Sweden’s colleges tell the state to loosen up

Swedish universities are demanding more independence from the state and more money for research and education.

The demands are made in a manifesto released by the Association of Swedish Higher Education (SUF), which represents the country’s 42 universities.

Bengt Karlsson, general secretary of SUF, said he wants the government to slash red tape.

“We want less pointers from the state on how to spend money, what to do and how to do it,” he told The Local.

“We’re not saying we want to be privatized, just to have greater freedom.”

The government currently imposes a raft of regulations on Swedish universities, with employment of staff made particularly difficult.

“Universities have to follow strict rules which make it hard to pick the person with the competence profile you want,” said Karlsson. People who apply unsuccessfully for university jobs can appeal to a special government committee which investigates whether the university acted properly. The rule used to apply to other government agencies, but now applies only in higher education.

Universities also want to be able to retain any budget surpluses at the end of the year, rather than being forced to hand them back to central government as at present.

“Currently we have to give back any surplus that exceeds ten percent of our turnover,” explained Karlsson.

Universities, officially classed as government agencies, are also forbidden from signing certain legally binding agreements. They are now campaigning to get their legal status changed.

The document also proposes that corporate donations in for universities in Sweden be made tax deductible. At the moment, companies have to pay them out of taxed profit.

The manifesto also sets out ways in which universities themselves could make changes, including increasing cooperation between institutions and working to give higher education and research institutions a higher profile.

“This is not just us asking for more money,” said Karlsson, “it’s about striking a balance between direct government funding and external funding.”

The universities will be presenting their arguments at a seminar in the Almedalen political week in Visby, on Gotland, on July 3rd.