Government launches national internationalisation platform

Five years after an extensive investigation into internationalisation of higher education and research in the Nordic countries, Sweden has established a national platform that aims to enhance the internationalisation efforts of higher education institutions in teaching, research and innovation. How the platform will affect existing internationalisation efforts is a source of some concerns.

The Platform for Internationalisation, shortened to PLINT, has its own webpage hosted by the Swedish Council of Higher Education (UHR).

Mandated by the government in 2021 following the 2017-18 inquiry into conditions necessary to improve internationalisation in Swedish universities led by Agneta Bladh, the platform aims to strengthen Sweden as a knowledge nation, attract international investment, competence, and human capital and to increase the potential for Swedish international breakthroughs.

It also specifically aims to strengthen Sweden’s global links to strategically important innovation and research centres.

To coincide with the launch of PLINT, a video explaining how it will interact with the Swedish Innovation and Research Councils at the seven international offices that Sweden has established in Brasília, London, New Delhi, Peking, Seoul, Tokyo, and Washington was published on PLINTs website.

PLINT aims to support the work on internationalisation and innovation at higher education institutions by identifying problems, raising policy questions, and addressing economic problems. It will facilitate the sharing of working procedures, knowledge, and insights and serve as a knowledge centre for questions on internationalisation, research, and innovation.

Structure and membership

The platform is to be led by a top-level steering group made up of four expert groups in each of its working areas (mobility, responsible internationalisation, Sweden as a knowledge nation, and environmental monitoring and analysis). Group membership is drawn from a total of 53 experts from stakeholder organisations.

The platform also has an eight-member secretariat and enjoys participation from the five governmental agencies: UHR, the Swedish Higher Education Authority, the Swedish Research Council, the Swedish Innovation Agency (Vinnova), and the Swedish Institute.

The director-generals of the five governmental agencies serve as members of the PLINT steering group, with UHR director general Eino Ørnfeldt as chair.

The steering group also has members from the Association of Swedish Higher Education Institutions (SUHF), three Swedish universities (Lund, Jönköping and Gothenburg) and the National Union of Students in Sweden (SFS).

Announcing the PLINT platform in March, Ørnfeld stated: “We already see positive results [from the work of establishing PLINT], but a more fruitful cooperation between higher education institutions will address some challenging questions that still need to be solved.”

Report on establishment

A 26-page report published in March 2023, Reporting back on the mandate of PLINT (in Swedish), sets out the aims of the four priority areas of the platform as follows:

• Questions related to common programmes under different mobility forms;
• Strengthen conditions for mobility within the professional degrees;
• Remove problems and creating better conditions for mobility in relation to migration; and
• Map out grants and other funding for mobility.

Responsible internationalisation
• Increase focus on the part of authorities and higher education institutions around questions on responsible internationalisation and its relevance for research and innovation;
• Contribute to increased knowledge and competence within this area; and
• Develop checklists, guidelines and options for exchanges.

Sweden as a knowledge nation
• Map out existing information on Sweden as a research and innovation country and developing a new toolkit on this;
• Help to make career options in Sweden for international researchers more transparent;
• Improve information on the Swedish higher education system;
• Create a better overview and identify cooperation potential around incoming and outgoing delegations to Sweden; and
• Identify networks for information on Sweden as a research- and innovation country.

External monitoring and analysis
• Identify relevant external monitoring and evaluation gaps in order to support internationalisation of higher education institutions;
• Identify the need for cooperation within organisations to strengthen understanding of the preconditions for internationalisation; and
• Effectively distribute and make transferable information about external monitoring and analysis.

Despite being generally welcomed, there are some reservations about PLINT among some academics.

On 5 April 2023 Universitatslararen, the magazine of the Association of Swedish Researchers and Teachers (SULF), published a story raising concern over the setup of PLINT. According to the article, SUHF had expressed concerns about PLINT’s engagement in matters that are the responsibility of the higher education institutions and whether it would enter into areas where there already are good collaborative arrangements.

Professor Erik Renström, vice-chancellor of Lund University, chair of the SUHF internationalisation committee and member of the PLINT steering group, told University World News SUHF was “positive about the initiative to start PLINT” as such.

Risk of duplication

“However, we question the manner in which parts of the assignment have been planned to be carried out. This means a significant risk of duplicate work, for example, in the area of responsible internationalisation where SUHF, and not least STINT [the Swedish Foundation for International Cooperation in Research and Higher Education], has been carrying out systematic work for many years.

“The same applies to the monitoring and evaluation area, where the Swedish Research Council, Vinnova and the universities themselves have long established processes.

“We have had frank dialogues within the steering group and look forward to these discussions leading to the necessary changes.”

Executive Director of STINT Andreas Göthenberg, who is a member of all four working groups in PLINT, told University World News: “I think that PLINT isn’t exactly what was suggested in the government’s internationalisation inquiry led by Agneta Bladh.

“PLINT is certainly good for relevant actors as a forum to share experiences on internationalisation topics. However, PLINT’s mission is to be a resource that supports the internationalisation work at the universities. Thus, it’s very important that the universities can see clear benefits from the PLINT initiative.”

Linn Svärd, president of SFS, said she had confidence in the PLINT initiative.

“The academy’s function in the knowledge society means that it takes part in a highly globalised world … Students, as well as research and teaching staff, must be given the opportunity and encouraged to [participate in] exchanges and international collaboration.

A step forwards

“Through PLINT, national authorities, stakeholders, etc, come together to solve the obstacles to an internationalised higher education. It is important work and a priority issue for us students and student unions. I have confidence that PLINT is another step towards more responsible internationalisation.

“The students are part of PLINT and we are involved in the work areas. For us right now, mobility is a significant issue, especially in terms of student visas and the opportunity to be involved in student life, also as a sabbatical officer.”

Bladh, who was the chief investigator of the internationalisation investigation and former secretary of state, commented to University World News:

“The internationalisation review proposed a coordination mechanism between the authorities concerned. This has now been a reality through PLINT, a possibility to solve questions between public authorities but also to take on questions that are larger than these single authorities can take on themselves and thereby create better conditions for the higher education institutions.

“Of course, the conditions for internationalisation have changed since the review was handed over to the ministry. The pandemic has given new prerequisites for travelling and for virtual education and in the latter years the security situation in the world has put focus on research collaboration in areas important to the defence sector.”

On criticisms over PLINT embracing responsible internationalisation when several universities (working with STINT) have already conducted work in this area, she said:

“The review did not suggest this. However, as the situation has changed, I believe it might be difficult for PLINT – including both research funding organisations and representatives from universities – to avoid responsible internationalisation as the support and advice from PLINT can be useful for the institutions.

“The issue of responsible internationalisation has been a hot political topic, especially after one of the daily newspapers in Sweden has written negatively regarding collaboration between researchers in Sweden and in non-democratic countries like China,” she said.

Dan Andrée, former representative of Swedish innovation agency Vinnova, based in Belgium, and current Brussels representative for the University Alliance Stockholm Trio, made up of the Karolinska Institute, KTH and Stockholm University, told University World News he had the opportunity to contribute to Bladh’s internationalisation review and believes the national platform could work well.

“In Sweden we have very small ministries and they delegate to governmental agencies, which works well at national level but not at international level in my view. Ministries need to be involved which is missing in these [smaller] different platforms set up for internationalisation.

“Also, missing is the EU-component and [as a result] we miss many opportunities to influence policy at EU level. Unfortunately, these [smaller] platforms tend to focus on bilateral cooperation and not on being active through the EU,” he said.