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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Swedish PM pledges to ban profit making at free schools

Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson has pledged to stop companies withdrawing profits from schools, in what is likely to be one of the Social Democrats' main campaigning issues in the coming election campaign.

Swedish PM pledges to ban profit making at free schools

The proposal, one of three measures announced to “take back democratic control over the school system”, was launched on the first day of the Almedalen political festival on the island of Gotland.

On Sunday evening, Andersson is set to give the first big speech of the festival, with Ulf Kristersson, leader of the centre-right Moderate party, and Left Party leader Nooshi Dadgostar scheduled to make their speeches on Monday, and Sweden’s other party leaders taking slots on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.  

“Schools in Sweden should focus on knowledge, not on the pursuit of profit,” Andersson said, as she made the pledge, stressing that her party aimed not only to ban withdrawing profits, but also “to make sure that all the possible loopholes are closed”. 

Free schools, she complained, siphon off billions of kronor in tax money every year at the same time as free schools increase divisions in society. 

Banning profits from schools is an obvious campaigning issue for the Social Democrats. The latest poll by Gothenburg University’s SOM Institute found that fully 67 percent of voters support such a ban.

The only issue is that the Centre Party, whose support the Social Democrats will need to form a government, is likely to block a future Social Democrat government from implementing it, something Andersson was willing to acknowledge.

“What I know is that there’s a very strong support for this among the Swedish people, but not in the Swedish parliament,” she said. 

The Social Democrats have campaigned on the issue in past elections, pledging to stoppa vinstjakten, or “stop the pursuit of profit in schools”, or, in the run-up to the 2018 election, only to see the policy blocked in the January Agreement the party did to win the support of the Centre Party and the Liberal party.  

On Sunday, Andersson would not give any details on whether companies listed on Swedish or international stockmarkets would be prevented from operating schools, saying she was leaving such details to an inquiry into reforming Sweden’s free school system the government launched on June 30th.  

In the press conference, Andersson criticised the inflated grades given out by free schools, which are dismissed by critics as glädjebetyg, literally “happy grades”.

“We end up having pupils who graduate with good marks who then realise that their school has let them down,” she said. 

At the press conference, Andersson also reiterated the Social Democrats call to ban the establishment of new religious free schools, and announced plans for a national schools choice system, stripping free schools of the ability to run their own queue systems.