Laggard Swedish grads costly to economy: report

Swedish students who take their time to graduate from post-secondary study are extremely costly to the economy, a new government study has shown.

Laggard Swedish grads costly to economy: report

Lowering the average graduation age in Sweden could save students and society 250,000 kronor ($36,200) per student, newspaper Dagens Industri (DI) reported on Friday, citing a long-term government study.

“The high graduation age is a problem if it leads to decreased employment or to a reduction in productivity among the employed. The latter may be the case if students work before or during their studies, but are less productive than after completing their studies,” the report said.

Currently, the average Swede graduates from post-secondary education at 29, second only to Iceland among OECD countries, the report said.

In Germany and Norway, the average graduate completed his or her studies two years ahead of Swedes and in the Netherlands, about four years faster, according to a long-term government study.

The reason behind the relatively late Swedish graduation rate is not that Swedes take a long time to complete their studies, but because they start late, with the median age of enrollment at over 22, the report said.

Of the 250,000 kronor that could be saved by lowering the average graduation age by a year, 80,000 kronor would go back to the student and about 160,000 kronor to society at large.

“The reason for this is that those who graduate later on average receive more transfer payments and a progressive tax system means that part of the income gains from an early graduate goes to society in terms of tax revenue,” DI reported on Friday.

The government recommends intensified counseling in high school and extra points in the admission process for those who choose to quickly continue into higher education.

Another proposal suggests granting universities and colleges more funding for students who graduate on time, the report said.

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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)