Scandinavia’s biggest inquiry into internationalisation

The internationalisation inquiry overhauling the Swedish higher education and research system has called for a series of measures to improve opportunities for Swedish students to study abroad and to attract international talent to Swedish universities.

These include a better visa or residency regime to attract researchers and international students, the establishment of a substantial new grant system for tuition-fee eligible students from outside the European Union/European Economic Area, strategic use of English in the teaching of courses, “an opportunity window” in Swedish degree studies to make student exchanges feasible and joint degrees at each degree cycle.

The remit of the inquiry is to propose new objectives in the Higher Education Act and a new national strategy for higher education institutions with a broad remit covering higher education, research and societal interaction activities.

It will also propose how more students can gain an international perspective in their education through more students, teachers and researchers studying or working abroad, and through better internationalisation at home.

Finally, the inquiry will recommend measures to increase Sweden’s attractiveness as a study destination and knowledge nation through such means as a review of the system for tuition fees.

The inquiry says the present 7% staying-on rate of international students graduating at masters and doctoral level is too low and argues that measures should be taken to increase this proportion.

Wrestling with the internationalisation concept

Throughout the inquiry an extensive discussion of the concept and dimensions of internationalisation was undertaken.

The report* of the first part of the inquiry’s findings, passed to the minister of higher education and research at the end of January, states that it is using a new comprehensive definition of internationalisation under which internationalisation is recognised as a necessity for universities, not only something that is warranted, and applies across the university’s activities and not just in teaching and learning.

Referring to the researchers Hans de Wit, Karola Hahn and Ulrich Teichler, the inquiry endorses the concept of ‘mainstreaming internationalisation’: internationalisation is no longer a separate part of decision-making processes, guidelines or strategies at universities, but is integrated into other main tasks like education, research, personal management, economy, management and support for students.

Mainstreaming of internationalisation in its most obvious form implies that internationalisation activities are included under other activities at the university and that a separate function such as a vice-rector for internationalisation is not needed.

Proposed legislation change

The inquiry proposes that new wording regarding internationalisation should be added to the Higher Education Act in order to reflect the increasing importance of internationalisation and international cooperation to higher education institutions and society as a whole.

As proposed by the inquiry, the Higher Education Act should state that all international activities at each higher education institution should contribute to improving the quality of education and research and, nationally and globally, to the sustainable development that higher education institutions are meant to foster.

Main recommendations

The report proposes eight major objectives to improve internationalisation, with 71 concrete sub-points in these categories, some for the government and some for the higher education institutions. The aim is to ensure that:
  • • Internationalisation characterises the management of higher education institutions.

  • • Sweden has a high level of attractiveness as a study destination and knowledge nation.

  • • All students who earn university degrees have developed their international understanding or intercultural competence.

  • • Staff at higher education institutions, including doctoral students, have solid international experience and strong international networks.

  • • Higher education institutions enjoy favourable conditions for increasing strategic international partnerships and cooperation.

  • • Higher education institutions have strong potential to contribute to global development and global social challenges.

  • • Support provided by government agencies towards the internationalisation of higher education institutions is tailored to the needs of the institutions.

  • • Systems for monitoring and evaluating internationalisation are well established.
The inquiry proposes 34 action lines in the eight main recommendation categories for the government.

One of them mandates the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency to further develop Swedish support for competence building within higher education so that this will reinforce the priorities in Swedish development assistance.

Another asks the government to launch a new mobility programme for teacher exchanges outside Europe funded by SEK5 million (US$617,000) per year. And another calls for a so-called ‘Team Sweden Knowledge’ to be established within the governmental strategy to support Sweden as a knowledge nation.

The inquiry sets out 24 separate action lines for higher education institutions. It calls on them to ensure that by 2025 at least 25% of students spend at least three months of their education abroad. It calls on them to strengthen possibilities for ‘virtual mobility’ and for national mobility support schemes to be reinforced and for the Swedish use of and proactive influence on EU programmes to increase.

The inquiry proposes 14 action lines for universities to take collaboratively, including that "the government, other authorities and the higher education institutions collaborate to create and support the establishment of educational and research collaboration with international partner institutions at Swedish institutions".

The inquiry has produced a first document which suggests this is likely to be the most comprehensive investigation into internationalisation ever conducted in Scandinavia. But curiously it has received almost no discussion in the Swedish university press or in the Swedish public sphere.

* The report is in Swedish, with a version with a summary in English.