New Masters degrees proposed

Sweden is to introduce a new Masters degree as part of reforms to make the country’s education system more international, Education Minister Leif Pagrotsky has announced. But moves to restrict the new degrees to universities with a research focus will create a two-tier education system, student organisations are warning.

The Masters degrees will take two years, and will sit alongside the country’s existing system of Magister degrees. The new degrees will have a greater research focus than Magisters.

Pagrotsky announced the changes to parliament on Tuesday, along with other measures intended to improve higher education.

The changes, which the government launched with the support of the Left Party, aim to make Swedish qualifications more easily understood outside the country, and therefore help Swedish higher education institutes promote themselves internationally.

“Sweden should be an attractive country for foreign students to study in,” said Pagrotsky as he launched the plan.

“People who have studied in Sweden should be attractive on both the domestic and international job markets.”

Students who have completed a three year undergraduate degree, worth 120 points in the Swedish system, will be allowed to start the new degree programmes.

Only universities with proven research competence will have the automatic right to run Masters courses. Other institutions will have to apply for the right to run the programmes.

This has been criticised by the Swedish National Union of Students (SFS), which says it discriminates against higher education colleges in favour of traditional universities.

“The government is creating an A-team and a B-team among Sweden’s seats of learning,” said Tobias Smedberg, SFS’s chairman.

“They want to make it harder for higher education colleges that don’t carry out research to offer Masters-level education.”

The current system has caused controversy in the past, with Swedish universities wanting to appeal to foreign students incorrectly labelling their courses as Masters degrees.

The reforms also contain measures to discourage school pupils from studying “soft” subjects at school in order to get better grades for university entrance. The government says harder courses such as maths and modern foreign languages other than English will in future be given greater weighting in university applications than easier subjects.

Work experience, which currently counts towards university entrance in many cases, will have less significance under the new plans.

The government rejected calls to impose quotas on universities for recruitment of students from under-represented groups. Instead, it will spend 30 million kronor on programmes to encourage people with working-class backgrounds to appy to university.

But SFS warned that the government’s plans for the Masters degrees would hamper efforts to recruit working class students. By only allowing the top establishments to offer the new degrees, more people would be forced to move away from home in order to study. This, they argued, will disadvantage working class students.

“We’re going to see an even more segregated education system,” said Tobias Smedberg.

“People from working-class homes will study in certain institutions, and people with graduates in the family will study at other institutions.”

But Pagrotsky said that the changes were needed to make Sweden “adapt to reality” in globalised world.

“We can’t compete on the basis of low salaries, but we can compete on the basis of knowledge-based production,” he said.