Sweden is a part of the global economy. Sweden and Swedish higher education has long enjoyed a good reputation in the world where we have become known as a knowledge-based nation with strong innovation.
To maintain a leading position in research and innovation, we must be able to attract talented students, researchers and colleagues from other countries. Our reputation of having a knowledge-based economy and being an attractive destination for students will nevertheless be threatened unless several obstacles are removed.
Among other things, there needs to be better coordination between agencies, a cleanup of our tangled rules, and more scholarships.
The Swedish Institute (Svenska institutet – SI) is tasked with promoting Sweden as an attractive destination for students, researchers and skilled labour. The aim is to strengthen Sweden's skills base by attracting talented people to Sweden, but also to support countries that need to build up their own knowledge bases.
While additional resources for marketing would be useful, more importantly, SI has identified a number of obstacles that must be addressed if Sweden is to compete for talent.
Sweden wants to remain an attractive country for studies, even after the introduction of tuition fees, thus the following obstacles must be dealt with:
• Rules for residence permits must be changed. Students from countries without a Swedish embassy must now go to another country to apply for a visa, and have in many cases had difficulties getting a visa for this country. In addition, an entry permit (UT card) is required which is only produced in Sweden, and this slows down the process even further. Students are therefore forced to go back to that second country yet again to receive one. We believe that students must be able to apply for Swedish residence permits in other countries' embassies.
• Swedish institutions of higher learning are currently obliged to have separate admissions, or quota groups, for students from outside the EU. This leads to the admission process being slower than those of our main competitors. Rules need to be made more flexible to enable rolling admissions and provide feedback on the admissions process more quickly.
• Foreign students find it difficult to open bank accounts in Sweden because they do not have personal identity numbers (personnummer). This calls for a simplification of the regulations.
• Foreign students who want to continue working in Sweden after their studies are forced to return home to apply for a work permit, which is different from how things work in many other countries. The parliamentary inquiry on circular migration (SOU 2011:28) proposes that third-country students should have the opportunity to work for six months after graduation. The proposals relating to students are important and urgent if we want to attract and retain skills for the Swedish labour market.
• The lack of access to scholarships is another issue that must be taken very seriously. We need a real tie up between business and government, and a coherent, generous scholarship programme to attract talented students to Sweden.
• With support from the EU's Erasmus-Mundus programme, Swedish universities offer attractive integrated training programmes and related scholarships along with other European universities, but the regulations have not been coordinated and require changes in higher education legislation as quickly as possible. The programmes require different forms of financing. However, the universities do not have these funds, and Swedish law dictates clearly that non-European students should not be funded by government grants, leading to something of a Catch-22.
• The recruitment of professional researchers also needs to be simplified. Since January 1st, 2011 it has been possible to deviate from time-consuming recruitment processes when recruiting prominent professors to Swedish universities. However, there are already several cases of failed recruitments due to administrative barriers and regulations, which simultaneously counteract the process. There is a clear risk that top scientists, who are always attractive in a global labour market, will choose a job in another country. These cases must be given a higher priority by the Swedish Migration Board (Migrationsverket).
• Top scientists are also excluded from the special, lower tax rate for experts, (expertskatten) as it only applies to international experts who earn at least 88,000 kronor per month ($13,000). By comparison, a professor at Karolinska Institutet earns an average of about 60,000 kronor per month.
• There is also a need for a new type of visa for PhD candidates which gives them the opportunity to qualify for permanent residency. This is also suggested by the inquiry on circular migration. By international standards, Sweden has a generous system for financing research, a potential competitive advantage in the battle for talent. But PhD candidates are often regarded as students by the Migration Board, despite the fact that, in many cases, they are employed. This urgently needs to be changed.
International competitiveness is an issue that requires commitment and action in several policy areas – from national, regional and local government, but also, in a very real sense, from the business community. The deficiencies described above must be corrected in order for Sweden to be competitive.
The students and researchers who are already here are our ambassadors. It is through them that Sweden has the reputation it deserves. As long as the problems that were highlighted above remain, there is a risk that all marketing of Sweden as a knowledge-based destination will have the opposite effect.
Swedish Institute's Advisory Council
Kjell Albin Abrahamsson, journalist
Kent Harstedt, MP (Social Democrats)
Mari Jungstedt, author
Olof Lavesson, MP (Moderates)
David Neuman, director, Magasin 3 Konsthall
Anna Nilsdotter, deputy CEO, Enact Sustainable Strategies
Jonas Törnblom, deputy CEO, Envac
Eva Åkesson, President, Uppsala University
Annika Rembe, Director General, Swedish Institute
This article was first published in Swedish in the
Dagens Nyheter newspaper. English translation by The Local.