Ombudsman rules requiring English applications is illegal

The Parliamentary Ombudsman, in response to a complaint, has ruled that Universities and Colleges are breaking the law by requiring job applicants to submit their applications in English. Apparently this breaks the language law. SvD and DN are currently posting the TT (new bureau) report with no additional material or comment. The JO website has no extra information, nor could I find the decision there. It will be interesting to see if the Vice-Chancellor (Rektor) of Stockholm University, Kåre Bremer, posts a comment on his blog. Prof. Bremer is also chair of the Association of Swedish Higher Education.

The question is an interesting one. On the one hand is entirely reasonable to ask why Swedes, applying for a job at a Swedish University, should be required to submit an application in a foreign language. No doubt the universities believe that competence in English is a basic requirement for teachers and researchers given that we have increasing numbers of foreign students and that the current language of science is English. 50 years ago Swedish geographers published in Swedish or German: today you must publish in English.

While I understand the complaint, I can’t help feeling this is a phyrric victory. JO is no doubt ruling solely on the law requiring government agencies to promote Swedish as the working language and maintain terminology in Swedish. It is a technicality resulting from a change in law in 2009 (as I understand it).

For the universities, who want to attract international talent, English is used to facilitate the use of international experts to review of job applications. For science councils the same applies to funding applications. This will surely mean that either: universities and funding councils will be under pressure to use more Swedish reviewers, increasing the risk of conflicts of interest and potentially reducing the quality of reviews (by using non-experts), or, agencies will have to use translation services, raising costs, increasing the time taken to make appointments (already very long in some cases), and presumably leading to inaccuracies (how many translators are trained in microwave remote sensing, cosmogenic dating, or biogeochemistry?).

Phyrric indeed. The tax payer loses and I am not sure that Swedish speakers win. Unless of course we view this in purely narrow, nationalistic terms…..

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