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Swedish universities can deny international students refunds

Published onsdag 11 maj 2016 kl 06.00
Legal expert: "The legislation has been made so sloppily"
(2:27 min)
Olle Lundin
Olle Lundin, professor of public law at Uppsala University. Photo: Leif Kullberg.

Several Swedish colleges and universities are charging students who hope to come to Sweden to study from outside the EU thousands of kronor in tuition fees, even if when the students never actually make it to Sweden.

These students don't have the right to get the money back, according to an investigation by Swedish Radio News. Olle Lundin, a professor of public law at Uppsala University, is critical of the law.

"It's strange legislation. It's been made so sloppily," he says.

Despite the fact that non-EU students pay on average more than SEK 100,000 per year to study in Sweden, there is no regulation for when the students have a right to require their money back.

Swedish Radio News has looked at several cases in which would-be students, who could not study here because a close relative of theirs got seriously ill or died, or because the would-be student him or herself got sick, have been denied a refund.

Would-be students who are denied a visa to Sweden can also have difficulty getting back tuition fees that they have already paid.

Olle Lundin, the legal expert, explains that each university or college decides whether to refund the money, and that the decisions can't be appealed.

The only option, he says, is to go to court, but he said he would not recommend doing this, because there's a big risk that you would be stuck with the cost of paying for the legal proceedings, if you lose.

Even in the cases in which students have been granted a refund, some colleges and universities keep an administrative fee. Umeå University's is the highest. They keep 17,500 kronor.

Lundin says it's unreasonable that the same rules are being applied so inconsistently throughout the country. He says that if universities feel they need to keep part of the fee, then they basically need to have a legal ground for doing so, and he doesn't think they'd be able to find one. And he believes universities could be in danger of breaking the law.

But Umeå University's Deputy President Anders Fällström believes that the university is doing the right thing by keeping SEK 17,500, even from would-be students who never begin to study there.

He says that that's roughly what it's cost the university already, before the student even arrives, which is why they keep that sum. He says the money goes to recruiting, handling the payment and the application.

But he admits that there's a lot in this business that's unclear, and that it would need to be tried in court to know what the rules are.

Our journalism is based on credibility and impartiality. Swedish Radio is independent and not affiliated to any political, religious, financial, public or private interests.
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