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Sweden came under fire from the European higher education community earlier this summer following a probe into new university entrance selection procedures that could discriminate against applicants from other countries. This new selection principle was introduced just in time for the autumn term 2010 and was designed to reward university applicants that had taken additional courses in Sweden. However, since foreign applicants would not have been able to attend such courses, the solution was that the former would be selected as a separate group with a certain percentage of the best-qualified students enrolling. This was done so they would not be at a disadvantage in the selection process against the ‘better qualified’ Swedish applicants.
Surprisingly enough, while the proposed solution was meant to prevent any discrimination against foreign students, it came to do the precisely the opposite. In other words, it favoured the Swedish applicants and was consequently viewed as the introduction of a quota system for foreign students. The other Nordic countries and the European Commission promptly requested clarification, as the system violated several Nordic and EU agreements. In response, Swedish higher education minister Tobias Krantz already announced that the selection procedure will be examined and possibly revised, since not all the consequences had been rightly foreseen. The University of Lund, the first higher education institution in the country to apply the new selection formula, has already taken a number of actions to revert the negative consequences of this admission system.
Sweden would not be the first EU member state to introduce quotas for foreign students. Austria and the French community of Belgium (Wallonia) have both attracted attention because of their restrictive policies towards international students, particularly in medicine and para-medical studies (see ACA Newsletter – Education Europe, April 2010).
In parallel, Italy was also recently asked by the European Commission to end its discriminatory conditions for access to student accommodation in Milan. The Italian regulations require that students to have resided in Italy for at least five years in order to access low rent apartments, a condition that international students obviously cannot fulfil. Viewing this as a breach of the EU law on the free movement of people, the European Commission has given Italy the next two months to respond to the situation. If Italy fails to come up with a satisfactory answer, the issue may be referred to the European Court of Justice.