UK: Swedish Registrars Seminar 2011

2011 UK: Swedish Registrars Seminar

This event, held in September at the University of Cardiff, was the latest in long series of biennial seminars, alternating venues between the UK and Sweden and I was privileged to be invited to attend as one of the dozen or so UK delegates. The seminars started, I think, about 30 years ago at the instigation of the Swedish government (which also provided some funding) with the aim of enabling Swedish Registrars to learn about developments in the UK from their counterparts here. Whilst the origins imply one way traffic in terms of learning and advancement, it is very much a mutually beneficial dialogue these days and hugely beneficial as a consequence.

It was a hugely enjoyable and deeply fascinating event and it was great to meet colleagues from Sweden in this kind of format which enabled extensive discussion to take place, and some socialising too. Super organisation from Louise and Lucy at Cardiff.

Our Swedish counterparts seem look at our systems (plural given the different UK nations present) with real interest and not a little nervousness. And who can blame them. The changes taking place in Swedish HE, whilst not as dramatic as those in the UK, are interesting nevertheless. The most significant reforms, following their last change in government, include:

  • Greater freedom for universities and significant deregulation
  • Huge investment in research, with the  allocation of resource based on performance
  • A new quality assurance regime
  • Major changes to teacher education
  • The introduction of higher fees for non-EU students

Bizarrely (it seemed to us) the universities rejected the independence on offer to them, preferring to stay under the government’s wing. However, given the financial benefits which have clearly accrued, particularly in relation to research support, and the fact that there is a lot of new regulation being imposed anyway, this is perhaps not such a strange decision.

International student recruitment in Sweden has dropped dramatically (by over 85% it was suggested) but given the current level of funding and the very small contribution offered by international fees, the universities are quite relaxed about this and expect things to improve in future.

One extraordinary, to us, fact about Swedish HE was the position in relation to capital funding. Essentially, for most institutions, there isn’t any. They don’t own buildings but lease them from an agency which largely builds to the requirements of the university.

An awful lot emerged that we had in common, from HR issues to Centre v School tensions and resource allocation to student recruitment. Many other points of contrast too – most notable for me was that the Swedes had lived happily with freedom of information legislation for as long as they could remember and really didn’t understand our concerns.The other perhaps suprising conclusion from the British delegation was that the systems in the different nations of the UK are diverging more than we may have thought.

But such a huge benefit in sharing experiences in this way in such a congenial atmosphere. And again I was extremely grateful to have been invited.

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