Foreign graduates forced out in 10 days

A decision by the Swedish government to force foreign students to leave the country within 10 days after receiving their diplomas has been condemned by opponents of the move.

Writing in the Swedish newspaper Sydsvenskan, the rector of Lund University, Per Eriksson, and a member of the European Parliament, Cecilia Wikström, said the harsh regulation was counterproductive to Swedish interests, while Per-Olof Rehnquist, head of administration at Gothenburg University, on his blog page described the decision as “stupid and shameful for Sweden”.

Meanwhile, Denmark, having experienced a threefold increase in foreign student numbers over the past decade, including a 10-fold increase from Eastern Europe, is considering new regulations to encourage more students from abroad to remain after graduation and work.

“We are awarding these students a first-class education, but when their education is completed, Sweden will have no benefit from these well-educated people,” Wikström and Eriksson argued in their op-ed article. “Many of them are going to countries like the US, Canada, Australia or India.”

Wikström has worked in the European Parliament to improve the lives of students and researchers from outside Europe who want to stay in their host country and, for example, set up their own companies. “Sweden has the worst record in the whole of Europe”, she and Eriksson wrote.

“As far as I can see, this must be addressed for those students having to pay tuition fees from 2011”, Rehnquist said in his blog. “The question is: How could such a law have been enforced? Apart from the national economic motive to cater better for international talents, as the op-ed article discusses, there are strong human rights questions involved.

“Sweden has generous migration policies, receiving more refugees and migrant workers than other European countries, which I think is good. But why exclude this particular group that by their actions have demonstrated they have ambitions and managed to realise these? This is both stupid and shameful for Sweden.”

Borina Åberg from the Conservative Party put a proposal to the Swedish parliament in September to review the regulations regarding residence permits for foreign students. Åberg referred particularly to those establishing their own companies, where the current regulations demand “access to investment capital of SEK200,000 (€28,500), and a plan that would yield profits within two years, to be evaluated and approved by the Swedish migration authorities”.

The motion to the parliament states that the current handling time by the migration authorities is at least six months, forcing foreign students to go home and wait for eventual approval. Åberg says the regulations are too restrictive, and the statement calls on the government to review them and make it easier for students to remain in Sweden and start their own companies.

As University World News reported in May, this not the first time the Swedish parliament has taken action against foreign students. In 2010, the parliament decided that non-European students should pay tuition fees from the following year.

The consequences were dramatic: the number of non-European students applying for a place in Swedish masters programmes plummeted to 25,000 – down from 125,000 the year before – while the number admitted fell from 16,600 to 1,200.

High tuition fees, matching those at Stanford in the US and prominent universities in the UK, combined with the extremely limited possibility of scholarships, made Sweden a far less attractive destination – not least because no Swedish university has a brand comparable to the American Ivy League or the best English universities.