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 In Focus

Report: The Swedish Knowledge System An Opening for Future Exports

Published 2011-09-21

During 2010-2011, STINT has created a working group consisting of people with major international experience to discuss strategic internationalisation. The work resulted in the report The Swedish Knowledge System – An Opening for Future Exports, presented on 21st September in connection with the STINT Forum on Global Trends and Challenges in Higher Education and Research.

Globalisation has brought enormous changes to the world. Continents and countries have become more interdependent, international cooperation has become more important and international competition has become tougher. Higher education and research is no exception and the area is therefore now in a highly dynamic stage. Competition for students and research funding has led several universities to expand beyond national borders. Their expansion is taking place in various ways, with strategic international positioning as the common denominator.

The availability of undergraduate and postgrad students is limited in Europe. However, increasing prosperity in many other parts of the world has meant rapid rises in student numbers, particularly in Asia where higher education is seen as a key to success.

Many English-speaking countries have long regarded higher education as an important export product, with the emphasis on special fee-paying students coming to the home campus for education. In recent years it has become increasingly common for universities to set up programmes in other countries.

In the new markets, such as China, Southeast Asia and the Middle East, there are attractive and well-funded research milieus which Swedish universities can access, including through participation in competitive networks. Profiling is becoming increasingly important because few universities can lead the world in all fields. Strong strategic alliances in higher education and research are being built globally and creating new opportunities, educational offerings and research strength. For example, in its international strategy Finland aims to position its universities’ international investments where there are Finnish export interests.

In Sweden, the knowledge triangle concept is crucial to an effective collaboration between education, research and innovation. Through internationalisation and strategic partnerships with large dynamic countries, like China, India and Brazil and others, Swedish research, education and innovation can facilitate global changes because of access to the resources available there. Sweden is highly regarded in countries such as China for its innovation and social reforms. Exports of education may be appropriate for countries seeking to build up advanced social systems.

Can these opportunities open the way for a Swedish export of higher education, or of the Swedish knowledge system and what effect does the changed law have, enabling Swedish universities to charge fees for overseas students? During 2010-2011, STINT convened a working group of internationally highly experienced individuals from several Swedish universities to discuss these issues. The group comprised:

Prof. Niclas Adler, former CEO, International Business School, Jönköping
Prof. Eva Björck-Åkesson, CEO, School of Education and Communication, Jönköping
Prof. Ingmar Ernberg, Professor, Karolinska Institutet
Dr. Christer Gustafsson, Regional Archivist, Heritage Halland
Dr. Kjell Nilsson, Senior Lecturer, Lund University
Dr. Jorgen Sjoberg, Strategic Business Developer, Chalmers
Mr. Kay Svensson, International Coordinator, University of Uppsala
Prof. Ramon Wyss, Pro-Vice-Chancellor of international projects, KTH.

The Swedish Knowledge System – An Opening for Future Exports, reports on various perspectives on the opportunities and challenges facing the Swedish knowledge system in regard to tougher international competition in higher education and research.

The report illustrates a need for well-chosen strategies to cope with an increased internationalisation and create the conditions for possible future exports of the Swedish knowledge system. It opens with an analysis of international developments in higher education and research and there is a description of the emerging opportunities and needs in international higher education activities. Sweden’s role in the development of higher education throughout the world is discussed, as well as how increased engagement would benefit Swedish society.

The Swedish knowledge system’s domestic market is then analysed and three scenarios are presented with different outcomes as to how well the Swedish higher education institutions are managing to recruit students internationally. The assertion is that the difference between progress and setback largely depends on how well the Swedish players understand and exploit the competitive position of the Swedish higher education in an international context.

High quality is a prerequisite if the Swedish knowledge system is to be internationally successful in the long term. At the same time, international cooperation is necessary in order to develop and conduct high quality research. The quality aspect in regard to internationalisation is discussed in the report and it is acknowledged that the international context means Swedish universities are currently facing significant challenges, with knowledge of conditions in different markets and strong global partners considered essential for the universities.

The report also describes the management of the range of challenges which universities are encountering due to increased internationalisation. Despite significant business volumes, universities have neither tradition nor advanced models for risk-managing international ventures. Sustainable and successful growth of internationalisation is considered to require experience, procedures and structures.

The new structures are placing new demands for leadership and organisation in a globalised academic environment and the report discusses critical issues on this topic. Daring to prioritise is the collegiate leadership dilemma. Key factors for successful leadership are listed.

International collaborations often result from individual initiatives on the part of enthusiastic doers. These people often lack a clear mandate from the university leadership and therefore find it difficult to gain support for the successes afforded by international projects. The authors outline what is required for management to take on board the dedication and experience of proactive enthusiasts.

In conclusion, there is a description of the need for a coherent national strategy; the assertion is that this will offer increased opportunities for concrete, sustainable results and contribute a higher critical mass of actors and funding.

The complete report is available HERE  (Swedish).

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