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EDUCATION

iPads touted as saviour for rural Swedish schools

Tablet computers could fill in staffing gaps in rural communities in northern Sweden, as authorities look for new ways to keep village schools open amid a shortage of qualified teachers.

iPads touted as saviour for rural Swedish schools

Administrators in Vindeln municipality in Västerbotten County are looking at ways to guarantee that about 95 pupils in the communities of Granö, Tvärålund, Hällnäs and Åmsele are taught by qualified teachers.

One suggestion is to provide students with tablet computers, such as the Apple iPad or other versions of the technology.

The smallest school only has about seven students, municipal chairwoman Eva-May Karlsson told The Local.

“We have teachers with huge amounts of experience but they have to take the new ‘teachers licence’,” said Karlsson, explaining that that process could take some time.

Teacher licences (lärarlegitimation) were introduced by the government as an attempt to shore up teaching quality across Sweden but has caused several administrative challenges, several media report.

In Vindeln, a technology upgrade could help address some staffing problems in the meantime.

“This is a possible way to make teaching even better in some subjects.”

Karlsson said the municipality was currently buying new technology and the idea of using the tablet computers as learning aides – “especially in English or maths” – had been proposed as way to help save the area’s rural schools.

If the idea is put in practice, Karlsson said that tablet computers assisting teachers could serve as a model for other rural communities that wanted to keep their village schools open.

It could also spare very young children from having to travel long distances to school every morning.

“It’s 45 kilometres between our outermost-lying school and the bigger school in Älvbrinken,” Karlsson said.

“But up here in the north, there are other municipalities with much greater distances.”

She emphasized, however, that the tablets would not be replacing teachers in the rural classrooms.

“There would still be teachers present at all times,” said Karlsson.

Ann Törnkvist

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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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