In the spring, the Internationalization Inquiry published a partial report in which we commented a series of blog posts. At the end of October, the investigation came with its final report. An important part of the investigation has been about tuition fees for third-country students, which we noted in a debate article. Another important part of the investigation, which we now think it is time to comment on, is about the obstacles for international students to pursue student influence.
Students' right to influence is central to the Swedish higher education system, and is established in the Higher Education Act as an introductory provision. Student influence is also highlighted in the Bologna Process Prague Municipality 2001. There are several reasons why influence is important, but when the current provisions were written into the Higher Education Act, the motivation began with “students' commitment to and influence over higher education activities is of great importance for the quality of education. ”(Prop 1999/2000: 260). The students are in the best position to discover what works well or badly in the educations, and therefore the students' perspective is indispensable for the continued development. But being a co-actor and co-creator in your own business is also highlighted as a valuable component in the education, an experience for future working life.
In its final report, the Internationalization Inquiry has asked the student unions how they view the situation, what opportunities and obstacles exist to involve international students in the monitoring and development of the programs. It is clear that most student unions want to involve foreign students more than today. The inquiry identifies a number of factors that can be developed within the framework of current regulations. Sometimes it can be a matter of the union finding new ways, in other places it is a matter of getting the university with it. However, it seems that there are obstacles that the unions and universities cannot overcome themselves.
We wrote already this spring that language is a big obstacle. The state universities and colleges are authorities and must thus use Swedish in certain contexts, for example in decision-making. This of course makes it difficult to be involved in decision-making for students who do not speak Swedish. The Internationalization Inquiry already proposed in the spring that the higher education institutions should be allowed to use other languages, which SFS considers to be a good idea. The inquiry's conclusion is that language is still the biggest obstacle. The conditions for using languages other than Swedish vary, however: In some higher education institutions, English already dominates, in others it is hardly used at all. Some unions, or at least some assignments, also include work with municipalities or other partners that may be difficult to conduct in languages other than Swedish.
But the inquiry also highlights another problem in the final report: That exchange students at Swedish universities and colleges do not have the right to influence or representation. In the Higher Education Ordinance, students are defined as those who are admitted to the program. Exchange students are, however, admitted by a higher education institution in the home country and given access to education in Sweden through an exchange agreement. They are not covered by the ordinary admission rules and are therefore not considered as admitted, and thus not as students. As exchange students are technically not counted as students, the rights that students usually have are denied. This applies, among other things, to the right to influence and representation. Note well that the majority of all international students are exchange students.
In other words, not even half of international students have the right to influence and representation. This is despite the fact that exchange students have other experiences of education and a different pre-understanding, which can shed light on education in Sweden from new perspectives. It could contribute a lot to developing the education. But the legislation is designed so that influence becomes difficult.
As far as representation is concerned, other students have the right to be represented when the higher education institution makes important decisions. That right is realized through the student unions or other elected representatives. But the unions' assignments only include representing those who are students within the meaning of the law. The student unions are certainly active and contribute to the development of educations in which exchange students also participate. Many unions also organize special activities for international students, where exchange students are also welcome. But often it is voluntary tasks for the unions to undertake, and their conditions and the higher education institutions' support for this vary. For example, most unions receive support based on the number of students they represent, and this means that some student unions do not receive any compensation at all for the students who are not counted as students. In educations with many exchange students, the unions thus receive disproportionately little support. It is backwards, given that the unions create value for the exchange students at the same time as the exchange students create value for the educations - two factors that in the long run increase the attractiveness for the higher education institution as well.
Student unions that want to increase engagement among their foreign students can find useful advice in the ninth chapter of the final report. The same applies to higher education institutions. The inquiry recommends that the higher education institutions, together with the student unions, develop the forms of student influence, so that international students will have better opportunities to participate. But in addition, not least the government should ensure that the unions have the resources to represent everyone who studies at our universities. Then legislation is required that recognizes exchange students as students.