Rise of law may deter foreign students

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Voters have granted the anti-immigration Swedish Democrats national influence for the first time, raising concerns for universities already tied down by red tape over international recruitment.

The far-right party came second in a tight parliamentary election on September 11, winning 20.5% after almost all the votes were counted, up 3 percentage points from the last election in 2018.

The swing would help give a broad right-wing coalition a three-seat majority in parliament if common ground can be found between the far right and the moderate, liberal and Christian Democrat parties.

Sweden’s Democrats have vowed to halt immigration from non-European countries, ending a massive asylum-based immigration policy that began in the 1990s, although the rules have already become increasingly more stringent.

Mats Benner, dean of Lund University’s School of Economics and Management, said Times Higher Education that immigration policy was “a nuisance to universities already as it is, and I wouldn’t expect it to get any easier”.

“It is complicated at the moment to reconcile restrictive migration policies with the international flow of undergraduate, master’s, doctoral and post-doctoral students,” he said, adding that a “large proportion ” of Lund’s doctoral and post-doctoral students had been affected by such policies.

He said students and scholars who would not be personally affected by stricter rules could still be put off by Sweden as a destination if it adopted a less welcoming posture. “I don’t foresee any changes that will bring [Sweden] more appealing,” he said.

While a government more hostile to immigration would not promote internationalisation, Prof Benner said, Sweden’s Democrats did not pose the broader threat one might expect in other countries.

Despite its origins in the neo-Nazi scene, the far-right party was “quite uncomfortable when it came to universities”, he said.

“You don’t find the kind of anti-academic sentiment that you would find in, say, Australia or the UK,” Prof Benner said.

According to Tim Ekberg, a former civil servant in the Ministry of Education and Research and director of planning in Lund: “Historically, right-wing parties have had a slightly greater interest in large-scale excellence investments and a lesser interest in investing in university colleges. . There has also been greater interest in implementing reforms that increase the autonomy of right-wing bloc higher education institutions.

But the fragile nature of a loose right-wing coalition meant major changes in higher education policy were unlikely in the coming years. “Safe to say that the biggest challenge for the new prime minister will be managing the balance between the Swedish Democrats and the Liberal party,” Mr Ekberg said.

During election campaigns, the Association of Swedish Higher Education Institutions renewed its calls for academic freedom to be enshrined in the constitution, but Professor Benner said such “low-hanging fruit” would be out of reach. scope of the right now widened.

“The economic slowdown, rising inflation, rising interest rates, rising energy costs and rising rents are likely to affect the higher education and research sector in a more greater extent than the new political reforms,” ​​said Mr. Ekberg.

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