Minister of Higher Education and Research Helene Hellmark Knutsson earlier this month appointed Agneta Bladh as a special examiner of the internationalisation of higher education and research, charged with addressing the low international mobility rates of students, university teachers and researchers.
Her task, spelled out in an 18-page government directive, is to propose how more students can have an international perspective embedded in their education, for instance through activities that can lead to students and teachers working abroad as a part of degree requirements.
A statement from the ministry said: “The need for knowledge and competence is increasing and is changing [with] an ever-increasing international working life. Higher education and research have to meet this challenge. Today relatively few Swedish students are studying abroad as a part of their degree, and notably within some professional degrees this proportion is low.
“The mobility therefore has to increase, both for students, teachers and researchers,” the ministry said.
The special examiner will also identify good practice in Sweden and selected universities in other countries. Notably, these will be institutions with study programmes focusing on internationalisation at home that contribute to all those students who are not studying abroad having an international experience and an international perspective built into their education.
The remit also includes working out recommendations on how to increase the attractiveness of Sweden as a study and knowledge destination for foreign students.
The examiner will develop a proposal for a coherent system for applications to Swedish higher education institutions, addressing the question of tuition fees, recruitment strategies, admission procedures and management of residence permits where the situation today is sub-optimal.
In particular, Bladh will develop guidelines for how higher education institutions should budget for the costs of international students, given that there are significant differences between the fee rates charged by Swedish higher education institutions, as previously reported by University World News.
Agneta Bladh has vast experience relevant to the role. She is chair of the Swedish Research Council, a former director general for the Swedish National Agency for Higher Education and former state secretary responsible for higher education and research (1998-2004). She has served as a member of the European Commission high-level group for the modernisation of higher education and as chair of the board of the Swedish Foundation for International Cooperation in Research and Higher Education.
She is also a former rector of Kalmar University (2004-09), which in 2010 merged into Linnaeus University.
Bladh is confident that Swedish higher education will more widely embrace internationalisation, despite the context of rising popularity of nationalist movements internationally.
She told University World News: “I do not think we shall join those forces which want us to isolate ourselves as countries and higher education institutions from each other. The higher education sector is increasing all over the world and there are new opportunities and ways to interact in order to better understand each other. How this could be done differently in the future remains to be seen.”
She said Sweden has a long tradition of promoting internationalisation, but now it is time to consider how to strengthen the prerequisites for this in higher education institutions.
“I believe all higher education institutions in Sweden are devoted to strengthening their links to the higher education community outside our country. As a small country with an industry heavily dependent on export, this is also important for Swedish society as whole,” she said.
But she added that the current national regulations “do not always support the higher education institutions in their endeavours”.
Karin Åmossa, head of research and international affairs at the Swedish Association of University Teachers and Researchers, told University World News: “It is good that the government now is focusing on the question of internationalisation and the tuition fees [for international students]. We would like to have seen them removed, but we do not have any great hopes that this will be the case now. Agneta Bladh has good competence to examine these questions.”
Caroline Sundberg, chair of the Swedish National Union of Students or SFS – representing 275,000 students – said in a press release that the union is ready to collaborate with the examiner and welcomes the opportunity to press her to remove tuition fees and establish a national grant fund to secure a broadening of recruitment.
“In particular we welcome the call for ‘internationalisation at home’ since our principal view is that internationalisation is about more than mobility statistics,” she said.
Lena Adamson, director for the Swedish Institute for Educational Research, told University World News: “Up until 2011 we treated all students alike irrespective of their origins. Introducing fees for international students was, for a number of reasons, a tremendous mistake. So it is very positive that these matters are included in this investigation.
“Hopefully we can have a new order in the future where we welcome all students on equal terms and see that they bring quality to both our higher education institutions and to our society.”
Bladh’s preliminary report will be published at the end of January 2018 and the final report by the end of October 2018.
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