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UNIVERSITY

Sweden considers U-turn over cancelled university exam

Sweden earlier announced the cancellation for the second time this year of an exam used by thousands of students as a way to enter university – but the government has said it may now go ahead after all.

Sweden considers U-turn over cancelled university exam
In a normal year, 100,000 students sit what is known as the SweSAT. Photo: Yvonne Åsell/SvD/TT

If the Swedish Scholastic Aptitude Test (SweSAT, or högskoleprovet) does go ahead, it would be in a more limited form than usual.

The exam is not compulsory, but students can use their results to get into university. The spring sitting was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic, and earlier in August the autumn sitting was cancelled too, with the Education Minister saying there would likely be two exams in spring 2021 instead.

Now after pressure from opposition parties, the government has said it will allow it to take place this autumn in a limited format.

This means it would be possible for people who have not previously taken the exam to sit it in autumn after all. Usually around 100,000 people sit the exam each year, around 40 percent of them doing so for the first time.

“The government, together with the responsible authorities, has been working intensively so that we can offer the högskoleprov as quickly as possible,” Universities Minister Matilda Ernkrans said.

Asked how many people would be able to sit the exam under the changed rules, she said the decision would be left to the Swedish Council for Higher Education (UHR) which organises the test.

“The SweSAT is a way for people to achieve their dreams, it's an important second chance,” she said, but added: “We have to remember that we're in the middle of a pandemic. Peoples' lives and health must come first.”

The decision to cancel the autumn exam was initially taken after the UHR and 21 universities involved in offering the test said it would not be possible to organise without a risk of spreading infection. The reason is that the test must be taken by thousands of students at the same time, meaning that ensuring social distancing would require around four times more staff and venues as usual.

Three of Sweden's opposition parties, the Moderates, Liberals and Christian Democrats, have argued that the exam should take place anyway. 

But after Thursday's decision, organisers are concerned that there is too little time to arrange the tests for autumn.

UHR's general director Karin Röding told the TT newswire that heads of universities which arrange the test foresaw “significant difficulties” in carrying out the exam in autumn, even in a limited format.

“We discussed limits [on numbers of applicants] over the summer, but as for whether the universities think they can carry out the test in autumn, I'll have to get back to you,” she said.

“If the test is to have any bearing on the spring term in 2021, the test has to be done at the latest by October 25th. There are venues that have to be booked, staff that have to be hired and to want to carry out the test.”

Vocabulary

to cancel – att ställa in

venue – (en) lokal

second chance – (en) andra chans

limited – begränsad

difficulty – (en) svårighet

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UNIVERSITY

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)

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