The inquiry, launched by the government in 2017, published a report earlier this year containing objectives for an international education strategy 2020-2030 aimed at promoting Sweden’s attractiveness to foreign talent.
“Creating favourable conditions for higher education…neither begins nor ends at our national borders”
The second part looks at how to promote Sweden as a study destination and strengthen the internationalisation of its system, advocating for internationalisation to be integrated into policies at the national level through increased cooperation between government agencies.
“Creating favourable conditions for higher education, research and innovation policy neither begins nor ends at our national borders,” the report reads.
“Therefore, it is also essential that actors on the national level coordinate their efforts to internationalise higher education and research. The international partnerships of higher education institutions strengthen the links between countries, and can therefore also have an important, positive diplomatic impact.”
To foster the country’s attractiveness to international talent, the inquiry recommends increasing its promotion abroad.
The Offices of Sciences and Innovation, currently in six Swedish embassies, should be expanded and strengthened to promote Swedish higher education institutions.
Also, the report states that a pilot project should be launched for the establishment of two new international offices specifically to meet higher education’s need for international cooperation, which should be hosted by an agency outside the Government Offices.
The Swedish Institute remit to promote Sweden as a study destination should be expanded too, and a program for Swedish research and higher education ambassadors should be established within the Swedish Institute, in cooperation with the Association of Swedish Higher Education Institutions.
To coordinate issues affecting internationalisation within higher education and research, the report suggests the creation of a platform coordinated by the Swedish Institute, the Swedish Higher Education Authority, the Swedish Council for Higher Education, the Swedish Research Council and Sweden’s Innovation Agency.
The steering group for the platform, it advises, should be composed by the directors of the agencies, a representative for other research funding bodies and two representatives from universities – but working groups could also include students.
“The possibilities to become established in the local labour market is also a key factor”
A number of changes to the visa process are also suggested to attract more international students – as well as an accent on ensuring students have real employment opportunities at the end of their studies.
“The possibilities to become established in the local labour market is also a key factor for many students when choosing a study destination,” the report states.
Among its recommendations is the creation of a joint online platform for international students to manage university, scholarship and visa applications. English-medium institutions should also ensure that they include a work experience element in their courses to facilitate students’ integration and employability.
Advocating for a better mutual understanding and cooperation between the higher education sector and the Swedish Migration Agency, the inquiry makes proposals on migration matters which it says are inspired by the Dutch system, with universities acting as sponsors and applying for permits on behalf of the students.
The students’ ‘intention to study,’ the report states, should be assessed by the institutions, with the other conditions still assessed by the Swedish Migration Agency. In the long term, the inquiry advocates for a government system to certify higher education institutions to deal with applications for residence permits for studies and research, and for work permits.
Regarding the issue of tuition fees, the inquiry advises against the introduction of national regulations, deferring the decision to the individual institution. Students, however, should have their tuition fees refunded in case their study permit is not granted, and exclusion for non-payment of fees should be abolished, it says.
The inquiry also calls for the introduction of more scholarships, explaining that it’s a major factor in driving international student recruitment.
“The lack of Swedish scholarships has also been highlighted as one of the main barriers to the recruitment of foreign students,” it says.
Among the new funds, it proposes a new SEK 50m scholarship program for students studying for a master’s degree in connection with prominent research environments, covering both tuition fees and living costs, and another SEK 50 million scholarship program for national bilateral cooperation should be created.
Also, institutions should be allowed to use up to 0.3% of the funding for the first and second-cycle level to reduce tuition fees for international students in special cases.
Finally, the report also advocates for an increased participation of international students in decision-making processes, suggesting a closer collaboration with students’ unions to ensure that internationals are included and have an influence.