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Are the European university networks forcing Sweden to promote internationalisation?

With plenty of pomp and circumstance, the EU Commission has introduced the European Universities Initiative. In two rounds in 2019 and 2020, a total of 41 networks have been established including almost 300 universities. KTH has joined UNITE!, which was announced in the first round.

Unlike other European countries, there has not been much talk about the European Universities Initiative in Sweden. The majority of other EU member states have contributed with national supplementary financing to universities that have joined the Initiative and the subject is very definitely on the political agenda. Sweden has remained largely silent. Our debate has mainly concerned Swedish Scholastic Aptitude Tests and basic education.

On October 15 I listened to a Swedish Council for Higher Education (UHR) webinar, and even though a few participants tried to raise the issue, it is still primarily those that are most affected that are informed on the subject and who see both opportunities and obstacles.

The most important issue concerning networks and in KTH’s case UNITE!, is naturally that we can build an organisation within the alliance where students, teachers, researchers and administrators can take advantage of the mobility that is the basis for these alliances in order to enable even better education and research. Within UNITE!, we have identified a large number of obstacles standing in the way of realising these aims.

These concern for example, accreditations, qualification rules, student funding and insurance policies. Despite being a member of the EU, political interest in and understanding of these needs has been virtually non-existent to date, not least the realisation that there has been no follow-up to the Internationalisation Inquiry presented three years ago.

And yet. In the short term, the most significant effect of the European university networks will perhaps be the necessary changes that will be made in our Swedish regulatory framework. Anything else would send very strange signals.