Internationalisation even more important in a changing world

That internationalisation and cooperation across borders are necessary to meet the challenges the world faces ought to be self-evident. In Sunday’s Sydsvenska Dagbladet (https://www.sydsvenskan.se/2018-11-11/vi-ser-med-stor-oro-pa-den-vag-av-nationalism-och-populism-som-sveper-over-sverige-europa-och-manga-lander-i-varlden), several colleagues and I write about this in an opinion piece on this very subject and that our research and knowledge society should be open and accessible. This is particularly important at a time when narrow-minded, fact denying mindsets tend to give the impression that the world should and ought to shrink.

As a small country, Sweden has managed to assert itself in global competition by both educating students and attracting skilled researchers from all round the world. Via close cooperation between industry and the engineering sciences, many Swedish companies were able to become internationally established in the early years of the 20th century. However, there is much more still to be done here if Sweden is to be able to continue to have a place in the international arena.

This is something that appears to be the thinking behind the government inquiry “Increasing the Attractiveness of Sweden as a Knowledge Nation” that has just been published (https://www.regeringen.se/rattsliga-dokument/statens-offentliga-utredningar/2018/10/sou-201878/). With the help of a number of measures, it should be easier and more attractive for both international students and researchers to come to Sweden. By establishing a presence abroad and vice versa, for example, international freedom of movement, the aim of the inquiry, should increase in both directions.

The inquiry proposals include keeping a closer eye on what is happening outside Sweden and creating an organisation to boost Sweden’s international presence. These proposals are good if they also give universities greater freedom to further develop existing partnerships with foreign partner universities via university branches.

I welcome the call for a greater focus on higher education and research such as via research and innovation offices and TeamSweden.

From my own experience, I know that Swedish ambassadors around the world are a big help when universities want to organise activities. However, in addition to this, more knowledge and expertise are required for Swedish higher education and research among the echelons that work to raise Sweden’s profile. This can only benefit Swedish universities.

What’s more, the inquiry appears to have taken a proper look at how the process for foreign students that pay to study here can be made easier and who could easily get caught up in a maze of public authority contacts. This is welcome, to enable student visas to be granted more quickly.

Something else that the inquiry wants to see is more grants to enable students to finance their studies and living expenses etc., in Sweden. Student voices and student rights that should also apply for foreign students are also named in the inquiry. This is already the case today with the barriers that exist being mainly language-related.

However, I would also have liked, as I wrote when the interim report was published, a clearer and more pronounced strategy concerning which parts of the world we should target. The problem for such a Swedish internationalisation strategy is that we live in a changing world, however. Nonetheless, international cooperation, student and knowledge exchanges are imperative for academia and vital for positive social development.