Uni vows to ‘do more’ to inform foreign students

An Uppsala University official has promised to bolster efforts to give foreign students accurate information to help avoid misunderstandings like the one that has left one graduate student without her degree.

Uni vows to 'do more' to inform foreign students

“We all make mistakes, but we need to do more to safeguard against these kinds of mistakes,” Göran Svensson, head of the Media and Communication Studies department at Uppsala University told The Local.

“The onus is on us as educators to inform our students and we’ll have to do that better.”

Svensson’s promise to improve information provided to foreign students comes in the wake of a communications mix-up that left Eliana Velez, a graduate student from the United States, without a diploma and in jeopardy of losing her job.

Velez completed coursework for a master’s degree in Media and Communication Studies in October, but only learned from Svensson in March that she actually didn’t graduate.

She was shocked to discover that the credits for one of the classes she had taken did not count toward her degree.

Velez had enrolled in the class after being told by an academic advisor that it was a possible replacement for a course she had twice failed and which would still allow her to complete the programme on schedule.

But as it turned out, the course credits didn’t count toward Velez’s degree because it was an undergraduate-level course and Velez had already taken the maximum number of undergraduate courses allowed – something overlooked by both her and the advisor.

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

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

After being alerted to Velez’s lack of a diploma and the potential consequences it had for her job, Svensson agreed to contact her employer to explain the situation and see what could be done to rectify it.

In addition to the letter, an apologetic Svensson is now working to find another class Velez can complete at a distance in order to gain the credits necessary for her to complete her degree requirements.

“We’re very sorry about what has happened, but there is no question that Eliana will graduate,” he said.

Velez is appreciative of Svensson’s efforts, but added that the whole episode has left her “exhausted”.

“I just want it to be over,” she said.

“The letter that Göran wrote was exactly the kind of letter that I needed him to write. He apologized for the error, and accepted the mistake that was made.”

Velez is prepared to take one more class in order to finally complete her degree, but remains critical of the advisor who gave her bad information.

“I just hope that a mistake like this never happens again,” she said, emphasizing once again that more care should have been taken in formulating the advice she was given.

“Had I been advised differently I would be in a different position. It’s not easy to know what questions you need to ask so that you get the right answers.”

She encouraged foreign students to “as many questions as possible” to avoid misunderstandings like hers.

Svensson also said that Velez’s case had been an important learning experience for him and his staff.

“We will certainly look into cases much more closely before giving advice in the future,” he said.

“It is complicated, so we will really step up information to make sure foreign students are really aware for the requirements.”

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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.”