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EDUCATION

Online sale of free school permit sparks outrage

A permit to run a publicly-funded, privately-managed free school is being sold on a popular Swedish buy-sell site, exploiting a legal loophole and angering politicians.

Online sale of free school permit sparks outrage

“Ever dreamt of starting up your own primary school?” begins the advert on Swedish buy-sell site Blocket.

“Then we have a great opportunity for you!”

The ad has been placed by an agent representing a seller from Malmö in southern Sweden, who claims to have spent the last year gaining accreditation to run the school from the Swedish Schools Inspectorate (Skolinspektionen), resulting in a permit to run a school with an enrollment of up to 180 students.

But now the school, registered as Malmö enskilda grundskola, is being sold – despite not being anything more than a permit and a name, for 500,000 kronor ($71,278) according to Svenska Dagbladet newspaper (SvD).

According to the seller, the school could be up and running by the beginning of the autumn term this year.

“It’s totally unacceptable to do this,” Green Party education policy spokesperson Jabar Amin told the newspaper.

The advert explains that all the hard work has been done and that if an interested buyer wanted to “avoid the red tape for an ambitious and serious start then this is a fantastic opportunity”.

“The only remaining work to do is to find a suitable location for the school, new staff, etc.,” reads the ad.

Should a sale of the permit take place, it would entail that the buyer would be free operate a school without first having been vetted by the Schools Inspectorate.

However, according to current laws, there is nothing prohibiting such a transaction.

“There is no obligation to report to us if the shares in a company which has a permit to run a free school are sold,” Anna Sundberg, division head for permit assessment with the Schools Inspectorate, told SvD.

“It’s the company that has the permit to run the school and therefore is the principal legal entity is still the same.”

In the wake of the Green Party’s Amin called for a change in the law to prevent similar transactions from occurring in the future.

“It is one thing when someone has run a school for several years and then can’t any longer, but here someone has not even started up the business. We must change the law – this is totally awful,” he said.

Rossanna Dinamarca, education policy spokesperson for the Left Party also slammed as “inappropriate” and “strange” both the ad and the notion that someone would seek a permit to run a free school to then simply sell it on to another party.

“This is something that needs to be reviewed,” she told SvD.

“It is completely unacceptable and I find it extremely provocative that someone who sought and received permission to run a school acts in this way,” Swedish education minister Jan Björklund told SvD in response to reports about the advert.

“The question of who is serious enough to run a school and therefore receive the permits will be decided by the Swedish Schools Inspectorate, not by a company broker or by those who have already got a permit,” he said.

Björklund proposed that permits should be tied to schools and to their owners and that a change in ownership would require a new owner to seek a new permit. According to Björklund, such a change would make the transaction advertised on Blocket “impossible”.

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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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