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Profit concerns push Swedish schools abroad

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Profit concerns push Swedish schools abroad
Pupils at the English School in Täby, one of several hugely popular schools run by Internationella Engelska Skolan. Photo: Pontus Lundahl/TT
13:01 CEST+02:00
Sweden's publicly funded free school model has attracted huge interest in the UK and elsewhere, but with profits in the schools sector under scrutiny from regulators the biggest firms are now expanding overseas.

Sweden’s three biggest free school companies, Academedia, Internationella Engelska Skolan and Kunskapsskolan, all showed increased turnover and profits last year, business daily Dagens Industri (DI) reports. 

Academedia, by far the largest of the three, had a turnover of just over six billion kronor ($115 million) in 2014, up 26 percent on the previous year. 

But an ongoing government review has prompted the firms to look abroad amid fears Sweden will backtrack on allowing profits in social welfare sectors like education and healthcare. 

Peje Emilsson, who owns Kunskapsskolan jointly with Swedish investment giant Investor, said he had seen plenty of interest in the model outside Sweden. 

“We have had a lot of delegations from South Korea here, and also India where we are now opening schools,” he told DI. 

Academedia, also owned by Investor, is planning, among other things, to open preschools in Germany. 

“Historically we have made enormous investments in Sweden but I don’t think we are going to do so to the same extent from now on,” managing director Marcus Strömberg told the newspaper. 

“Instead we will place more of these initiatives in Norway and abroad,” he said. 

Sweden has led the world in encouraging businesses to set up schools after the first were set up in the 1990s and the system has long been praised by campaigners in other European countries, especially the UK.

The schools have attracted hundreds of millions of kronor from international private equity firms and venture capitalists, which have viewed the country’s privatised state sector as a worthwhile investment.

But the country’s school system is in focus following sliding school results in Sweden, which has slipped down the influential Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) league tables in recent years.

The current Social Democrat-Green coalition is reviewing the institutions and Prime Minister Stefan Löfven has warned against schools that are more focussed on making a profit than improving education for children.

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