Malmö University, Sweden

Linking refugees to the diversity strategy

In its 2022 Strategy, Malmö University promotes an all-encompassing strategic approach to diversity that does not single out refugees. Likewise, the university’s recently launched Agenda for Global Engagement (2020–2026) includes refugee students and staff without specifically mentioning them.

Definition of the target group

No distinction is made between Swedish students, refugees, and students with a migration background. International students, however, are considered as a separate category.

History of the diversity strategy

Malmö University was established in the early 2000s in a bid to boost higher education in a city with declining industry and low rates of tertiary-educated inhabitants. As the city of Malmö is home to a multicultural population, the university’s diversity mission comes with the territory and is part of the university’s DNA.

Research on migration and inclusion issues

Malmö University boasts an entire research centre dedicated to this topic, the Malmö Institute for Studies of Migration, Diversity and Welfare (MIM). The university also engages in advocacy and lobbying, for example, by taking part in a public investigation on the issue of the requirement to pass language and cultural tests to obtain Swedish citizenship.

Services offered to refugees and students with a migration background

There is no contact point for refugees at  Malmö University. At the peak of the refugee crisis in 2015, a welcome centre was set up. However, this was disbanded when the demand for such services decreased. Rather than designating specific services for refugees, a variety of services are made available to Malmö University’s students, many of which would benefit the target group:
  • Academic Swedish and Swedish as a second language classes;
  • Academics with a foreign qualification can follow the successful Foreign Academics programme, a tailored programme helping those who obtained academic qualifications outside of Sweden to enter the Swedish labour market;
  • Counselling is made available for newcomers, with interpretation services also offered;
  • Welcome and integration activities for all incoming students;
  • In collaboration with the national authorities, the university recognises foreign secondary school certificates and prior learning of those who obtained degrees outside of Sweden.

Coordination, monitoring and statistics

As a result of the refugee crisis, a Migration Group was set up in 2016 chaired by the university’s Pro-Vice Chancellor of Global Engagement. This group has been managed by the Coordinator of Migration Issues since 2018. Certain activities are monitored when needed, such as the success rate of those attending Swedish as a foreign language classes. Over the years, the university has also kept in touch with those who completed the Foreign Academics programme to monitor their progress. However, for privacy and legal reasons, the university does not record information about refugees. To give a rough idea, about 20% of those who follow the Foreign Academics programme are people with a residence permit due to grounds for asylum.

Challenges and lessons learnt

One of the biggest legal obstacles facing universities in Sweden is not being able to work with asylum seekers, which is the role of the National Migration Authority in Sweden. However, Malmö University recognises that the asylum process is extremely long and that there could be huge gains for asylum seekers and society if they could initiate their studies before gaining asylum, in order to save time and keep their academic skills up to date. To address this challenge, Swedish universities will have to lobby their senior management as well as politicians. Working with a diverse population of students, including students with a refugee(-like) background is considered to be a worthwhile and hugely important endeavour at Malmö University. The key to success when working with these students is engagement with staff and teachers. Even more importantly, engaging with senior management on such issues is crucial in order to bring about sustainable and long-lasting changes.

Impact of Covid-19 on the institution’s diversity activities

The pandemic has had both a positive and negative impact on refugees and students with a migration background at Malmö University. Conducting language classes online has been challenging and difficult for the students. Furthermore, a project with the municipality to teach Swedish for beginners at the university had to be postponed because of the pandemic, and was subsequently cancelled due to insufficient applications, possibly as a result of the decline in the target group population. However, those on the Foreign Academics programme, who tend to be older than the average student and often have caring responsibilities, actually welcomed working online during the pandemic. Attending courses remotely rather than in person made it easier for them to juggle their professional and family lives.