Internationalisation is a verb, not a noun, says Per Warfvinge. He means that the continuous process is the most important thing; to think and plan for a more internationally oriented and culturally diverse organisation.
He is Assistant Dean for Education and International Relations at Lund University’s Faculty of Engineering (LTH). LTH News has therefore asked him a few questions.
About 400 exchange students travel to LTH every year to study. Are they expected to learn Swedish?
“No, that is compulsory only for those taking a joint degree. That is the case for about twenty students just now, who are here for two years.”
A few hundred doctoral students from all over the world are employed here. Shouldn’t they learn Swedish?
“On a personal level it is an advantage for everyone to know the local language, wherever they live. In the research teams where these doctoral students work, however, we have come to a point where people from several different countries collaborate, using English as their language of work and publication. Even so, it is of course positive and important that the University offers Swedish language courses for all employees who do not speak the language. This makes both working life and society as a whole accessible in a better way for non-native doctoral students.”
What do the international students mean to the Swedish students who remain in their home country?
“That is what is known as internationalisation at home. When integration is good – and it does vary somewhat from one course to another – the international students can enrich both the subject knowledge and the personal experience of their Swedish fellow students.”
What is LTH doing to increase integration on the programmes then?
“Integration depends a lot on the lecturers who organise and divide students into groups. LTH’s management has not wanted to interfere in their working methods; instead it is part of the educational responsibilities of the lecturers and the programme directors. There are several positive examples of good integration. The engineering students’ union also plays an important role and shows increasing commitment to incoming students.
One argument for taking in students from abroad is also that we must do it in order to be able to send out our own students,” Per Warfvinge points out. “About 300 students travel abroad and the trend is currently on the rise.”
What attracts students from abroad to LTH?
“Our range of courses is extensive, we have a good reputation, Sweden is an interesting country which is perceived to be clean and safe as well as egalitarian. Our strong economy also plays a part. The Nobel prize and a fantastic industry mean that we are seen as ‘the world’s smallest superpower'. As long as we attract students from the best universities in the world, we can rest assured that we offer good programmes!”
Does employability increase for students who have studied abroad?
“Studies abroad do not constitute such a great merit in themselves, taken out of context. Employers want to see relevant professional experience, initiative and communication skills. All these are skills you acquire through international studies. Learning foreign languages is however a key to jobs abroad for Swedish students. Now many of them are choosing Chinese and Japanese. German and French are also offered at LTH whereas English for engineering students is being discontinued. At the moment we have 32 students in China on our China specialisation which is a success.”
Will our Master’s degree programmes survive the new tuition fees system?
“Some of them will but it is not looking so good for others. We are very negatively affected by the tuition fees and the increase in the number of scholarships doesn’t help much. Twenty-five people declined places on programmes that they had applied for in spite of being offered scholarships. They have to be able to afford the cost of travel and living abroad. In the autumn, 30 fee-paying students from countries outside the EU started their studies. A few years ago there would have been 160. But we must also be self-critical and create a range of programmes which are not only extremely good but also attractive and competitive. We need to re-think and think innovatively. ”
What does the language policy look like?
“The language policy, which was developed five years ago, did not entail any dramatic changes. Swedish was to be the main language of instruction, because we think best in our mother tongue. But it may be time to evaluate whether what was right at the time is still right now. We engineers, after all, share the language of mathematics and our lecturers’ level of English is clearly more than sufficient for teaching.”
Are researchers sufficiently internationally oriented?
“I think that everyone thinks internationally, but too few doctoral students actually travel abroad. There is plenty of EU money to travel as a lecturer, but few make use of it. I myself am part of a project with Virginia Tech, funded by STINT, to develop quality in education. There are many opportunities to benefit from this type of development funding.”
Interviewer Mats Nygren and Elisabeth Dawson