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University Crisis in Sweden

the failure of Swedish universities to educate

Gjeebes
post 12.May.2015, 08:16 PM
Post #1
Joined: 20.Feb.2012

Hello all,

I have been employed as a faculty member (in research, with teaching) for some time now, at a Swedish university, and have really been blown away how the system works here, or, rather, "doesn't work". In my opinion, at least based on things I have witnessed myself, the rubber stamping of low quality research output, and rewarding of low quality student work is just the beginning of the problems. I wonder who of you have had similar situations and wanted to start a discussion here. In my opinion, the crisis started long ago, but somehow evades the echo-box Swedish media. By now, it is essentially too late, and will require an enormous, and organised effort to fix, but who in Sweden will up to the task? For any of you foreigners who work at a Swedish university, you will know "organisation" is not really much of a "thing" here.

Some items that might be of interest to start any discussion are facts such as the inability to put in place any sort of binding student deadlines for assignments or reports, unless this has been added to the "course plan" through a separate effort, 6 months in advance of the course start date. Usually, due to severe departmental disorganisation, one doesn't necessarily know one may being teaching on a course more than 3 months in advance, or with even less
notice sometimes. I fail to see the brilliance in this, students in Sweden are pampered beyond all belief, and I highly doubt this "no deadlines" crap helps them prepare for the real world. Another amazing feature of the department I am in (although I think the following is university wide) is that students have "10 years" to hand assignments and reports etc in (even if you got the deadlines set 6 months in advance). I am not joking, and I stress that because when I was told I thought it was a joke, but my prefekt was serious. Students here are able to rewrite exams forever. Master's students, can continue repeating their project work for years (at a cost of ~200,000 SEK/year to the tax payer) after failing their orals and students are not required to attend lectures whatsoever. In fact, they expect to be able to download all lectures at their leisure and they may actually start crying if you don't provide this for them. Most of the
undergraduates/graduates I have encountered would never have been able to gain entry into universities I have either studied at, or worked in, across several different countries. And if somehow magically they did manage to enter, they would not proceed very far since from what I can tell, most of them are completely ill-prepared for university study. I have called out colleagues at departmental meetings whom have admitted to lowering the bar because the students they are receiving from gymnasium are simply not up to the task. I had to remind them that our department was neither a charity nor a high-school (and for the record, my high-school didn't lower the bar, they kicked your ass into gear instead). Yes, I could say I have become really popular with my "local" colleagues. They seem to love being called out for selling their students out, for failing to prepare them as one might expect someone who has engaged in a 4 or 6 year course of study to be prepared.

I am quite certain those of you reading this, who are foreign educated but engaged whatsoever in a Swedish university, must know exactly what I am talking about. The Swedish post-docs that produce nothing who are being promoted by their Swedish bosses simply because they fall into line when they are asked to. Are they capable of independent research, as their PhD "qualifications" would suggest? Hardly, but then again why would the be when they don't receive any kind of push to become independent, and being independently capable of creating knowledge is not valued. But the inadequacies are system wide. I was the first person, ever, in the history of my department to fail a master's student. I found this out when I went to hand in the paperwork to be filed, when the secretary informed me of this fact, followed by her not knowing how to proceed. I had even before this been trying to show my dear Swedish colleagues that what they call a "masters" is a joke, and makes their graduates at a disadvantage, making them completely uncompetitive. And how did the Janters like this? Well, who cares, 6 months later our department's "masters'" programme was reviewed and subsequently lost the right to examine masters students.

Given the hidden but well known excessively high unemployment for Swedes aged 18-25 years old, universities seem to be a dumping ground for unqualified, under-educated, welfare-mentality, self-entitlement minded students that either perform well, nor seem to have any ambition to perform well. In fact, it would seem that they have never received a critical assessment of their efforts, ever, anywhere. I guess this is the result of years of Swedish schooling where success is defined by achieving the lowest possible outcome, from aiming so low one can never possibly fail. It is a rather lagom affair on all counts, and in general, the Swedish faculty lead the way in that regard. Nothing much ever seems to have been expected of them, so they know not how to expect anything much from their students. The academic inbreeding in unbelievable in Sweden. I have colleagues whom either already have, or will, spend their entire career, from student to professor, in the same university. Most of them have never even performed post-doctoral work at all, let alone perhaps, outside of Sweden. They are promoted often without any competition whatsoever, and they tend to have an extremely narrow knowledge base. There was an official report released from an official investigation of why Swedish universities are underperforming, commissioned by KTH, and carried out by at least one member of the Nobel committee from VR, which said as much, and more. And while it has been presented at various universities, by the authors, nothing has been done to remedy the multitude of problems cited. VR is itself a another whole mess of its own. It would be a complete laughing stock were it not handing out Nobel prizes each year, and I am not sure how long into the future it will be able to ride those coat-tales to victory.

I have barely scratched the surface here, from my many years here, but that is where you come in. Share your stories of the mediocrity that embodies the Swedish university, of how the Swedish university is unable to fulfil its obligations of higher education, and how it is failing a generation of students by rewarding their medicrity with so-called higher education degrees that they quite simply do not earn.
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dogwalker1
post 12.May.2015, 09:30 PM
Post #2
Joined: 20.Feb.2014

Hey man,

you are partly, mostly almost 100% correct in your assessment.

it's pointless though (ironic, isn't it). How come you've stayed in Sweden so long if you are so unhappy?
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Gjeebes
post 12.May.2015, 09:58 PM
Post #3
Joined: 20.Feb.2012

It took quite a while to put all the clues together oddly enough. Was difficult to believe what I was seeing as I was seeing it. Careerwise, I am OK since I have been productive. Not just up to myself to stay or go but the effort is now on to leave this waste of an experience far far behind. Economics in some places are clearing so there are more opportunities presently.

Oh, and I was unable to edit out the numerous typos and in some cases bad spelling mistakes. I have commented to the editor of TL to allow me to edit my own piece...let's see if it will become possible...
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LLHope
post 12.May.2015, 10:07 PM
Post #4
Location: Stockholm
Joined: 1.Jan.2014

The problem starts in the schools ... which was accurately pointed out by the OECD in their last report. Whilst the Pisa score was dropping over the years, the school Merit scores are rising ... Conclusion, the teachers are marking-up so-so work. Yet that point still has to sink in with the establishment! sad.gif
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littleviking
post 12.May.2015, 10:21 PM
Post #5
Joined: 26.Feb.2014

I have no clue where your work but at the Uni I have attended we had very strict guidelines and deadlines. You did do your assignments on time you did not pass part of the course and in case you had to pass that specific part to be part of the course you had to do the assignment, and got between 2 to 5 assignments extra to be passed. I had a horible flu for 2 weeks and barely got out of bed and I missed 2 deadlines and if I would have had a doctors notice I would have had 6 extra assignments.
But on the other hand the practicality of the course materials sucked big time. The most ridiculous lecture was the ones with guest lectures going on about the importance of a business plan and documentation in which all 5 guests said they either got some external to do it for them or they made one after getting successful or even funnier no business plan at all but you know it is important to have one.
All the jobs now require some idiotic university education for basic stuff that could be learned in a 2 months course and very little stuff you learn in a university has any practicality.
I busted my brain to get my second masters while my teacher gave not even a shit, supervisors that didnt answer their emails for months and were more interested in making white papers instead of research papers. But we did have deadlines so at least we learn to deal with that and about a truck full of stress.
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Gamla Hälsingebock
post 12.May.2015, 11:16 PM
Post #6
Joined: 21.Dec.2006

About 10 years (?) ago some industry leaders approached the Education Dept. here in the USA...Their complaint was that high school graduates were not worth hiring for even the simplest of jobs...

I suspect that some time in the future they may say the same about college grads.

What is happening???
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Gjeebes
post 13.May.2015, 06:05 AM
Post #7
Joined: 20.Feb.2012

To littleviking: I was uni educated across two countries, so I have always assumed that uni education would amount at least to the same result in yet another country, say, Sweden for example. I do not know what it is like working at a Swedish company, but in other places, the bottom line usually comes down to money, right? One needs to be able to perform in a stressful environment, and uni should make one prepared for this, provide training for this. It should be a load of work and stress, and if it isn't, something has gone wrong. Uni is not easy, it is a BIG challenge, and it should be this way. It is not for the faint hearted you could say and requitres a massive effort and dedication in order to succeed.

I do not know your particulars, or those involved, but I can say a huge problem where I am is that "professors" (many of whom would never ever ever make it as professors in other places I have been) act only in their own interests (and are allowed to do so), whereas in other places professors act in the interest of the university. There is zero accountability here, and it trickles down from top to bottom. Many people hold their positions due to nepotism. They are unqualified, but others who are also unqualified hire them, since once you get things going in that direction, it becomes very dangerous to the unqualified, to allow in more qualified people.

If you look at titles in Sweden, 6 or more Swedish universities actually renamed "assistant professor" to "post-doc". It is absolutely insane. They claim to correct the translation from American English, to British English; complete non-sense! A post-doc lives on other people's research funds and has very little actual responsibility whereas even a "junuior" assistant professor is writing funding applications and survives only as far as they are granted (more or less). So the incompetance goes right up to the faculty level. The system here is a total mess.
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Gjeebes
post 13.May.2015, 06:31 AM
Post #8
Joined: 20.Feb.2012

To gamla: yes, I wonder this too. Too many hours spent on video games, out of reality? I don't know, but it seems like the children I have to deal with don't know what responsibility is, nor hard work, nor perserverance. Sweden coddles their children, pampers them to a fault, and these are the"adults" we get to deal with. Yet if you talk with a Swedish parent, they claim their children are extremely "independent"!

There is an education crisis in Sweden, period. It is down to poorly prepared students, and also incompetent faculty. So far we have heard about the high-school crisis, but it baffles me as to why no one really looks to the uni here since there is much more at stake, and much more money involved. This is partly down to echo-box media owned by political parties in Sweden. Maybe too risky to take on the uni crisis, since then they might have to do something about it, and that might make them risk votes. If Swedes had any clue whatsoever of the enormous quantity of tax kronor that is running through these places, and then straight down the drain, there would be riots! Or, well, maybe just a fist in the pocket more likely due to Swedes abnormal/unhealthy aversion to conflict. Swedish universities have resources beyond belief that other places would kill for, but here, it seems totally taken for granted, and then it is more or less wasted. It is quite sad. A reform is needed but this will never happen since cancer can't cure cancer. Those holding the positions that need to be repaired, are the actual problem, and they will never threaten themselves with extinction, so this will just go on and on and on as if it were the normal business.

I should say also, there ARE some very good students, but they are far and few between. In a place where they would have to pay tuition, they would simply go away and therefore not clog up the system like they do here.
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DuneSunny2
post 13.May.2015, 08:34 AM
Post #9
Joined: 5.Aug.2014

I agree.
I have been a guest tutor at one of Stockholm's institutes for the last 5 years. The topics that are let through as being suitable for a Master's Thesis are on the level of 1st or 2nd year course work in the UK.
I also get frustrated with the "no deadline" mentality as when it comes to hiring these students, they have no concept of meeting deadlines / client requests. It infuriates international clients who cannot just get told that the person responsible has not kept the deadline, gone to collect the kids etc etc.
On the other side, many Swedish companies in my sector have limited their liability to absolute zero in the "small print" that it makes no sense to sue them - I will give that to the Swedish companies - they know how to maintain their "lagom" life style.
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Bsmith
post 13.May.2015, 04:05 PM
Post #10
Joined: 25.Jun.2009

I am a teacher at a public school in the US. I have most certainly seen a lowering of standards in education over the last 30 years. Our last principal suggested that giving a mark of 0% for missing work is too harsh. She wanted us to give the students a score of 50% for missing work instead. I asked her if I could not show up for work and still get 50% of my salary.
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Gamla Hälsingebock
post 13.May.2015, 04:16 PM
Post #11
Joined: 21.Dec.2006

Here in New York, I have had teachers tell me that there is a "failure quota"...In other you can only fail a few of many!!!
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DuneSunny2
post 13.May.2015, 04:51 PM
Post #12
Joined: 5.Aug.2014

QUOTE (Bsmith @ 13.May.2015, 03:05 PM) *
I asked her if I could not show up for work and still get 50% of my salary.


Just about sums it up. I like the comment:)
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Gjeebes
post 13.May.2015, 05:57 PM
Post #13
Joined: 20.Feb.2012

Well this thread is getting highjacked but I think it is anyway interesting to hear from the rest of you...

Bsmith: Yes, Sweden is very much all touchy feely with the "evaluations" where one cannot fail. It should be all gumdrops and candy trees, chocolate rivers etc. I fail to understand the connection though, to the real world, where it is much less merciful. And I don't think it is good practice to patronise students, if they do well, they should know it, but this is equally true when then don't. In my mind this is just setting that person up for disaster. It's one thing to tell your 2.5 year old their crayon portrait of dad (which is in reality just some scribbly mess!) is beautiful, to encourage them to draw, but should we be treating young adults the same way? Hell no!

Gamla: what you mention is really sad. Have you been given any hint of the rationale behind this progressive brilliance? In my mind, you need to be able to skate to play hockey. If you can't skate, should we take the ice away? Hell no!

And don't get me wrong, I am never pleased in telling a student they have failed. It is absolutely zero fun for me, but it is necessary to give an honest evaluation of student performance. We owe it to them.
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Gjeebes
post 13.May.2015, 06:12 PM
Post #14
Joined: 20.Feb.2012

DuneSunny2: yes, I am not surprised. There is more to this though. Where I am from, we pay for the education. If you want to go to masters, you must do what is called an honours project first, as a kind of "check" that you could possibly be cut out for research. If you get through that, then you will be able to go on the masters. Then if you do fine in the masters, you will be able to go on to do a PhD. If you get to masters, and muck it up, you are basically told not to waste your time and money going to PhD, since trouble at masters level means disaster in PhD level. The masters student I failed finally admitted to me he did not write his thesis (which I had guessed, which is why I asked him), his supervisor and a postdoc wrote it for him (and it was still riddled with huge and fundamental mistakes). He went away for another 6 months, to fix the mistakes. In the meantime, his supervisor had sent him to me to fix them for him, argiung that in Sweden the student had a chance to fix it. I told yes, and "he" can fix it, it is not "my" masters thesis (but I was the bad guy). Then after 6 months, I was again the internal examiner for the second defence. So what was the oral? This student understood so little of the first project, he (on his supervisor's advice) began a totally different project, and wrote a new thesis, with all the new mistakes etc. During the "defence" the student actually started arguing with me (I guess he knew the hammer was falling since he was unable to answer questions) that he should get this degree because he had done 13 months work for a 6 month masters. I told him if he needed twice the amount of time as any other masters student, his work should be twice as excellent. And, in Sweden, if I had passed him (as his supervisor was pushing me to do) he would then be eligible to enter PhD studies. Terrible!! But you know, this is happening all the time, except the person does get the masters and then enters PhD studies! Then it becomes the poor advisors problem since in Sweden, if the PhD candidate is having problems it is interpreted as the advisor not doing a good enough job. Never ever ever is the student's performance called into question!
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Bsmith
post 13.May.2015, 06:16 PM
Post #15
Joined: 25.Jun.2009

An education should prepare students to enter the "real" world and be successful. Coddling and giving false praise does not help. In a global economy, graduates will be competing with the best and brightest from around the world. That's what we need to prepare them for.
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