Unions slam fees for foreign students

Student groups have roundly criticised the Swedish government's move to charge fees to non-EU/EEA college and universty students from the autumn term 2011.

Klas-Herman Lundgren at the Swedish National Union of Students (Sveriges Förenade Studentkårer, SFS) argued that the government should be allocating more resources if it wants to improve the quality of education on offer at Swedish seats of learning.

“The government should take its responsibility for further education. Introducing fees will only harm the internationalisation of Sweden’s universities, and do nothing for quality,” he told The Local on Friday.

Lundgren pointed to the example of Denmark, which experienced a dramatic decline in the numbers of international students after introducing fees, and warned that students will look elsewhere.

“This will hurt universities in Sweden. Both financially, as they will lose the income that foreign students bring in from the current financing system, and also the international angle.”

Lundgren, whose organisation represents 250,000 students in Sweden, argued that international students need to be regarded as a resource.

“International students are not simply a cost, or a business opportunity, they also contribute to learning and to their colleagues by bringing different experiences,” he said.

Minister for Higher Education and Research Tobias Krantz, in presenting the government’s proposal to reporters on Friday, argued that the goal is for Sweden to claim a larger slice of the international higher education market on the quality of the product and not on price alone.

Krantz expressed confidence in Sweden’s potential to attract international students in the longer term, arguing that the country has strong English language skills and high levels of expertise.

The Local on Friday spoke to Houssam Toufaili, a Lebanese IT student at the KTH Royal Institute of Technology, and asked why he chose Sweden.

“Within IT, Sweden is one of the best countries. That was a factor for me, but the main motivation was that it was free,” he said.

Would you have come if you would have had to pay?

“That would depend on how much the fees were. For the levels I have heard quoted I would have chosen somewhere else,” Toufaili told The Local.

“The English is also a factor. The university courses are in English, but the society is not – I found it hard to fit in. Going to the UK was my dream, but Sweden is what I could afford,” he explained.

Do you think Sweden can compete for foreign students on quality?

“That depends on the field. If I compare to my country, Lebanon, Sweden can definitely offer better IT courses; but not in medicine for example. Sweden would need to focus its marketing on its strengths.”

The government also announced on Friday the introduction of two new scholarship systems with one offering 30 million kronor ($4 million) to students from its 12 key Swedish development aid partners.

The Local asked Klas-Herman Lundgren if Sweden had a responsibility of solidarity to students from less well-off countries and whether taxpayers should be expected to foot the bill for their higher education.

“Sweden has a responsibility to ensure that it it not the size of one’s wallet that dictates their choice of university.”

“These scholarship allocations would have to be six times as large in order to get close to covering demand,” Lundgren claimed.

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Swedish university exam unlikely to go ahead at all this year

It is looking increasingly unlikely that 'högskoleprovet' – an exam used by thousands of students every year as a way to enter Swedish university will go ahead – despite a government U-turn.

Swedish university exam unlikely to go ahead at all this year
In a normal year, 100,000 students sit what is known as the SweSAT or 'högskoleprovet'. Photo: Malin Hoelstad/SvD/SCANPIX

The Swedish Scholastic Aptitude Test (SweSAT, or högskoleprovet) is normally held twice a year, but was cancelled in spring and then later in autumn due to the coronavirus pandemic. But after pressure from opposition parties, the government last week said it would pave the way for the test to take place on its usual date in October in a limited format, open only to people who had not previously sat it.

Usually around 100,000 people sit the exam each year, around 40 percent of them doing so for the first time. The exam is not compulsory, but many people use its results to get into university, and it is seen as a crucial second chance for those who are not able to get accepted based on grades alone.

But any hope lit by the government's announcement last week was quickly extinguished this week, when university principals said it would still not be possible to organise a coronavirus-safe sitting. In the end it is up to the exam organisers to decide whether or not to hold it, so the government holds limited sway.

“They [the university principals] do not want to take responsibility for conducting the exam during the autumn, but would rather spend time and resources on conducting two tests as safely as possible in spring,” Karin Röding, director-general of the Swedish Council for Higher Education (UHR), told the TT news agency on Tuesday.

“I have no reason to have another opinion,” she added.

“It appears to be the case that you are going to have to wait another few months before an exam can be carried out in an infection-safe way,” confirmed Sweden's Minister of Higher Education, Matilda Ernkrans.

Meanwhile the political pressure eased on the Social Democrat-Green coalition government to ensure the test could be held before the deadline for applying to the spring semester of university, when the Liberal party joined the centre-left in voting no to pushing for an autumn sitting. Last week there was a majority for a yes vote on the Swedish parliament's education committee, consisting of right-wing parties Moderates, Christian Democrats, Sweden Democrats and the Liberals, but after the latter switched sides the committee voted no.

The Mdoerates blamed the government for not acting sooner to help the exam go ahead, by for example allocating more money and investigating the possibility of using more venues.

“There is one person who is to blame. That's Matilda Ernkrans,” said the party's education spokesperson Kristina Axén Olin. “The government has handled it really poorly and now it is thought to be too late and impossible.”

Ernkrans argued that she and the government had done everything they could, including making sure that test results from previous years will be valid for eight years rather than the usual five, as well as allocating extra funding to make it possible to hold more than one exam next spring.

Swedish vocabulary

cancel – ställa in

test/exam – (ett) prov

second chance – (en) andra chans

government – (en) regering

semester – (en) termin (note the false friend – the Swedish word semester means holiday)