University leaders lack international experience

Only one Swedish higher education institution, Jönköping University, has a rector or pro-rector with extensive international experience, according to an annual index of internationalisation announced last week.

The Swedish Foundation for International Cooperation in Research and Higher Education – STINT – last week published its annual ‘internationalisation index’ comparing how international 28 Swedish higher education institutions are.

The index consists of six dimensions: research (co-publications with colleagues in other countries), students (mobility of students in and out), PhD students (ratio of foreign PhD students to total PhD students), education (number of courses in English), faculty academic international experience and international experience of the institutional top leaders.

The index, drawing on data from 2014, was presented at a conference in Stockholm on 26 September and was published in a press release from STINT, with a methodology part published in English.

The data was collected from official statistics from the Central Bureau of Statistics, from the University Chancellor Office and from Elsevier on publications; and STINT sent a survey in April/May 2016 to the senior leaders of the higher education institutions (rectors and pro-rectors) asking for their international experience. Five did not reply, and the information on them was collected from their institutions.

One interesting finding is that only one institution has a top leadership with significant international experience – Jönköping University – while six universities have a top leadership with some international experience: Stockholm School of Economics, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Linnaeus University, Stockholm University and the University of Borås.

Measured along the six parameters on internationalisation, Stockholm School of Economics scores highest, followed by KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Karolinska Institute, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences and Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg.

The broad-based universities Lund, Uppsala, Gothenburg, Stockholm, Umeå, and Linköping all score high on research collaboration with colleagues abroad leading to co-authored research articles, and higher education institutions in technological fields have more international PhD students than the others.

Among the older, broad-based universities the score on international doctoral candidates varies, and hence demonstrates that there are different levels of ambition among the older universities to recruit their PhD students internationally, STINT said.

Chalmers University of Technology and Karolinska Institute have the most internationally experienced academic staff, meaning that their staff either have had research stays abroad or have taken their doctoral degree abroad.

Courses in English

There is a correspondence between the numbers of mobile students and the number of courses that the institutions offer in English.

“The younger and smaller institutions are often much less internationalised,” STINT said.

STINT has calculated the internationalisation index each year from 2011 to 2014.

STINT acknowledges that this type of measurement activity is a compromise between availability of data and what dimensions they try to capture and says that they will continue to strive for better national and international data.

“Such data is not only of interest for STINT but also for the Swedish higher education institutions, if they aspire to manage their internationalisation efforts in a proper way,” STINT said.

“There is good reason for all actors in the system of higher education and research to intensify the work with internationalisation,” STINT concluded. “Internationalisation is an important tool for the development of Swedish universities.”

In particular, international research cooperation is often essential for a small country to achieve success, STINT said, both in the more specialised areas and to meet the broad global challenges such as climate change.

Internationalisation had increased over a long period until fee reforms in 2011, which thoroughly dented the curve of progress, STINT added. But universities are now working on ways to make themselves more attractive to students from other countries and the number of international students has increased for several years recently.