Swedes switch rules

June 7, 1996

Sweden is to recentralise university and college admissions despite protests by Sweden's university and college rectors.

Social Democrat education minister Carl Tham won parliamentary approval last month for the legislation, which is part of his campaign to redress what he has called the "chaos" left behind by his deregulating, Conservative predecessor, Per Unckel.

Under Mr Unckel's administration, power over admissions was taken from Stockholm and given to the administrators of Sweden's six universities and 29 colleges.

The result fostered competition for students, as Mr Unckel intended, but it also brought confusion over which courses they needed to take to gain admission. Under Mr Tham's bill, all students who have completed upper secondary school and have passed 90 per cent of their courses are automatically eligible for higher education.

More important, for courses where admission is selective, admissions officers must now employ a set formula: a third of students chosen on the basis of high-school grades, another third using the standardised Hoqskoleprovet or aptitude test, and both factors for the final third.

Universities, which had come to place heavy emphasis on personal interviews, may still use them, but only after receiving permission from the newly created National Agency for Higher Education. Students over 25 will get credit for work experience.

Carl Lindbergh, deputy education minister, said: "We feel that it ought to be the student who chooses the university and not the university that chooses the student. The new legislation guarantees that students are handled in a just way."

Anki Wood, Mr Tham's spokeswoman, said: "This government feels that there has to be a national standard for admissions."

The National Union of Students, which supports the measure, agrees. "Now, at least new students will know what they need to get into college," said Eppa Jansson, vice president for academic affairs.

But the university rectors' association formally expressed its dissatisfaction with the recentralising move. "We are very disappointed with the bill," said association chairman Stig Stroholm, of Uppsala University. "This is something we feel we could have and should have been able to handle ourselves. It seems that Mr Tham is overly fond of regulations."

Mr Tham and his deputies have continued to chip away at Mr Unckel's most controversial legacy, the nascent private university sector he created by turning several state-run institutions into autonomous foundations, using reserve workers' pension funds as their dowries.

In October the Riksdag (parliament) decreed that the larger of two new "liberated" schools, Chalmers Institute of Technology in Gothenberg, would have to rent its property from the state, rather than buy it outright, as the last government had intended.

The move has made it more difficult to raise money, according to Anders Sjoberg, president of the institute.

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