Twice as many foreign academics are in temporary positions

Foreign born academics working as research and teaching staff in higher education institutions in Sweden are twice as frequently employed as temporary staff compared to academics born in Sweden, according to statistics from the Swedish Higher Education Authority or UKÄ.

Statistics across all categories of employed staff demonstrate that 45% of foreign born employees are in temporary positions compared to 20% of Swedish born staff.

Correcting for positions that are normally temporary in higher education institutions, for example guest professors, 18% of those with a foreign background are employed on a temporary basis compared to 9% of Swedes.

The secretary general of the Swedish Association of University Teachers and Researchers or SULF, Git Claesson Pipping, said that the high rate of internal appointments at Swedish universities was one factor behind the statistics – and that the gap should not be that big.

The statistics

The UKÄ definition of a foreign staff member is either a person born abroad with two foreign-born parents, or a person born in Sweden with two parents born outside Sweden.

Out of 30,835 research and teaching staff registered in the UKÄ database, 28.5% were employed in temporary positions. Of the total population, 10,482 full-time equivalent staff fall under the UKÄ definition of having a foreign background, which is around 35% of the total number of research and teaching staff. And 45% of these people are employed on a temporary basis.

There are significant differences according to which scientific positions are examined.

Out of a total of 5,058 full-time equivalent professors, 25% are foreign staff members and only 6% of them are employed in temporary positions, which is the same proportion as Swedes in this category.

Of those classified as in a ‘recruitment position’ (3,642) – for instance, PhDs and postdocs – 70% are of foreign origin and 99% are employed in temporary positions, which is also the same percentage as the Swedes in this category.


Lund University senior lecturer Kjell Nilsson, on behalf of the university section of the Swedish Union of Civil Servants, told University World News it was likely that structural discrimination and internal appointments were important factors.

“But other factors should also be investigated, for instance age composition of the different groups, time since receiving PhD degree and time of employment in temporary positions.

“Therefore, we hope that further studies of these variables will be made, including comparisons between universities regarding employment practices and staff composition, to get more detailed explanations of the difference between these groups.”

Agneta Bladh – former university rector, former secretary of state for education and science and recent government special investigator for higher education internationalisation – told University World News that her internationalisation reports did not address the issue of foreign academic staff numbers at Swedish universities.

“First, I see it as positive that 35% of the scientific staff have a foreign background. The other side of the coin, the high proportion of temporary employed, is a problem both for those born in Sweden and abroad.

“Even if the figures totally are not good, the figures do not give sufficient information about the staff, except certain positions. The main ‘bulk’ of temporary positions is a category where you cannot draw any conclusion. Is the main part in research only or evenly spread between research and training? There are a lot of temporary research positions due to high external funding in the larger institutions.”

Annika Haglund, who has investigated the data at UKÄ, said that just raising the question about foreign academics and temporary employment “is a good start”.

UKÄ is planning to take this work further. For instance, said Haglund, the statistics would look at women and men. Also, researchers would look at Swedish staff with an international background – “those having a university degree who are not Swedish”.