School board defends tattooed teacher deemed ‘too cool’ for school

The school board in Skövde in western Sweden has backed local teacher Sam Aalto after he was criticised by a local politician, who argued that his surfeit tattoos and spiky hair set a bad example to students.

School board defends tattooed teacher deemed 'too cool' for school

“The media circus round this has surpassed my wildest expectations,” Aalto told The Local.

Father of five, Sam Aalto, is in his forties and has been teaching at Vasaskolan in Skövde for eight years.

He is described by the school as highly competent and is liked by colleagues and students alike.

The problems started when pensioner and local politician Sture Grönwall, 70, visited the school and spied Aalto’s tattoos, piercings and spiky hair across the school canteen.

“Can a teacher really look like that,” a startled Grönwall asked, according to the Aftonbladet daily.

After speaking to one of the headmasters and not getting the response he was after, Grönwall decided to write to the local school board (Skolnämnden).

In his letter he questioned the example a teacher like Aalto would set for students as well as the values of the school letting someone like Aalto teach there.

The school board however did not share Grönwall’s view, coming out in defence of Aalto and Vasaskolan.

“To let our students solely see adults with no tattoos or piercings and wearing suits would not show them an accurate view of today’s society,” they wrote in their response to Grönwall’s complaint.

Sam Aalto meanwhile expressed surprise at Grönwall’s reaction as well as the ‘media circus’ cropping up around him.

“I have been working here since 2003 and the subject has never been brought up before – no one has ever reacted. I never knew that Grönwall had complained before I found out about the whole thing through the local press,” he said.

According to Aalto it isn’t the fact that Grönwall questioned his look but the way he went about it that is questionable.

“In a democracy everyone has the right to ask the question, it is the moralising aspect of Grönwall’s opinion which I object to,” he said.

Aalto said to Aftonbladet at the time that when his finances allow he will add to his existing body art.

The locals in the rural town of Skövde were meanwhile split on the issue.

When asked by a local TV channel, young people said there should be no restrictions whereas pensioners of a similar age to Sture Grönwall did not like the idea of a tattooed schoolteacher.

Sture Grönwall is meanwhile unrepentant, expressing consternation at the flak thrown in his direction in the press.

“They say that politicians shouldn’t meddle in what teachers wear – but then who should?“ Grönwall asked during an interview with SR.

When asked if this was merely a question of different values for different age groups, Grönwall conceded that it might have something to do with it.

“But brought up in the old style of schooling, I believe that school should be both morally and academically educated and properly prepare children for society and labour market,” he said.

If the response from the school board is anything to go by however, that is exactly what they feel they are doing by defending Aalto.

“I am happy about the support that I have received since the incident and I bear no personal grudges against Sture Grönwall,” Aalto told The Local.

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‘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.”


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.”