A group of leaders of Swedish companies and universities have proposed a new model for financing international students through 1,500 grants. The grants will be calculated on a cost-benefit analysis of at least 20% of the students working and paying taxes in Sweden for five years after graduating.
The leaders represent the companies AstraZeneca, Ericsson, Volvo and AB Börje Ekholm, Gothenburg University and the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm.
In an op-ed article in the major Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter, they proposed that the grants be distributed to higher education institutions based on their numbers of fee-paying international students from outside Europe, combined with an estimate of how many of those students would be eligible for a work permit as a specialist in Sweden upon graduating.
“For Sweden, international students are important,” they wrote: “Swedish industry is to a great degree internationally oriented and hence in need of attracting international talent.”
They pointed out that Sweden had lost 80% of international students from outside Europe after the government introduced tuition fees in 2011 – their numbers plummeted from 8,000 to just over 1,600. Thus Sweden, with 2% of students from outside Europe, was far below the European Union average of 5%.
“At the same time, [the number of] students getting a work permit in Sweden is in decline. In surveys, when asked 85% of foreign students say that they will stay in Sweden upon graduation. In reality only 17% stay behind for work, and this percentage is in decline,” the leaders argued.
“We will therefore call for more grants to be allocated to students from outside Europe. To make Sweden attractive we also have to change our visa rules and work permit regulations, and work out a clear strategy in a collaborative project between Swedish industry and universities.”
To attract students from across the world, the leaders stated, Sweden needed to communicate its higher education and research advantages. “This has to be founded on Swedish industry, higher education and the government taking a shared responsibility.
“We are ready. Is the government ready?”
Approaching parliamentary elections in August 2014, any future change to the tuition fees system – as was decided by a majority in parliament in 2010 – will rest with the Social Democratic party, which at present has a majority in surveys.
A grant system as proposed by the leaders is a more probable solution than a change back to the old system.
Tobias Krantz, head of education, research and innovation at the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise and a previous education minster, said: “I see the proposal as an innovative, important and forceful contribution to the debate on Sweden having to develop a more sustainable recruitment policy.”
Before tuition fees were introduced in 2011, he said in a statement, the country had invited “almost everyone in the world to come to Sweden for their studies, but made it increasingly difficult for them to stay after graduation and participate in Swedish working life”.
Krantz said the new initiative should be followed by other, similar initiatives. “It also proves that Swedish industry is prepared to participate in the further development of a Swedish higher education policy.”
Erik Pedersen, acting chair of the Swedish Union of Students, told University World News that it was “positive” that organisations and companies had started to counter the negative effects that tuition fees have had on the number of students from outside the European Union and European Economic Area.
However: “Higher education tuition has to be free and education can't be treated as a commodity, which any tuition fee based system leads to.
“Sweden needs to abolish tuition fees for students and at the same time change the migration legislation so that students originating from outside the EU-EEA and Switzerland have the possibility to stay in Sweden after completing their studies.”
Foreign graduates forced out in 10 days
Is Sweden recovering from the international student crash?
Receive UWN's free weekly e-newsletters