Profit concerns push Swedish schools abroad

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.

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

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.


Sweden must discuss banning religious schools: minister

Sweden needs to discuss whether to ban religious schools amid reports that some schools are segregating boys and girls, Minister for Upper Secondary School Aida Hadzialic has argued.

Sweden must discuss banning religious schools: minister
Aida Hadzialic. Photo: Marcus Ericsson/TT

The minister is calling for multi-party talks in parliament to discuss how to “really guarantee that school classes are free from religious elements”, she said in an interview with newspaper Aftonbladet. 

“The schools law stipulates that school tuition must be secular, but we are receiving worrying signals that this is not the case, that girls and boys are being taught separately. We can’t have it like that,” said Hadzialic. 

The minister said she would push for change in parliament this autumn after the education ministry was informed of schools separating boys and girls. 

“Swedish schools should be for everybody, they should break down segregation and form the basis for Sweden to stay strong.” 

Sweden's free school system of state-funded but privately run schools was introduced in 1992 and paved the way for religious organisations to operate schools as long as they stuck to the secular Swedish curriculum.

Aida Hadzialic, a 29-year-old born in Bosnia-Hertzagovina, was relatively new to politics when Prime Minister Stefan Löfven named her in his cabinet in 2014. She worked as a lawyer until 2010. 

SEE ALSO: Sweden tries to rein in religion at free schools