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About the Author

Daniel Nylin Nilsson
Teacher (Lund, Sweden)

I am a dyed-in-the-wool blogger from Sweden, with a few years of experience from Southeastern Europe. I have no journalistic training per se, but on the other hand blogging for me has as much to do with creative writing as it has to do with journalism. I love to write, but live from other things, like care-taking, teaching, translating etc. And maybe this is the way I want it - as a blogger nothing is more dear to me than my independence.


All of us need all of us, to ever find the land

Published 26th March 2010 - 8 comments - 2787 views -

At the Th!nk 3 event in Brussels, one of the Indian participants, whose posts are among my favourites, came up to me and asked "What are you bloggers from the developed world going to write about?" The question is valid - just imagine the blog posts one could make with direct access to developing world reality. Living in Sweden I am disadvantaged in this sense - but I hope to turn disadvantage into dilligence and innovation, and I am bent on proving to my Indian friend that one can write about the developing world also from a northern perpective.

And I am not only restricted to internet sources about happenings in Africa or Asia. In fact, the so called developing world has everything to do also with my own life, in an era of globalization. One reason is the eceonmic interdependence between all parts of the world - I am writing this on a computer constructed in an Asian Tiger economy, with electronical parts made out of African minerals. The only piece of clothing I wear that is made in Europe is my T-shirt, that is made out of fair trade cotton that for sure grew on another continent. Obviously the developing world matters for my material life.

But Sweden and India, or Sweden and Africa are all misunderstood if we think of them as nations exchanging goods and money between each other. We are better off thinking of countries as nods in one single network. India, and Africa is a part of the world that I live in. Here I will try to give you an example of how a decision regarding students from the developing world is directly relevant also for my narrow self-interest.

I have lately been blogging about the decision by the Swedish government to charge students from outside the European Union with tuition fees, approximately 5000 EUR / semester. That wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing. After all, many countries have tuition fees, and the Swedish would not be extremely high in comparison. Students from outside the European Union who can afford studying in Sweden today, may be so well off that they can afford also tuition fees, If education was priced similarily across Europe, that might actually increase and the integration of the EU education system.

Still - why charging only students from outside the EU? Why should Moldovans pay, but not Romanians? Why Serbs, but not Hungarians? The reason is, of course that the same rules must apply for EU students as for Swedish. Charging tuition fees for Romanians, would mean that Swedish students would be charged the same amounts. This is probably what the government wants to achieve, but at the moment it is not politically possible. I find it disturbing that the government, instead of creating a debate about tuition fees in Sweden that it is afraid to lose, try to introduce them gradually without a debate, by charging the group of students that have the weakest means to defend their interests in Sweden.

In spite of being politicians, our governement is intelligent enough to realize that it would be a disaster for the world's most networked country if the outflux of foreign students was to drastic. Two scholarship programs have been announced, delivering 3 000 000 EUR each /year. The size of these scholarship will be raised gradually.

One of them is open for all applicants from outside the EU, based on merits. The second is open for students coming from a list of countries that Sweden has a long standing developing cooperation with, e.g. Bangladesh and Zambia. These 3 000 000 EUR will be taken from the Swedish development budget - a neat way of saving 3 000 000 EUR while still looking charitable.

I tried to ask Maria Pontti about the issue at the Think 3 event, but she was not familiar with the question. I shouldn't expect her to be... this is educational politics, not development politics... but she was quite clear that money for such scholarships should be taken from cultural or educational budgets NOT foreign aid budgets.

These are 3 000 000 EUR who would have been invested in the developing world is instead handed over for a brief moment to well off students from these countries, before they pay them back as tuiton fees to Swedish universities. Thus, Bandladeshi women, who abstain from these money, will pay for my university teachers, when I take an additional course in creative writing...

A nice theft from the world's poorest isn't it? That in itself would be enough to make me interested in the developing world. But here I set out to prove that also my narrow self-interest is under threat. The fact that the main target of the reform is not foreign students themselves, but citizens like me, makes development issues feel on my own skin.

If Sweden had tuition fees when I grew up, I would most likely still have went to university, but someone, either me or my parents would have had to finance it with mortgages. The ongoing economical crisis shows how unsustainable it is to make a large part of the population depend on mortgages, so at some point society would have to choose - financial quagmire, or excluding the lower classes from higher education, and possibilities to improve their status without government aid.

The likely winners are Swedish students whose parents have enough money to pay for their education, whitout taking on additional mortgages. That is probably the group of students that is by far best off in Swedish schools and universities alreaady in the current system of free or all education - tuition fees is just a way to shield them from competition.

That is how students from the developing world relate directly to my own life. But only to scheming populist this coud be a matter of caring about foreign students, alternatively caring about myself and the people I grew up with. Instead it is a matter of how to look at the world - as a place where rights and justice are privileges handed out from above, or a place where we all strive for equal rights.

Ultimately, there is no alternative to choosing the second kind of world. Noone has said it better than Josh Ritter: "All of us need all of us, to ever find the land".


  • Ivan Ralchev on 26th March 2010:

    A great first article, my friend, addressing an interesting issue.

    My group mates and I wondered about merely the same problem while we were working on the branding of our master’s programme here, at Lund University. We took a largely marketing perspective. It is, however, still applicable.

    Sweden is a wonderful place for young and passionate minds to grow up and flourish. Sweden is a state that treasures its entrepreneurs. Sweden is fond of being environmentally friendly and fair trade conscious. With the introduction of those tution fees the international character of the university environment will be put at stake.

    After talking with professors from the department, I believe that it is largely a move, provoked by the economic situation. Universities are struggling to find a solution to the problem. Scholarships are probably one of them.

    You are right, though, a large number of international students here will be cut down due to economic reasons. In a world where education is rather expensive and has a tremendous influence on the development of minds and economies, this is a bad news.

    Our project aimed at building a strong competitive advantage for master programmes whose main competitive advantage has, by far, been the tution-free education. However, what we failed to realise was the fact that you just set out. I hope that it will be taken into consideration by not only the swedish government, but by those of other well developed and rich countries. Economic aid is nothing compared to the effects of well educated and motivated young people devoted to working for the well-being of their nation.

  • Giedre Steikunaite on 26th March 2010:

    “In fact, the so called developing world has everything to do also with my own life, in an era of globalization.”
    Bloody truth, Daniel! I’m still surprised how sometimes people cannot see the connection between the “worlds”...
    I’m studying in the UK. In 2006, I think, they introduced tuition fees for BA studies. So now it’s more than 3,000 pounds a year (around 10,000 pounds for the 3-year BA degree) for citizens of the UK and the EU. EU students are entitled to a tuition fee loan which covers all of it. The conditions are good - you only pay it back 2 years after graduation, but only if you earn more than 15,000 a year (and then you pay like 8 pounds, or 9 euros, a week). If you don’t have a proper job, they wait until you do. Now I look at my fellow students taking the same course: a Norwegian pays around 10,000 a year (3 times more than EU students!), and a Russian pays even more than that, some 12,000! The thing is, UK unis profiteer from students from outside the EU because for the same service they pay so much more and they are not allowed to take out UK tuition fees loans. I don’t think it’s fair because then education is limited only to those who have rich parents, which is none of their merit.
    Once again - a great article!

  • Hemant Jain on 26th March 2010:

    I think this is the most important article in Think3. A blueprint for the competition and a way forward.
    “We are better off thinking of countries as nods in one single network.”
    Indeed my friend, indeed.

  • Tomas Moe Skjølsvold on 26th March 2010:

    Nice post. The network-metaphor is definently well-placed, allthough it should be noted that the network-flow of goods, people, money, ideas etc. (as it looks today) is very asymetrical - just consider what gives “value” to you computer; crude african minerals, high-tech electronics, or the assemblage of all this as a workable machine..

    Also, in relation to education - How many of these allready well-off students from developing countries stay in Sweden after their education? If most of them stay for well paid jobs as doctors or lawyers or whatever the “theft” from their home-country could be considered double - both money and capable brains are taken away..

  • Daniel on 27th March 2010:

    Thanks for great comments, all of you smile Your insights make the whole discussion much more intersting, even for me!

    @Ivan - Yes… and no. Obviously a compelling reason to introduce fees is the economical situation. But as far as I know, the pressure comes form the politicall world, not from the universtities themselves. I also don’t think that the economical situation for Swedish universities is so dire. For a university like Lund’s, the difference would probably not be so big - Lund would still attract ood students who could also pay for themselves. I think it is more about who is supposed to pay, and who will have the power over the universities - the state or students and private donors. It would be a bigger problem for smaller universities like Jönköping - if they were to rely on tuition fees rather than taxes, I think there is a big risk that they would have to lower their standards and accept anyone who can pay for themselves.

    @Giedre I completely agree about the injustice - I guess the situation in Sweden would be something similar. The condiditons for the tuition fee loan sound really great… can you get additional funding for living costs during studies also? Would you turn to scholarships for that?

    @Hemant and Tomas In deed - one truth about the world is our interconnectedness, but another is that our relations are very unfair. But mayb these injustices are not so much between countries as they used to be, but rather between people within one country, or consumers in one country and producers in another for example.

    I would have to do some research about how many, but I would guess quite a few… The brain drain issue is a problem that the government creates for itself - if education is free, and attracts thirld world students, I don’t think it would be an issue for the state to encourage them how to use their knowledge. But if the state takes money from the development budget, in order to let students from the developing world study here - it must also in some way think abuot how this student’s knowledge will benefit his or her home country.

    However, most non-EU students are from China and Pakistan, and would not be entitled for this scholarship. An interesting question is what happens with these development money, if not enough students apply for the grants…

  • Giedre Steikunaite on 27th March 2010:


    Only UK students get some government money to pay the rent and food, and those from the EU who have been here for more than 3 years I think. All the rest have to make a living any way they wish, and most turn to their parents’ pockets.

    There’s another issue that arouse recently: students from outside the EU are now restricted to only 10h work a week (before it was 20h, which is part time and it’s hard but possible to survive on that). So I guess what they are trying to do now is to get rid of the poorer students (cause they can’t afford studying for 10,000 a year working 10h a week) and instead attract the rich kids (whose parents are OK with paying the tuition fees and all the living costs which are very high in London), also because they pay so much more for the unis.

    Money is power, but it looks like if you don’t have it, you won’t have anything else either.

  • Daniel on 31st March 2010:

    @Giedre Thanks for the info. Restricting their right to work sounds really odd… and in deed as a way to scare away non-Eu students.

    I talked to some Chinese students yesterday, and they actually thought it was a good idea to start paying for studies in Sweden, for two reasons. One was that they expected a Swedish degree to rank higher in CHina if it had costed money, and secondly because they expected more scholarships. Already today it is basically rich students who can afford living in Sweden. Less wealthy Chinese students with skils ambitions rather turn to the US, where they can et a scholarship that covers their living costs, is what they told me.

    That makes some sense, however the government explicitly states that the scholarshipsfor students who do not come from developing countries, will NOT cover living expenses, so what they must hope for is schoilarships from the private sector. I think that might come, especially for students studying technological -, biomedical - and other subjects where Swedish industry is active.

  • Sylwia Presley on 25th July 2010:

    I so agree with you!

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