26.02.2008
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Denmark against tuition fees in Erasmus Mundus

February 13th: Erasmus Mundus has been established in 2003 to enhance international cooperation and mobility not only within the EU, but also beyond.

As such it is building on the experiences made with the EU mobility schemes ERASMUS and TEMPUS. Elements of the Erasmus Mundus program include the support of integrated master courses, scholarships for third—country nationals (i.e. students with citizenship outside the EU and candidate countries, EEA and EFTA), scholarships for EU students and Danish higher education institutions have participated in the Erasmus Mundus program since 2004. Currently Danish institutions are involved in 11 programs. In 5 of these programs Danish students are enrolled. This fact has recently received very intense attention in the Danish public, since it has become known in Fall 2007, that some of these Danish students were asked to pay tuition fees in their Erasmus Mundus programs. After pressure from the public, the Danish Ministers Helge Sander (Science, Technology and Innovation) and Bertel Haarder (Education), declared this practice to have been illegal, since Danish citizens may by law not be charged fees for participating in programs of higher education institutions in Denmark. This means, that all fees paid by the Danish students as part of Erasmus Mundus programs will have to be repaid to them.

Fees and Erasmus Mundus

Tuition fees are not a requirement, nor a general reality of Erasmus Mundus programs. However where they are established as part of such an integrated program, the European Commission requires a clarification of the program consortium on how the income from these fees is distributed among the participating institutions. Thus consortia involving both higher education institutions from countries with legal regulation against fees and institutions from countries with allowed tuition fees, have in the past regulated fees for their integrated programs in such a way, that all students enrolled in the program would be paying the fees, but the income would be collected by the institutions in the consortium, which are based in countries with legal possibility to do so. The ground for such interpretation rests in the integrated nature of the Erasmus Mundus programs, which make them part of either several national legislations in higher education or even going beyond national legislation.

The issue of tuition fees, which is great component of private funding in higher education, has been a longstanding controversial topic in Europe. This reality is reflected in the variation of fees collected by Erasmus Mundus programs, which has been a matter of negotiation and agreement between the participating consortium partners. The coming around of Danish Minister Helge Sander is now providing new food for discussion on the topic: What should be the tuition fee regulation in Erasmus Mundus programs involving countries with pro fee regulation and those with legislation against fees?

The Danish case: Developing a domino—effect?Has it been a matter of fee distribution to higher education institutions in countries with general fees in the past, Sander now turned the debate to also consider the nationality of the students participating in these Danish Erasmus Mundus programs. However with this interpretation Sander may not stop at the exemption of Danish students from fees for Danish Erasmus Mundus programs. Based on the Directive 2004/38/EC on the right of the EU citizens and their family members to move and reside freely within the territory of the Member States, students from EU countries may study freely in any EU country, only on the following condition:

provided he/she can prove (and in the case of students, declare) that he/she has sufficient financial resources not to become a burden for the host Member State’s social assistance system and that he/she is covered by a sickness insurance policy. He/she must also prove that he/she has sufficient financial resources and sickness insurance for each member of his/her family who is entitled to reside with him/her.
If any EU citizen decides to study in another EU country, he or she must also be treated in the same way as the citizens in that country based on the principle of non—discrimination laid down in the treaty of Amsterdam.

This principle of non—discrimination may force Denmark to not only refund the fees of the Danish students in the Danish Erasmus Mundus programs, but also those of the other EU nationals enrolled in these programs. And that means that it will encompass not only the 5 programs, in which Danish students have been enrolled, but all 11 programs with enrollment of EU citizens. This decision may also impact on other countries, with a similar stance on tuition fees as Denmark, to reconsider the tuition fees charged in their Erasmus Mundus programs.

Fees and Erasmus Mundus: Quo vadis?

With the abovementioned possible consequences, where is Denmark going to head in the Erasmus Mundus program beyond the end of this round in 2008? Will Denmark decide to continue the existing programs and fund the fees of EU citizens participating in them? Will Denmark opt out of the existing programs to prevent further financial responsibilities towards the enrolled EU students? Will Denmark reconsider its stance on fees? And what would it mean for the accessibility of the Danish Higher Education for students outside the European Union, if Denmark decides to opt out of Erasmus Mundus? What will other countries decide to do, which have the same legal regulation regarding private funding of higher education and are participating in Erasmus Mundus programs? This debate on tuition fees for Erasmus Mundus programs might soon be on the agenda in other Scandinavian countries as well with students asking for a review of their financial obligations towards these programs.

The recent decision by Minister Sander highlights again the political disagreements on financing of higher education and the role and responsibilities of the public in this respect. But the case also shows that such national regulation does have knock—on effects for international cooperation. It is these differences in regulation and their impact on the funding of integrated programs that Erasmus Mundus fails to address in an adequate manner. ESU welcomes this decision in Denmark as proof that tuition fees are not a common policy in European higher education, nor are they a common reality for European programs. ESU calls on the European Commission and the European Parliament to give this topic special attention in the decision on the Erasmus Mundus program phase II for 2009 to 2013.

Christine Scholz

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