Established in 1999, Örebro University (ÖRU) is a young institution in the Swedish higher education scenery. The university is recently gaining recognition, despite its youth, and its secret might be in paying more attention to its students’ well-being. The university cannot rely on a history, which built other traditional universities’ reputations. Therefore, the university focuses on making a difference in the quality of the students’ university life as a key part of their academic experience.
When interviewing students who are just starting their studies, they agree on having no expectations prior to coming to study at ÖRU. When you ask students why they choose ÖRU, their reasons might seem different on the surface. However, it never really stems from a specific attraction to the university or the town of Örebro itself. For every one of them, it all starts with a scrolling list of university names on the Swedish admission website. It just pops up and becomes an option to consider. The majority of the students interviewed will tell you that ÖRU was the first one to answer positively to their application.
This quick response and reactivity might be an asset when getting students to choose ÖRU and leave aside other applications.
Quickly after a few weeks of classes, students seem to feel different about the university: “It is so much better than I expected! The university is fresh, modern and has made an effort to welcome us new students with good information, gifts, and so on.” shares Ludvig, Swedish psychology student; or “I went from not really having an opinion to being pleasantly surprised. It’s been very easy for me to acclimate to this new city, both academically and socially, and I look forward to whatever it holds in store for me in the future!” adds Shinwar, Swedish medical student.
Students are welcomed with gift bags, survival kits from IKEA and group activities. But… What else?
The easy online process when applying to Swedish universities is helpful and open new horizons for international students. Especially if they are not part of the European Union and consequently have to deal with Visa permits. In most cases, ÖRU did not ask for recommendation or cover letters, which light up the process for master applicants. ÖRU also wishes to attract more international students by increasing its teaching in English. But this lack of interest in academic requirements could also be a risk for the learning and teaching.
The campus doesn’t leave students indifferent because it is modern and adapted to a lively student life. You have restaurants and coffee shops in almost every building. The design and the large number of cosy study areas “give the impression that we are in a very nice hotel lobby” comments Anne, a German international Master student. Besides, the teaching style is innovative even for Swedish students: “The group based problem solving and work ethic that are applied to studies of medicine is quite unique because it is not a teaching method widely used at other universities.” explains Shinwar.
Sandra Eriksson, from the International Office, tells us that the university’s primary goal is to bring together all the students and give them opportunities to interact regardless of their subject of studies. “We put a lot of effort into making sure international students enjoy their time here as students but also as individuals. The international office has two full-time employees dedicated to welcoming the students and making sure they feel part of our community.” Sandra deals daily with practical issues and it goes from stolen laundry, burnt light bulbs, bank accounts or homesickness. Sandra is aware that ÖRU doesn’t have the same aura as more traditional or well-known universities in Sweden. However, the university has a good reputation inside the Erasmus program because previous students speak highly of their experience.
Sweden’s attractiveness on the international stage helps ÖRU in a positive way. The Swedish Institute is an important actor because it grants scholarships to international students. Loureen, from Kisumu in Kenya, is studying immunology, and she stresses how essential this scholarship is for her to be able to pursue her higher education abroad. She adds that the Swedish Institute helps her during all the administrative processes and they make sure that she gets all the information and assistance before and during her studies.
The scholarship granted by the Swedish institute has made it possible for Loureen to study abroad
Additionally, the city of Örebro has a population of 115.000 inhabitants from 165 different countries. That is almost as many nationalities as in the cosmopolitan cities of Brussels or Amsterdam, which are home to 180 nationalities. Students from all over the world will find their local products from home quite easily in town. They will be able to share their cuisine with their classmates. For international students, this environment makes integration and cultural adjustment smoother and adds to their well-being.
It looks like the university and its ecosystem seduce students by listening carefully to all their needs and even anticipating some of them. Does it really serve the students to be so assisted? How will they survive in the real world? It can also feel suffocating for students from different cultures to be spoiled all the time. Nevertheless, ÖRU takes the risk of betting on a broader definition of what an academic model is supposed to be. The focus is more on diversity in terms of backgrounds, the cooperation in its teaching style and a sense of community on campus. Its secret might lie within the ability to be modern and still caring.