Sweden’s top university Karolinska tumbles in global ranking

Sweden’s reputed Karolinska Institute (KI) has tumbled in its international ranking, slipping a full 10 points year-on-year in the prestigious Times Higher Education (THE) World Education Rankings 2018 which was released on Tuesday.

Sweden's top university Karolinska tumbles in global ranking
The scandal involving KI’s former surgeon Macchiarini could have played a factor in the drop. Photo: Thomas Oneborg/SvD/TT

Stockholm’s KI, which selects the winners of the Nobel Prize in medicine and which ranked 28 among the world’s top 1,000 universities last year, now comes in at number 38. In an e-mailed response to Swedish news agency TT, Phil Baty, the editor of THE, described the result as “a shame” for the institution.

According to Baty, much of the tumble can likely be blamed on the scandal hitting the institution involving celebrity Italian surgeon Paolo Macchiarini. The surgeon was fired from KI over accusations of misconduct after several of his trachea transplant patients died.

READ MORE: Macchiarini's seventh transplant patient dies 

Baty said, however, that those handing out the scores in its annual ranking don’t need to motivate their choices, “but in this case (Macchiarini) could have been a factor”.

But KI isn’t the only prominent Swedish university doing worse off this year: Stockholm’s KTH Royal Institute of Technology fell from 159 to 173 and the University of Gothenburg to 198 from a previous 170.

Uppsala University, on the other hand, climbed to 86 from 93, Lund University to 93 from 96 and Stockholm University to 134 from 144.

Britain’s Oxford University topped the list for the second year in the row, followed by Cambridge in second place, while the California Institute of Technology shared a third place with Stanford.

A total of 77 countries take part in the annual ranking.


Swedish university exam unlikely to go ahead at all this year

It is looking increasingly unlikely that 'högskoleprovet' – an exam used by thousands of students every year as a way to enter Swedish university will go ahead – despite a government U-turn.

Swedish university exam unlikely to go ahead at all this year
In a normal year, 100,000 students sit what is known as the SweSAT or 'högskoleprovet'. Photo: Malin Hoelstad/SvD/SCANPIX

The Swedish Scholastic Aptitude Test (SweSAT, or högskoleprovet) is normally held twice a year, but was cancelled in spring and then later in autumn due to the coronavirus pandemic. But after pressure from opposition parties, the government last week said it would pave the way for the test to take place on its usual date in October in a limited format, open only to people who had not previously sat it.

Usually around 100,000 people sit the exam each year, around 40 percent of them doing so for the first time. The exam is not compulsory, but many people use its results to get into university, and it is seen as a crucial second chance for those who are not able to get accepted based on grades alone.

But any hope lit by the government's announcement last week was quickly extinguished this week, when university principals said it would still not be possible to organise a coronavirus-safe sitting. In the end it is up to the exam organisers to decide whether or not to hold it, so the government holds limited sway.

“They [the university principals] do not want to take responsibility for conducting the exam during the autumn, but would rather spend time and resources on conducting two tests as safely as possible in spring,” Karin Röding, director-general of the Swedish Council for Higher Education (UHR), told the TT news agency on Tuesday.

“I have no reason to have another opinion,” she added.

“It appears to be the case that you are going to have to wait another few months before an exam can be carried out in an infection-safe way,” confirmed Sweden's Minister of Higher Education, Matilda Ernkrans.

Meanwhile the political pressure eased on the Social Democrat-Green coalition government to ensure the test could be held before the deadline for applying to the spring semester of university, when the Liberal party joined the centre-left in voting no to pushing for an autumn sitting. Last week there was a majority for a yes vote on the Swedish parliament's education committee, consisting of right-wing parties Moderates, Christian Democrats, Sweden Democrats and the Liberals, but after the latter switched sides the committee voted no.

The Mdoerates blamed the government for not acting sooner to help the exam go ahead, by for example allocating more money and investigating the possibility of using more venues.

“There is one person who is to blame. That's Matilda Ernkrans,” said the party's education spokesperson Kristina Axén Olin. “The government has handled it really poorly and now it is thought to be too late and impossible.”

Ernkrans argued that she and the government had done everything they could, including making sure that test results from previous years will be valid for eight years rather than the usual five, as well as allocating extra funding to make it possible to hold more than one exam next spring.

Swedish vocabulary

cancel – ställa in

test/exam – (ett) prov

second chance – (en) andra chans

government – (en) regering

semester – (en) termin (note the false friend – the Swedish word semester means holiday)