Government signals boost for women and research

The government has signalled that it intends to increase the level of research funding, boost career opportunities for women and young researchers, and establish a new quality assurance system.

“Higher education, research and innovation are prioritised, and it is time to start respecting that research is a long-term activity,” said the Minister of Higher Education and Research Helene Hellmark Knutsson and Member of Parliament and the Committee for Education Gunilla Svantorp.

“The government wants to strengthen higher education and research in dialogue with higher education institutions, responsible authorities and other stakeholders.”

The aim is to draw up a ten-year plan and present it in the next White Paper for research due in 2016.

“We want more women to become professors and we want to strengthen the career prospects for younger researchers, both Swedes and foreign researchers in Sweden,” they wrote.

Recently, the Social Democrat-led government sent out a proposal for a new quality assurance model for Swedish higher education institutions, which is composed of four elements: accreditation of new programmes, evaluations of the internal quality assurance systems at higher education institutions, programme evaluations and thematic evaluations.

The proposal would bring the Swedish quality assurance system more into line with quality measuring systems used internationally, taking into account the quality work done at universities and university colleges, and decoupling this from the financial incentive system introduced by the previous, Conservative government.

The previous, Conservative government increased the research and higher education budget by 26% during their eight years in power, but on the condition that the increase should be challenged to research groups with the strongest performance.

That was very unpopular and heavily criticised by many, as reported by University World News. MP Betty Malmberg has accused the Löfven government of not enforcing this re-allocation.

Associate Professor of Psychology Lena Adamson from Stockholm University, who is also working as a higher education expert for the European Institute of Innovation and Technology, told University World News: “The proposed framework contains a number of possibilities for a new, fresh Swedish quality assurance system.”

Link to funding removed

“One very positive dimension is the removal of the unfortunate linking of results from the quality assurance evaluations to financial resources, one part of the last, heavily criticised system, which resulted in Sweden’s exclusion from the European Association for Quality Assurance in Higher Education, or ENQA.

“However the framework currently focuses more on evaluating higher education institutions’ own internal quality assurance systems than on programme evaluations.”

She believes that quality “happens" in the interaction between teachers and their students and that programme evaluations can evaluate this and drive a student-centred teaching and learning approach more effectively.

She said: “My hope is that the programme evaluations within the proposed framework also will receive a clear role once the system is finalised in a more concrete manner.”

She said the new government had improved relations and communication between the ministry, the new University Chancellor and higher education institutions, which was essential for developing good solutions.

The government’s intentions were unveiled during an annual review of higher education.

Sharp rise in non-EU students

Meanwhile, universities have been boosted by a sharp rise in the number of fee-paying non-EU students taking places on their courses.

The Swedish University Chancellor published the yearly statistics demonstrating that in 2014 Sweden had 290,100 students, 2,900 fewer than in 2013, and 22,000 fewer than in the top year, 2010.

The number of tuition fee-paying students from outside Europe increased by 700 or 29% compared to 2013, reaching 3,100 in 2014. The rise is thought to be due to a concerted marketing drive by Swedish universities.

Most fee-paying students were found at Lund University (477), the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm (420) and Chalmers University of Technology (313).

Blekinge Institute of Technology, however, had the highest proportion of fee-paying foreign students, with 5% against an average of 1% across the 33 higher education institutions receiving foreign students.

Total income from tuition fee-paying students was SEK368 million (US$43 million), which amounts on average to SEK118,000 per student (US$13,700).

The tuition fee-paying students are studying more technological subjects and other more expensive study options than on average among all students.

The total cost of Swedish higher education for taxpayers was SEK63.6 billion (US$7.4 billion), up three per cent from 2013. The largest university is Lund University, with a total budget of SEK7.5 billion, 10% of the total costs.

Between them, all higher education institutions had built up a surplus of SEK12.3 billion (US$1.4 billion).

Although all higher education institutions have a positive balance, for some colleges it is not very large, making them more sensitive to economic fluctuations compared to the larger institutions.