New lessons as autumn term begins

School kids began to grumble their way out of bed this week as the new term reared its ugly head in most parts of Sweden. But just in case some adults felt a tinge of pity for them, SVD cheerily declared on Tuesday: "Teachers and school pupils are more satisfied with schools than ten years ago!"

According to a report by the Association of Local Authorities on the changing face of Swedish schools, 86% of students and teachers feel “stimulated and challenged” by school compared to a mere 60% ten years ago.

What’s more, 83% of the Class of 2004 are “convinced they’ll benefit from what they’re learning in later life” and a massive 89% profess to being “happy with school”.

Strange then that Swedish universities don’t seem to have the same appeal. At least, not when it comes to Medicine. Last Friday SVD reported that Swedes are increasingly choosing to study Medicine abroad. Denmark is a favourite destination, apparently, with CSN – the Swedish loan company – revealing that the number choosing to study medicine there has risen from 599 in 2001/02 to 877 last year.

Aftonbladet revealed last Friday that the Danes are a bit fed up with this. In fact, they’re so disgruntled by the influx of Swedish students they’ve decided to review the criteria for Swedish applicants, especially those wanting to study Medicine. Word is, according to Aftonbladet, that the Danes are so suspicious of the incredibly high grade-point average of many Swedish applicants, they think something fishy is going on.

Helge Sander, the Danish Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation, told Danish daily Politiken: “We’re looking more closely at how we evaluate applications from Sweden. It’s important we have a fair system: one that doesn’t judge our own students too harshly.”

Jakob Lange, a Danish educational consultant, added that Sweden’s educational system, which allows students to improve their grades through retakes, has given Swedish applicants the edge over their Nordic cousins when it comes to university applications. “In Denmark you can only retake if you fail an exam.”

It’s surprising the Danes aren’t rushing over the Öresund to study here.

Lars Lustig, who recently conducted an assessment of university admission procedures for the Swedish Government, told Aftonbladet that the best solution all round would be “national entrance exams “. That way the suitability of all applicants could be assessed no matter what their country of origin.

Trouble is, although Lustig’s suggestion’s met with some support among Swedish academics, students will be harder to convince. After all, who wants to sit more exams when you’ve just left school?

It was also back to school for another of the papers on Tuesday. Stockholm City revealed just how popular independent upper-secondary schools are becoming, especially in Stockholm. It turns out the number of pupils attending independent schools has doubled in the last four years.

“Many state schools are suffering under the competition,” Stockholm City explained. There’s been a considerable drop in the numbers attending state upper-secondary schools whereas, “the number of upper-secondary school children in Stockholm attending independent schools has risen from 1,514 pupils in 1999 to 3,863 last year.” The news no doubt sent a shiver down the spine of education minister Lena Hallengren.

Still, it’s uncertain the boom is likely to continue. “There’s been a decline in the number of applications to start independent schools,” Stockholm City, explained, “because the market’s starting to be saturated.”

This is probably because “Parents are looking for quality,” said Björn Johansson, a spokesman for the local municipality. “Some schools like Victor Rydberg are in great demand, but others aren’t flourishing.”

In spite of the positive spin and upbeat reporting of the last week, many Swedes will wonder whether everything is as peachy as the press might have us believe. After all, weren’t they telling us just before the summer recess that the Swedish National Agency for Higher Education had discovered there’s been a 116 per cent rise in the number of students being disciplined over the past two years for plagiarism? Or that two school pupils in Malmö were arrested and charged for plotting to “do a Columbine”.

New term, new lessons – but not just for the kids.

Jon Buscall