Union proposes better employment for foreign academics

Foreign-born academics in Sweden are disproportionately overqualified for their job or unemployed and action should be taken to make better use of their talent, according to a new analysis published by Jusek, a union of university graduates.

The union – which represents 88,000 graduates in law, business, administration and economics, computer and systems science, personnel management, professional communication and social science – is proposing a four-point action plan involving:
  • • Increased admission to flexible Swedish vocational training.

  • • Better validation of academic education from abroad.

  • • More flexible study places at Swedish universities to complete previous academic training.

  • • Stimulating measures to include academics born outside Sweden in professional networks.
Sofia Larsen, chair of Jusek, said: "Today, every fifth academic professional is born outside Sweden. But much of the competence that these people can contribute is wasted by too many of them being unemployed or overqualified for their work."

Her comments were made in the preface of the report, Right Job for Academics Born outside Sweden: An updated social economic calculation of a well-functioning work-chain.

For the analysis, Jusek asked Patrick Joyce, an economist at the company Ratio, to calculate the effects upon public finances – those of the government, commune and counties – if academics born outside Sweden were to be given the same opportunities in the workforce as Swedish-born academics.

Income generation

The report found that this would generate SEK13 billion (US$1.4 billion) additional income for the public finances each year.

Joyce bases his calculations on four pre-conditions:
  • • The employment rate for academic professionals born outside Sweden being as high as it is for those born in Sweden.

  • • The unemployment rate being the same for both.

  • • An equal share of those born outside Sweden having work that requires a university degree as those born in Sweden.

  • • The so-called simple jobs, which do not demand any education, which today are held by academics born outside Sweden, being done by Swedish-born employees or non-academics born outside Sweden that are unemployed.
In this scenario, the public finances would be improved by SEK13 billion mainly through the generation of higher tax incomes by some 40,000 more people being employed and by 34,500 foreign-born academics being employed in a job more in line with their educational level.

Between 2014 and 2016 the number of foreign-born academics who were overqualified for their work increased from 45,000 to 55,000 persons. At the same time the potential increase in public financing if they were to be employed at the right level rose from SEK10.6 billion to SEK12.9 billion, or by 20%.

The report, using 2016 statistics, finds that the employment rate of those academics born outside Sweden and aged 15-74 years is 77% compared to 85% for those born in Sweden.

The unemployment rate is 16% for those born outside Sweden versus 5% for those born in Sweden.

Out of 15,000 academics having work that is in the so-called ‘single occupation without education’ bracket, two-thirds were born outside Sweden.

Constructive report

Agneta Bladh, the special investigator into higher education internationalisation in Sweden, said the Jusek report is a “constructive signal to our society”.

“The knowledge and competence of academics born outside Sweden are valuable to society and to our higher education institutions, regardless of whether the academics are international students studying in Sweden or have received their education elsewhere,” she told University World News.

“The internationalisation inquiry proposed in its first report that the government should further investigate the possibilities for higher education institutions to assist refugees and other newly arrived academics in Sweden, in order to strengthen internationalisation at home and to enhance societal development.

“In our coming final report the inquiry emphasises the need to strengthen the ties between higher education institutions and the labour market in order to improve the possibilities for incoming students to secure qualified jobs. These conditions should be as favourable as possible to encourage academics to remain in Sweden for shorter or longer periods and thereby contribute to society,” she said.

Language problems

Kåre Bremer, former vice-chancellor of Stockholm University, said the report is right that there is a problem – perhaps not specific to Sweden but more evident there due to its comparatively high immigration – but he highlighted that the language problems may be part of the equation.

“I believe insufficient proficiency in the Swedish language is a considerable obstacle; although all Swedes speak English you need Swedish in all sorts of qualified work since the Swedish language is used for legislation, official documents and correspondence,” he told University World News.

Mats Benner, professor at the department of business administration at Lund University, who is also visiting professor at KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, NIFU in Oslo, and King's College London, said he fully supported Jusek’s proposal to offer more flexible study places allowing students to complete previous academic training.

He said: “The current model is based on the stable influence of junior students from Swedish high schools, and does not map with the current configuration of study demand.”

He added that Swedish universities need to do a lot more work on validation of foreign credentials.

General election

The Jusek report was published just two weeks before the 9 September general election, in advance of which the right-wing Sweden Democrats party has been polling more than 20%, compared to 12.9% four years ago. The election campaign has focused strongly on the negative consequences of immigration.

Jusek has had a mentor programme for migrant academics since 2010. It supports newly arrived incoming academics who are learning the Swedish language. Participants are economists, degree holders in law, political science, informatics and communication.

The mentor and the student are matched from the preferences of the students for a particular sector of work and specialisation. The programme lasts for seven months and has three group meetings with all participants teaching mentoring, intercultural competence and network building.

Jusek is a part of the Swedish Confederation of Professional Associations (SACO), which has 556,000 members.