Inadequate knowledge of Swedish among a growing number of doctoral students

Published 16 February 2024
- By Editorial Staff
Lack of language skills can lead to social isolation.

About 30 percent of the doctoral students at the University of Gothenburg speak little or no Swedish. Lack of language skills also increases the risk of social isolation and makes it difficult for doctoral students to access all the knowledge and information they need.

In 2013/2014, about 15 percent of the university’s doctoral students spoke little or no Swedish, according to the student union. This increased to 25 percent in 2018/2019, and the figure will reach 30 percent in 2023, according to Swedish university teachers and researchers member magazine Universitetsläraren.

The doctoral report for 2020 also shows that many foreign doctoral students feel that their lack of knowledge of Swedish can lead to social exclusion. 50 percent of women and 37 percent of men say they feel neglected because of the language barrier, and studies from Lund University show similar results.

– One should not forget that doctoral students are here for at least four years, often five or six. That is a significant part of a lifetime. There can be a strong personal incentive to learn the language spoken in the country where you live, says Susanna Karlsson, associate professor of Swedish at the University of Gothenburg and an expert on the university’s new language policy.

This may be because not all necessary information is always available in English, but also because language restrictions affect social contacts both inside and outside the university. Such as meetings, seminars or coffee breaks.

Language requirements can make a difference

Karlsson also points to the government’s plans to introduce language requirements in Swedish for permanent residence, and says that this will be “a strong incentive for doctoral students to learn Swedish.

– If there is an interest in keeping international doctoral students in Sweden, it is conceivable that some institutions will invest in doctoral students’ knowledge of Swedish, for example by making Swedish studies the basis for renewal, she says.

In the report, the doctoral students themselves also emphasize that they want all necessary information to be available in English and that courses in Swedish should be made more accessible.