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SWEDEN: ‘Freemovers’ Get Trapped

Ida Karlsson

STOCKHOLM, Nov 11 2009 (IPS) - After a spell of sleeping rough at the railway station, Farid has a roof over his head, by way of a small room he shares with five other students.

It’s not much better for many other foreign students. About 700 of them, mostly from developing countries such as Nigeria, China, Nepal, Bangladesh and Pakistan, arrived in Malmö University in the south of Sweden this year. That is twice as many as in 2008. Many of them are short of money even to find a place to sleep.

Farid (not his real name), one of the freemovers as they have come to be called because they arrive without joining any exchange programme, left a high-status job to come to study at Malmö University in September. The only place the International Students Office could offer him was in a dormitory at 15 euros a night.

“It was too expensive for me,” he tells IPS. “I slept under the sky that night. The last months have meant great suffering for many international students. Accommodation is so important for you to be able to study, eat and sleep. Malmö University should have a students hostel – it is common in other countries.”

Farid came to Malmö University through a consultancy firm, BSB Global Network.

“I saw an advertisement in a daily newspaper about a consultancy firm that sells information about studies in Sweden. From them I got the information that studies in Sweden are without tuition fees. I paid around 800 euros to the firm for their services.”

That is the cost of a small farm in his home country – that he does not wish named for fear of identification. His family and relatives paid out of their savings for the fee for BSB. Several students at Malmö University say they have paid similar sums for the services.

Counsellors at BSB helped him apply. “They also told me it would not be a problem to get a part-time job in Sweden. But the real situation is that jobs are really hard to get if you do not know Swedish. The consultancy firm should have told us that foreign life is so difficult.”

Now he learns Swedish besides his other studies. After much effort he has a part-time job in a restaurant, washing dishes eight to nine hours weekly.

Anna Bohman tries to help some of the guest students. Consultancy firms charge foreign students a big fee after they arrive in Sweden, she says. That leaves many without money to pay rent or to buy books.

“Some students thought it would be easy to start a small business here,” Bohman, a Swedish student, tells IPS. “That they could put up a tea stall, or grow some vegetables and sell them. They had no idea what life could be like here.”

Bohman has collected winter coats, cell phones and bags for foreign students, arranged accommodation for about ten of them – and even invited some to stay at her home. The students need better information before they arrive, and more support when they do, she says. “Why not use money from the Swedish Development Assistance for scholarships for these students?”

BSB Global Network has 60 full-time and 35 part-time counsellors to provide information and to help students get admission. Its website says they “keep track of the successfully admitted students, and attend their needs abroad as well as facilitate accommodation for students abroad.”

On the website a book opens up with a map of the world to present the global opportunities of higher education. It promises “100 percent client satisfaction”. “Nobody has ever had any complaints about our services,” M. K. Bashar, chief executive at the BSB Global Network tells IPS.

BSB, he says, gives students comprehensive information on accommodation and part-time jobs in different countries. “We inform them that tuition is free in Sweden and that it sometimes is hard to get a part-time job. When we counsel the students we explain everything. And if a student demands it, we can arrange accommodation. The maximum we charge for our service is 200 euros.”

The university says it is doing its bit. “I think we have been good at giving them service – it is part of the reason why we have twice as many freemovers this year,” Knut Bergknut, chief of the international secretariat at Malmö University tells IPS.

The university has hired an international student advisor, and has continuous dialogue with the students, he says. He was not aware, he said, that guest students have been unable to afford accommodation, and that some have had to live on the streets. “Of course that is not acceptable. Nobody should have to live like that.”

The university, he says, has given freemovers full information on what to expect. “But everything can always be improved.”

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