Foreigners ‘blocked’ from college courses

Sweden’s new university admissions system discriminates against foreign students and breaks EU law, according to the country’s university regulator.

Foreigners 'blocked' from college courses
Photo: Platform/Johnér/Image Bank Sweden (file)

The system, introduced this year, obliges universities to prioritize students who have studied extra high school courses in certain subjects such as maths and languages – but only if they’ve studied in the Swedish system. People who have been schooled outside of Sweden are relegated to a different quota group.

The complex new system threatens to shut foreigners out of some courses completely, critics warn. The size of the quota group must reflect the percentage of foreign applicants. On small courses with small numbers of foreign applicants, this can lead to foreigners being shut out entirely.

The system has already led to complaints from students from other Scandinavian countries: Danish student Emma Vig was rejected for a course in Japanese at Lund University, despite having top marks in her Danish high school exams.

Denmark’s science minister, Charlotte Sahl-Madsen, has said she plans to complain to her Swedish counterpart.

Icelandic ministers have also indicated their displeasure, pointing out that Sweden has signed agreements with the other Nordic countries that bind Swedish universities to treat other Nordic students the same as domestic applicants.

The Swedish National Agency for Higher Education now wants the system to be changed. Leif Strandberg, who is conducting a study into the issue on behalf of the agency, says the rules break European law and agreements with other Nordic countries:

“It is not in line with the agreements to have a separate quota group – it is not a method that treats applicants equally,” he told the Sydsvenskan newspaper.

But Malin Strid, political advisor to Higher Education Minister Tobias Krantz, said the system was designed to be fairer:

“It’s hard to translate foreign grades in the first place, but even harder when you have to take extra courses into account. This system with quotas was devised as a way to ensure foreign students were treated fairly,” she told The Local.

Strid also pointed out that universities are allowed to allocate up to one third of places entirely at their own discretion, meaning that foreign students can be given places even if they don’t fit within a quota group.

The problem also affects Swedes who have gone to high school abroad. An exception has been made for people who have studied the International Baccalaureate and those who were educated in the Finnish system.

The government has said it will appoint a committee of inquiry to look at the problem and to propose solutions.

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IES chain blocked from opening four new schools

Sweden's Internationella Engelska Skolan (IES) chain has been denied permission to open four new schools in Gothenburg, Huddinge, Norrtälje, and Upplands-Bro, after the schools inspectorate said it had not provided pupil data.

IES chain blocked from opening four new schools

According to the Dagens Nyheter (DN) newspaper, the Swedish Schools Inspectorate (Skolinspektionen) has denied permission to the chain to open a new planned new school in Norrtälje, north of Stockholm, even though the building that will house it is already half built. The inspectorate has also denied permission to three other schools which the chain had applied to start in 2023. 

In all four cases, the applications have been rejected because the school did not submit the required independent assessment for how many pupils the schools were likely to have. 

Jörgen Stenquist, IES’s deputy chief executive, said that IES has not in the past had to submit this data, as it has always been able to point to the queues of pupils seeking admissions to the school. 

“The fact that Engelska Skolan, as opposed to our competition, has never had the need to hire external companies to do a direct pupil survey is because we have had so many in line,” he told DN.

“In the past, it has been enough that we reported a large queue in the local area. But if the School Inspectorate wants us to conduct targeted surveys and ask parents directly if they want their children to start at our new schools, then maybe we have to start doing that.”


According to the newspaper, when the inspectorate had in the past asked for pupil predictions, the chain has refused, stating simply “we do not make student forecasts”, which the inspectorate has then accepted. 

However, in this year’s application round, when IES wrote: “We do not carry out traditional interest surveys as we simply have not had a need for this,” the inspectorate treated it as grounds to reject its applications. 

According to DN, other school chain have been complaining to the inspectorate that IES gets favourable treatment and was excused some requirements other chains have to fulfil. 

Liselotte Fredzell, from the inspectorate’s permitting unit, confirmed that the inspectorate was trying to be more even handed. 

“Yes, it is true that we are now striving for a more equal examination of applications. Things may have been getting too slack, and we needed to tighten up.”