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EDUCATION

Sweden cracks down on high-tech exam cheating ring

Swedish authorities have uncovered an organized crime plot that made at least 10 million kronor through helping prospective students cheat in a university entrance exam.

Sweden cracks down on high-tech exam cheating ring
File photo of students sitting the Swedish SATs in 2013. The students pictured are not suspected of cheating. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

Every year, tens of thousands of people sit the Swedish Scholastic Aptitude Test (SweSAT, or högskoleprovet). The exam is not compulsory, but prospective students can use their results to help them get into university.

Cheating has been a problem for years, with authorities struggling to identify the offenders. But on Saturday, while the exam was taking place, the Swedish Economic Crime Authority hit several addresses in a raid.

Three people have been arrested so far, and prosecutors warn more are to come.

The network at the centre of the affair is said to have been operating for four or five years, marketing itself online and on social media and has been using advanced equipment including earpieces.

“This is very serious from a societal perspective – both legally and morally. They have contributed to people being able to buy places on attractive courses,” prosecutor Per Hedman told the TT news agency.

One of the three people arrested – a father and his two sons – was an exam invigilator. The trio deny any criminal offence but have made “certain confessions” according to prosecutors, reports TT.

Around 70 people are believed to have cheated on this year's SweSAT test, which was held in 120 locations in Sweden and abroad. More than 75,000 people in total had signed up to sit the test.

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The Swedish Council of Higher Education said it had first been tipped off to organized cheating with the help of earpieces in autumn 2015, and has since been trying to crack down on it.

Measures have included increasing the number of invigilators and making people hand in their mobile phones during the test. Discussions have also been held about frisking people before they enter the exam rooms.

The Council of Higher Education also started carrying out more comprehensive analyses of people's exam answers, which led to around 50 people being discovered cheating.

Six of these had to terminate their university education (five medical students at Karolinska Institute – which has some of the toughest entry requirements in Sweden – and one at KTH Royal Institute of Technology).

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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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