An essential part of building a world-class research and education environment is the interplay of different perspectives; for this simple reason, an international environment is part of academic excellence. International recruitment, from doctoral students and postdoctoral fellows to senior professors, is part and parcel of this, yet international recruitment alone is not enough.
Equally important is an environment where excellent researchers wish to stay, develop, and help others grow. To sustain a global academic environment, we need institutional cultural change for a bigger willingness to use English in the everyday as well as formal parts of Swedish academia.
The Swedish academic landscape is internationally attractive; for instance, 40 percent of doctoral students in Sweden are international. Yet we hear many stories about the barriers in Swedish academia that hinder internationals from planning long-term.
”Many international doctoral students and researchers do not feel that they belong in Swedish academia.”
Many international doctoral students and researchers do not feel that they belong in Swedish academia – ironically, a space where they are both highly sought-after and a space in which they have chosen to invest both time and energy.
A recent report from Språkrådet showed the increasing role of English in both academic teaching and research in Sweden. Yet in the sphere of academic decision-making, most non-Swedish speaking academics still face insurmountable challenges. In many cases international academics are virtually barred from collegial processes.
”The language barriers make the perspectives of non-Swedish speakers take a backseat role.”
Understanding and speaking Swedish at a near-native level is one of the hidden requirements for participating in collegial processes and exercising institutional academic freedom. The language barriers make the perspectives of non-Swedish speakers take a backseat role.
There is a value and benefit in having individuals with different experiences included in collegial discourse.
Some of the most pressing issues for doctoral students, i.e. how international doctoral students can be included, are often not considered or not even on the agenda.
While learning Swedish is always good for someone wanting to stay in Sweden, it is inevitably a process that takes time.
Language courses are few and sufficient time is rarely allocated. Time for language learning comes at the expense of other academic activities. Creating an international academic environment must entail institutional language openness, or else it will never materialise. In many cases, even highly merited academics hesitate to conduct anything from lunch-room discussions to formal meetings in English. This becomes an excluding unwillingness.
We believe that non-Swedish-speaking academics should never be discouraged from partaking in institutional academic decision-making processes because of language barriers. To reach this goal, universities at all levels must be open to conducting formal just as well as informal meetings in English. International academics, including international doctoral candidates, must be allowed to partake and exercise their academic freedoms within their universities, on equal terms with their Swedish-speaking colleagues.
Carolina Aguiar Penha
Karl Kilbo Edlund
All from the Doctoral Committee
in the Swedish National Union
of Students (SFS-DK)