Swedish pupils’ maths skills don’t add up

The majority of Swedish high-school students can't work out simple sums, researchers have warned after grading a math skill test taken by 1,500 pupils in Sweden. They were stumped that teachers had not raised the alarm.

Swedish pupils' maths skills don't add up
A Swedish student does her homework. File: Fredrik Sandberg/TT
The two researchers, one a university lecture and the other a former lecturer, said that the study was carried out on 1,500 first year high school students, when the pupils are on average 15 years old, in an unnamed central Sweden municipality.
"Far too many students have very poor knowledge when it comes to simple competencies like adding and multiplying basic fractions or figuring out percentage calculations," they wrote in an opinion piece in the Dagens Nyheter newspaper on Thursday.
They added that it seemed some Swedish pupils ground to a halt in math class after sixth grade.
"Understanding simple calculations is roughly the same in the eighth-grade as  in the sixth," the wrote. "Even during the first year of high school, half of the students had problems with basic calculations that they should have learned in middle school."
The researchers argued that this slow down in math skills probably meant that the student simply did not understand what they were being asked to learn in earlier grades. 
"It's remarkable. It makes you wonder how it's possible that a pupil can go year after year lacking basic maths skills without the teachers reacting."
Here are some of the questions from the testing process, followed by how many of the 1,500 students answered incorrectly.
7×8+5 (38 percent answered incorrectly)
What's 15 percent off a 720 kronor item? (54 percent were wrong)
Divide 0.16 by 4 (50 percent wrong)
Add four fifths and two thirds (44 percent wrong)

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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.”