‘Use foreign aid funds for scholarships’: report

Sweden should use some of its foreign aid budget to pay for scholarships that would cover tuition fees for students from developing countries who want to study at Swedish universities, a new report argues.

'Use foreign aid funds for scholarships': report

“Offering scholarships to students from developing countries fits perfectly with the stated aims of Swedish foreign aid,” Fredrik Segerfeldt, a libertarian Swedish commentator and author of the report, told The Local.

“It’s a very concrete way to ‘contribute to creating the conditions for poor people to improve their standard of living’.”

Since the 2011 introduction of tuition fees for non-European students wishing to attend Swedish universities, enrollment of non-European students has dropped by 79 percent, according to figures from Sweden’s National Agency for Higher Education (Högskolverket).

Moreover, developing countries like Nepal, Bangladesh and Cameroon were among the countries which experiences the largest drop in the number of foreign students who come to Sweden to study.

Richard Stenelo, head of external relations at Lund University, also noted a drop in applicants from other countries in Africa and Latin America following the introduction of tuition fees.

“It’s because we do not have enough scholarship funds and they cannot afford to study in Sweden,” Stenelo told Sveriges Radio (SR) recently.

Close to 100 million kronor ($15 million) has been set aside by the Swedish government for scholarships to help cover the cost of tuition fees for non-European students, and according to the higher education agency, about 40 percent (831 students) of tuition-paying students received scholarships last year that covered some or all of their tuition fees.

Nevertheless, the precipitous fall in non-European student enrollments has prompted several Swedish universities to urge the government to boost the level of scholarship funding.

With tuition fees averaging 120,000 kronor ($18,000), the universities fear that only wealthy, rather than the most talented, students will study in Sweden.

According to Segerfeldt’s proposal, put forward in a recent paper published by the liberal Swedish think tank Timbro, Sweden could cover tuition fees for nearly 13,000 students from developing countries by devoting about 3.3 percent of the country’s foreign aid budget to scholarships.

The total sum, 1.2 billion kronor, would provide about 90,000 kronor per student, which would cover most of the average fees currently required by non-European students.

Adding an addition 400 million kronor to the sum, according to Segerfeldt, would also cover living costs for 13,000 foreign students on par with the nearly 28,000 kronor per year that Swedish students are eligible for in the form of student grants (studiebidrag).

In Segerfeldt’s view, the scholarships offered to students from developing countries are already a form of foreign aid.

“As a libertarian, I’m against the whole concept for foreign aid, but as Sweden remains committed to its one percent foreign aid goal, at least using the money in the form of scholarships is a way to protect against the money disappearing due to corruption,” he said.

He added there are other benefits to maintaining a rich and diverse population of foreign students in Sweden.

“We can hope that many of these talented and educated students remain in Sweden,” he said.

“That would be good for the Swedish business community and something which remains in line with Sweden’s development aid goals.”

David Landes

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Swedish university exam unlikely to go ahead at all this year

It is looking increasingly unlikely that 'högskoleprovet' – an exam used by thousands of students every year as a way to enter Swedish university will go ahead – despite a government U-turn.

Swedish university exam unlikely to go ahead at all this year
In a normal year, 100,000 students sit what is known as the SweSAT or 'högskoleprovet'. Photo: Malin Hoelstad/SvD/SCANPIX

The Swedish Scholastic Aptitude Test (SweSAT, or högskoleprovet) is normally held twice a year, but was cancelled in spring and then later in autumn due to the coronavirus pandemic. But after pressure from opposition parties, the government last week said it would pave the way for the test to take place on its usual date in October in a limited format, open only to people who had not previously sat it.

Usually around 100,000 people sit the exam each year, around 40 percent of them doing so for the first time. The exam is not compulsory, but many people use its results to get into university, and it is seen as a crucial second chance for those who are not able to get accepted based on grades alone.

But any hope lit by the government's announcement last week was quickly extinguished this week, when university principals said it would still not be possible to organise a coronavirus-safe sitting. In the end it is up to the exam organisers to decide whether or not to hold it, so the government holds limited sway.

“They [the university principals] do not want to take responsibility for conducting the exam during the autumn, but would rather spend time and resources on conducting two tests as safely as possible in spring,” Karin Röding, director-general of the Swedish Council for Higher Education (UHR), told the TT news agency on Tuesday.

“I have no reason to have another opinion,” she added.

“It appears to be the case that you are going to have to wait another few months before an exam can be carried out in an infection-safe way,” confirmed Sweden's Minister of Higher Education, Matilda Ernkrans.

Meanwhile the political pressure eased on the Social Democrat-Green coalition government to ensure the test could be held before the deadline for applying to the spring semester of university, when the Liberal party joined the centre-left in voting no to pushing for an autumn sitting. Last week there was a majority for a yes vote on the Swedish parliament's education committee, consisting of right-wing parties Moderates, Christian Democrats, Sweden Democrats and the Liberals, but after the latter switched sides the committee voted no.

The Mdoerates blamed the government for not acting sooner to help the exam go ahead, by for example allocating more money and investigating the possibility of using more venues.

“There is one person who is to blame. That's Matilda Ernkrans,” said the party's education spokesperson Kristina Axén Olin. “The government has handled it really poorly and now it is thought to be too late and impossible.”

Ernkrans argued that she and the government had done everything they could, including making sure that test results from previous years will be valid for eight years rather than the usual five, as well as allocating extra funding to make it possible to hold more than one exam next spring.

Swedish vocabulary

cancel – ställa in

test/exam – (ett) prov

second chance – (en) andra chans

government – (en) regering

semester – (en) termin (note the false friend – the Swedish word semester means holiday)