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EDUCATION

Uni’s ‘bad advice’ costs student grad degree

A woman who recently completed a master's programme at Uppsala University may lose her "dream job" after erroneous information about eligible courses has left her without a diploma.

“I could lose my job,” Eliana Velez told The Local.

Velez, a US-native, completed coursework for a master’s degree in Media and Communication Studies at Uppsala University in October and immediately began hunting for a job.

During the process, she filed paperwork with the university so she could have her degree issued in time to present to any new employer that saw fit to hire her.

After weeks of sending out job applications, Velez eventually landed what she called the “perfect job” working as a communications manager for an organization in the United States.

“It was really what I had studied to do,” she said.

Velez moved back to the United States to start work in early March, and shortly thereafter sent another reminder to her department at Uppsala University inquiring as to the status of her diploma.

“I contacted the department on March 15th and was told it would be ready the next day,” she said.

When a week passed and she had still not received anything, Velez made yet another inquiry via email.

The response, sent by Director of Studies Göran Svensson, left Velez stunned.

“Sorry to say, you cannot graduate,” he wrote in an email.

Svensson went on to explain that Velez’s inability to receive her diploma was apparently due to a misunderstanding about which courses could be included in her course of study.

After having twice failed a required quantitative methods class, Velez asked a student advisor about what other courses she might be able to take instead.

She was told that she could take several different courses, including some undergraduate level courses, all of which would allow her to gain the number of credits she needed to graduate.

As one of the undergraduate courses, Media Policy and Regulation, was the next course due to start, Velez signed up in the hope that she would still be able to complete her course of study by the autumn of 2011.

“It was a very relevant course,” she said.

But what the advisor failed to mention and what Velez failed to realize, is that she had already taken the maximum number of undergraduate-level courses allowed.

“They never told me that I wasn’t allowed to take any more undergraduate-level courses,” she said.

“I wouldn’t have taken the course if I had known.”

According to Velez, the department and the student advisor failed in clearly communicating what the programme requirements were.

“It cannot be assumed that I would have known exactly how the Swedish system works,” Velez explained in an email to the department, adding that the student advisor in question shouldn’t have given what turned out to be bad advice.

Writing to Svensson in the wake of learning that her two year studying sojourn in Sweden had left her without a diploma, Velez explained that she had “lost all trust” in the department following the episode.

“You cannot expect foreign students to remember all the details included in one presentation you held at the beginning of the year. That is an unrealistic expectation,” she wrote.

While Svensson admitted that he and his colleagues “failed to inform” Velez that her last course needed to be a graduate-level course, he added that keeping track of a student’s course of studies is a “shared responsibility”.

“You did not follow the suggested plan of study,” he wrote in an email.

“For a student that does not follow the suggested path of studies it is of extra importance that the school and the student keep track over performance and requirements.”

Svensson, who was unavailable to speak on the matter with The Local, added that he would write a letter to Velez’s employer explaining the problem and vowed to work with her to “find a solution”.

Meanwhile, Velez’s future in her new job hangs in the balance, and her confidence in how Swedish universities treat foreign students remains shaken.

“I’m really upset and really frustrated,” she said.

“I had a really good feeling about having studied in Sweden, but something needs to be done.”

David Landes

twitter.com/davelandes

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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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