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EDUCATION

Swedish unis ‘punch above weight’ in Europe

Sweden has been praised for punching above its weight compared to its European counterparts, by researchers behind one of the word's most prestigious university rankings.

Swedish unis 'punch above weight' in Europe
Students at Uppsala University. Photo: Magnus Liam Karlsson/imagebank.sweden.se

The Times Higher Education (THE) group published its list of the top-200 universities in Europe on Thursday, based on its prestigious world rankings released in October last year.

It noted that the UK clinched nearly a quarter of the places (46), including seven in the top-10, with Germany coming a not-so-close second with 36 of its schools making the overall list.

However, it praised Sweden, a country with a population just shy of 10 million, underlining that an impressive six of its schools made the top-100 with one clinching a spot in the top-10.

“While Sweden has fewer universities in the ranking than some of its larger European counterparts, it punches above its weight relative to population size,” noted the survey.

A total of 11 of the Nordic country's top universities made the overall European top-200 rankings.

“It is great news for Sweden. (…) Sweden's success is part of a wider trend of the Scandinavian countries' strong performance in the ranking,” said THE editor Phil Baty.

While British universities remained at the top, he said that the UK faced tough competition from Sweden and other European nations, warning that anti-immigration policies and high tuition fees could act as an deterrent to foreign students.

“The UK shoots itself in the foot and faces losing market share over restrictive study and work visa policies, anti-immigration rhetoric and prohibitively high tuition fees, other European countries are poised to capitalize and take more and more of the UK's share of students,” said Baty.

With higher education mostly funded by the state, Sweden offers free tuition for domestic and EU students.

“The fact that the 11 of Sweden's 14 public-sector universities are in the THE's European top-200 speaks volumes for the effectiveness of the country's higher education system. Students do not make any direct financial contribution to the system: tuition is free for all domestic and most European students, said Lund University's vice-chancellor Torbjörn von Schantz in a statement.

“Historically, Swedish research policy has been subject to relatively light control, and the sector has generally been left to make its own strategic choices. These choices have included extensive cooperation between institutions, including the use of joint research facilities,” he added.

His university came in 37th place in the rankings, behind Uppsala in 32nd. The Karolinska Institute in Solna north of Stockholm, Sweden's leading medical school and in charge of handing out the annual Nobel Prize in Medicine, meanwhile clinched ninth place in Europe.

It likely spells a welcome PR boost for Sweden's leading medical school, which made global headlines earlier this year after allegations of research fraud emerged against one of its researchers, celebrity surgeon Paolo Macchiarini. The scandal has since forced the resignation of a number of top bosses, including its vice-chancellor Anders Hamsten.

The top-ranking universities in Sweden

1. Karolinska Institute (9th in Europe)

2. Uppsala University (32)

3. Lund University (37)

4. Stockholm University (64)

5. KTH Royal Institute of Technology (74)

6. University of Gothenburg (90)

7. Chalmers University of Technology (121)

8. Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (121)

9. Linköping University (131)

10. Umeå University (141)

11. Örebro University (161)

The top-ranking universities in Europe

1. University of Oxford (UK)

2. University of Cambridge (UK)

3. Imperial College London (UK)

4. ETH Zurich (Switzerland)

5. University College London (UK)

6. London School of Economics and Political Science (UK)

7. University of Edinburgh (UK)

8. King's College London (UK)

9. Karolinska Institute (Sweden)

10. LMU Munich (Germany)

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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