HE sector backs plan for more international students

Agneta Bladh, the special investigator for higher education internationalisation in Sweden, has received strong backing from higher education stakeholders and institutions for her proposals to strengthen internationalisation of Swedish higher education, notably by expanding the intake of international students and making more grants available to them.

Bladh made the proposals in her report, Increased Attraction: Momentum for Sweden as a knowledge nation, which was sent out for comments in October by the minister of higher education and research. Almost 100 institutions had commented by the 8 April deadline, strongly endorsing her recommendation.

Among the 98 institutions responding, the Swedish embassies in Addis Ababa, Bogota, Brasilia, Dhaka, Kampala, Moscow, New Delhi, Paris, Riyadh, Seoul, Tokyo and Washington sent their comments voicing strong interest in her proposal to increase the number of offices for higher education and research at Swedish embassies from six today to 10 in the future.

The Swedish embassy in Riyadh in Saudi Arabia, for example, says it is a positive step to establish more such Swedish offices and is asking for a regional responsibility for them, notably “in the Gulf region, where Swedish universities today have relatively few partner institutions”.

Swedish HE ‘ambassadors’

The Swedish embassy in Kampala, Uganda, wrote: “The proposal that Swedish researchers abroad should be ‘ambassadors’ for Swedish higher education institutions should be complemented so that also foreign citizens working at Swedish higher education institutions can have these functions.

“Alumni from Swedish universities are a very important resource in promoting Swedish interests in Uganda and also in promoting Swedish-Ugandan interests.”

The embassy noted that 1,000 Ugandan students attended an information event at Makerere University in November 2018, seeking information about studying in Sweden.

“Only a few of these have their own funds for paying tuition fees and the costs of living in Sweden. The embassy hence gives its full support to the proposal to increase the funding of grants for international students to study in Sweden,” the embassy said.

The Swedish embassy in Dhaka, Bangladesh, said it looks very positively on a simplified and shortened process for foreign students to apply for a study place in Sweden.

It said the number of Bangladeshi students applying to Swedish universities is very high – more than 21,000 in 2019 – but only a small per cent of them are choosing a study place they could secure.

“The main reason is that many do not fulfil the requirements, but the long duration between applying and getting the message of having been allocated a study place is also affecting the students’ decision, as are the difficulties involved in getting a visa and residence permit in time.”

Simplification needed

The Association of Swedish Higher Education (SUHF), which represents 37 higher education institutions, said: “The process of coming to Sweden as a foreign [tuition-fee paying] student has to be simplified and the processing time for applications has to be significantly shortened.”

It said the handling of the migration questions has to be more transparent and effective.

Sweden’s implementation of the European Union directive for students and researchers recommending a nine-month period after graduation to apply for work and a permanent residence permit should be implemented “as soon as possible”, the SUHF said.

The requirement today that a PhD student must have at least four years of studies as a research student before applying for a permanent residence permit should be modified to “at least four years as a student or a research student”, SUHF said.

SUHF supports expanding the funding of grants for third country students significantly and “beyond those proposals of the special investigator”.

The Swedish Council for Higher Education also said it supports increasing the funding for international student grants.

The Swedish National Union of Students (SFS) said it is still strongly against claiming tuition fees for third country students and that these should be abolished. “The tuition fees are the strongest barrier to mobility and a serious obstacle to internationalisation,” SFS stated.

Andreas Göthenberg, executive director of the Swedish Foundation for International Cooperation in Research and Higher Education (STINT), said he welcomed the suggestion of increasing trend analysis and presence abroad.

He said: “STINT’s establishment abroad [at the Consulate General of Sweden in Shanghai] has allowed it to become one of the few actors in Sweden with experience of supporting strategic efforts at higher education institutions through trend monitoring and analysis, as well as strategic relationship building.”

STINT states in its response to the inquiry that it would be more cost-effective and considerably quicker to task STINT with establishing the suggested pilot offices than to develop new structures for the piloting process.

Minister of Higher Education and Research Matilda Ernkrans will now decide whether to prepare the proposals and present them to parliament alone or with other draft reforms, probably early in 2020.