In Sweden, you can now get a refund for sub-standard teaching at your university
Unlike Swedish and EU students, international students have to pay fees at its universities. Source: Shutterstock

A Swedish top court has now set a precedent that will give international students the right to claim refunds if their universities do not provide quality teaching.

According to The Localthe precedent was set when an American student Connie Dickinson, who was studying Analytical Finance at Mälardalens högskola in Västerås, sued the institution after it was judged to be of “insufficient quality” by Sweden’s higher education authority (UKÄ).

The Supreme Court on Tuesday said: “When it comes to the university’s responsibility for the quality of the education, the court finds that there was a deal between the student and the university.”

UKA’s criticism is proof of “significant flaws in the quality of the educational programme,” the court said and rules that Dickinson shall be refunded two thirds – 114,000 kronor (US$13,565)– of the 170,812 kronor (US$20,325) she paid for her course, as well as her legal costs.

The non-profit Centre for Justice, which represented Dickinson argues that this case goes beyond the exact figure awarded.

“It is definitely a precedential ruling. It’s now established that foreign students have rights in Sweden and that universities have to meet the requirements set by law when it comes to quality of education,” said Johannes Forssberg from the Centre.

“This was the first time a student has sued a university in Sweden because of quality deficiencies.”

Dickinson abandoned her three-year course when the university informed her that UKA had assessed its maths teaching to be of “insufficient quality” and failing in four out of the five objectives.

Speaking to The Local in 2016, Dickinson said: “It was everything from trouble communicating with teachers to a programming class where they didn’t even have enough chairs.”

“It felt surreal, to the point where I questioned my own sanity.”

When she requested a refund, her university refused. A local court in 2013 then ruled it should repay Dickinson in full as her education had “lacked practical value”.

An appeals court the next year upheld the ruling but said the refund should only be half as she had already received tuition. Both Dickinson and the university appealed.

At the Supreme Court, the question was whether the university and Dickinson had an agreement that amounted to a contract under Swedish law. It ruled that they did.

While the university did not object in principle to refunding Dickinson, it said it was seeking “legal certainty” for such a move first, as it would be important for both students and state-run universities.

“When the government introduced tuition fees for international students in 2011, we never got an answer to how to handle the situation we are in. It must be clear how it works,” University Director Ann Cederberg said in a statement last spring.

While the case is clear on the right to refund for paying students, it’s hard to say the same for non-paying students, according to Forssberg.

“It’s hard to predict the exact consequences for Swedish and EU students, but in the ruling it appears that it’s a very important circumstance that it was a paying student, so I wouldn’t go too far at this stage,” the lawyer said.

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