Fees bring flurry of ‘fake’ colleges to Sweden

After the introduction of tuition fees to Swedish universities, the country has been experiencing an influx of fictitious colleges requesting to establish themselves in Sweden.

Fees bring flurry of 'fake' colleges to Sweden

”Anyone can start anything and call it a university. I usually say that it is like setting up a hot dog stand” said Lennart Ståhle of the Swedish National Agency for Higher Education (Högskoleverket) to the Swedish Association of University Teachers’ (Sulf) union paper.

“At the Swedish National Agency for Higher Education we can’t have an opinion when it comes to this and they can establish themselves here as long as they follow Swedish tax laws. It is like any sort of business venture.”

Despite having been a problem in the US and the UK for a long while, fake universities are a fairly recent phenomenon in Sweden.

However, with the advent of tuition fees at Sweden’s universities and a British crackdown on the ”fake college” industry as well as stricter rules on student visas, the country is now experiencing a flurry of activity from schools wanting to establish in Sweden.

”Sweden’s become an interesting market as these schools say they only charge half of what Swedish universities are charging. They are using our good name, as Sweden is seen as a trustworthy country to study in,” Ståhle told newspaper Sydsvenskan.

Sydsvenskan mentions a few colleges, all with English sounding names.

One offers courses in business administration from an address in the Stockholm suburb of Solna while another, apparently located centrally in the district of Södermalm, offers courses in business management, travel, tourism and hospitality management, as well as accounting.

A third school, this time in the suburb of Sollentuna, claims to have premises with class rooms and a cafeteria, as well as offering seven courses in different subjects.

But according to Sydsvenskan, the National Agency for Higher Education found that its address turned out to be located on top of a car repair shop.

Another turned out to have a Stockholm phone number but the line had been cut off, according to the Sulf newspaper.

Yet another had a post box in an office building in the capital, but a British phone number, while one apparently showed pictures of Stockholm City Library’s interior, claiming it was the school’s, reported the paper.

However, according to Ståhle it is difficult to know if these schools are breaking the law, as the agency has no right to investigate a centre of learning that isn’t offering a Swedish qualification.

”We can’t make an official judgement on any of these ”colleges”. We don’t control them. They are none of our business, so to speak,” Ståhle told the Sulf union paper.

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Daily targeted in cyberattack after exposing ’fake news factory’

Swedish daily Eskilstuna-Kuriren was targeted in a major cyberattack on Friday after exposing a so-called fake news factory which creates its stories by getting influential people to give soundbites which are then heavily edited and presented as “quotes”.

Daily targeted in cyberattack after exposing ’fake news factory’
Screengrab of Eskiltuna-Kuriren's investigative report

Jörgen Bröms, head of digital development at Eskilstuna-Kuriren, said the newspaper had been targeted in denial-of-service type of attack, with the aim of overloading the website and making it inaccessible.

“A bunch of requests are made at the same time with the purpose of bringing the website down. It looks as though a lot of people are visiting it at once,” he said, noting that “it’s impossible to track such attacks.”

According to Bröms, the attack is directly related to the newspapers recent expose of the web-based radio broadcaster Granskning Sverige (Scrutinising Sweden) which claims to represent citizen journalism, encouraging people to phone journalists, politicians and other influential people, provoking conversations with them which are then taped and posted on YouTube. The website compensates its contributors for every 3,000 clicks their recordings garner.  

Eskilstuna-Kuriren recently investigated the online broadcaster, exposing it as a far-right, anti-migrant propaganda machine. The newspaper found that people working for the broadcaster used fake identities to fool their targets into giving them interviews, which were then taped and heavily edited, essentially patching together opinions and “quotes” that were never even uttered.  

After the revelation, reporters at the daily were overwhelmed with emails and phonecalls by people who were both critical, but mostly positive, to their work regarding Granskning Sverige.

“Before publishing [the story] we thought we’d receive a lot of hate, but there’s been 99 percent of love,” Editor in Chief Eva Burman was quoted as saying to the newspaper’s own website.

“It showed through in all our channels; on social media; people phoned us and stopped us in the street saying it was a good thing,” she said.