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EDUCATION

Liberals: Link free school funding to quality

Liberal Party leader Jan Björklund announced on Swedish public radio's P1 channel on Thursday morning that the dividends to the owners of privately run free schools should be stopped if the schools experience a drop in quality.

Liberals: Link free school funding to quality
Teacher writing on whiteboard

“I could be very provoked if the quality of an independent school falls and it takes funding for students who have difficulties and at the same time distributes dividends to owners,” he said.

According to Björklund, the parties in the government have agreed to look into the issue. Under the new rules, the Schools Inspectorate (Skolinspektionen) would be legally able to impose such sanctions.

“The school would have the opportunity to fix it and in the meantime, a dividend ban would be introduced,” he said.

Björklund said he believes that such a ban would be effective.

“It is a matter of great concern for a free school, like a public school, to receive a tough reprimand from the Schools Inspectorate,” he said. “Students and parents will find out and fewer will want to go there.”

He added that whistleblower protection for staff at private alternatives that run on tax money could be introduced, similar to those offered at public enterprises.

Earlier, the government had said no on the grounds that private companies are exposed to competition and need protection of privacy.

The Social Democrats’ Ylva Johansson slammed Björklund’s new proposals for more stringent rules for free schools as “electioneering.”

“It has been under his watch that schools have turned into a market with short-term profit interests,” she said. “He is not credible.”

Meanwhile, the Swedish Teachers’ Union (Lärarförbundet) welcomes whistleblower protection for employees at free schools. The union is also positive regarding a halt to dividend payouts to free schools with a decline in quality.

“We taxpayers should know that the money that we give to the school is used to maintain a high quality,” said union chairwoman Eva-Lis Sirén in a press release.

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EDUCATION

‘They feel conned’: Swedish universities fight for PHDs hit by new residency rules

Sweden's top universities are to call for doctoral students to be exempted from Sweden's tough new permanent residency rules, arguing that it will damage both academic standards and national competitiveness.

'They feel conned': Swedish universities fight for PHDs hit by new residency rules
At Lund Technical University, a majority of doctoral students are international. Photo: Kennet Ruona/LTU

In a post on Wednesday, Astrid Söderbergh Widding, the chair of Association of Swedish Higher Education Institutions, said that Sweden’s universities had agreed to submit a joint letter to the government “very soon”, calling for parliament to put in place a special exemption for PHD students to make it easier to stay in Sweden after their studies. 

The parliament, she wrote, “should introduce an exemption for doctoral students and young researchers from the requirement to be financially self-sufficient”. 

Previously, doctoral students were eligible for a permanent residence permit if they had lived in Sweden with a residence permit for doctoral studies for four out of the past seven years. Apart from a slim set of requirements, this was granted more or less automatically.

But according to Sweden’s new Migration Act, which was introduced in July this year as comprehensive legislation to control the number of asylum applications, they now need to be able to additionally show that they can support themselves financially for at least a year and half.

The new law means that the rules for permanent residency are now the same for all categories of applicants, including doctoral students.

Stefan Bengtsson, the rector at Chalmers University of Technology, said that the change would mean as many as 400 to 500 doctoral students, many of whom have built up considerable expertise, might be unable to stay in Sweden.

“This makes for an uncertain future for those from outside of Europe who have applied to come to Sweden for an academic career, which is cause for great concern and disappointment among those who came here under other circumstances,” he told The Local. “Some of them may, of course, feel like they’ve been conned

But what was even more worrying, he said, would be the impact the change to the law might have in the longer term. 

“This change to the law could contribute to giving Sweden a bad reputation. This will create difficulties in recruiting internationally and damage our long-term skills supply.”

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At Lund University, the majority of doctoral students in the science and technical faculties are from outside Europe, while Söderbergh Widding, who is also vice chancellor at Stockholm University, estimated that about half of doctoral students were international. 

Söderbergh Widding told the TT newswire that the change was “a devastating death blow”, which put to waste a “previously hard-won battle to make it possible for doctoral students to obtain a permanent residency permit after four years of studies”. 

She said in her letter that the change contradicted the research policy proposition from December 2020, which stated that the “number of foreign doctoral students who stay in Sweden should increase”, and said that giving residency to doctoral students was a good way to increase this.  

Ole Petter Ottersen, the rector of the elite Karolinska medical university, told the newswire that he thought the change in residency laws would damage Swedish competitiveness. 

“This is not good for Sweden. This will damage our ability to attract and recruit talent from other countries. For a country that lies on the periphery, the goal should be to make it easier, not harder, to recruit competence.” 

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