This may seem rather blunt and heavy-handed, but I want to make a strong case for the bilingual university. And with bilingual I mean Swedish and English. Perhaps you can recall the time when you applied for your job at Umeå University. If the job posting was written in Swedish then it most likely had this under Competency Requirements (Komptenskrav):
Arbetet kräver även god förmåga att uttrycka sig i tal och skrift såväl i svenska som engelska.
The line above is directly cited from a current open position at Umeå University. A rough translation of the requirement above is ”the work also requires good written and verbal capacity in Swedish as well as English.” I should point out that this is an example of a typical job within administration at Umeå University. There are many variations of this bilingualism requirement in a majority of job descriptions at our esteemed university.
But there are exceptions to the rule. Many job descriptions completely omit the ability to have strong skills in a second language. So you’re thinking my argument for the bilingual university just folded like a house of cards. Not so fast my friends. A growing number of positions are written entirely in English with no requirement whatsoever for any knowledge of the Swedish language. Stop the presses! We recruit talented researchers, PhD students and lecturers on a regular basis with no expectation that they understand what the word förankringsprocess means. (Please don’t ask me to explain this wonderful phenomenon.)
I speak for the not-so-silent minority at Umeå University. I hear from them on a regular basis with constructive criticism about the need for more information in English. This includes research communication, relevant news for employees, promotional material and brochures, and so much more. Not to mention the hundreds of international students that come here to study courses and programmes taught entirely in English. Quite simply, they are not satisfied with the second-class status of being non-Swedish speaking. It’s like being left completely out of the conversation.
We can be much better. We can dare to write more often in English instead of sending texts to translation services. We can be inclusive rather that exclusive. We can be supportive and encouraging. We can begin to think of our university as being a truly bilingual workplace. We can become a role model for being a university with a real international perspective. I recently read a new language policy at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands which sets an ideal precedence by stating: “we intend to be a bilingual university, fostering multilingualism, and enhancing linguistic and cultural diversity and awareness.”
English and Swedish already exist together as peaceful companions in this country. Sweden has been ranked as having the highest proficiency in English in the world and we gladly cite this in our information for prospective international students. In my opinion, the ultimate goal should be for both languages to be interchangeable in nearly every aspect at this university. When that day comes, Umeå University will be on its way to being one of the elite higher education institutions in the world.
For those who react with the rallying cry that we have a duty to protect the Swedish language, I welcome your comments and a healthy debate. There’s only one request on my part. Please have the courtesy of writing in English, for the sake of inclusiveness.