayed on to work.

Part of the challenge with the Scandinavian system is that the non-Scandinavian countries have increased their tuition fees considerably during the past 30 years, so that there is increased pressure on the Scandinavian educational systems. Thus, there has been interest from students outside Scandinavia for a Scandinavian university education simply on economic, rather than cultural, grounds.

The major obstacle to free education is the mindset of today’s political leaders. Almost everyone understands the need for free education up to the secondary level, why don’t they see the need at the tertiary level?

I suggest that everyone who is opposed to Sweden imposing fees on non-EU citizens protest! Not to Sweden, but to their own country for having tuition fees in the first place. Tuition fees decrease social mobility, and are yet another feature of modern society that ensure that the poor remain poor.

The social democratic ideals of Scandinavia are important, not just for Scandinavia but for the rest of the world. These ideals also means we have to accept that we pay increased taxes and show solidarity with the less fortunate in the world.

Britain, USA, Canada and Australia especially have been reluctant to learn this.

December 9 2010

Cavia, I guess politicians don’t really see it the same way as a person that has left his/her country. They only think people come to Sweden, take advantage of their good system for free and they leave afterwards. We don’t see it like that. Some of us will consider staying in Sweden, others won’t. We came here healthy, young, full of energy and passionate to do our best, we spend a lot of money in Umea just buying groceries, paying a rent, going to places for dinner… we’re giving our money to swedish companies too, so they do a bit better also because of us.

But that remains in the shadow. Politicians see what they want to see… Too sad everybody is just running away from the red numbers. Sweden should be proud of creating such amount of talented professionals, and even if the education system is not profitable for the country, they could find other ways to use that for their advantage. It gives them a really good image, maybe that will fade away with the years…

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