In 2008, Thailand agreed to buy the Swedish fighter aircraft JAS Gripen in exchange for access to hundreds of educational places in Swedish Master’s programmes. Therefore, from 2010 until this summer, a group of Thai students attended Swedish Universities for free, most of whom studied in Lund. Individual institutions could have chosen to decline the Thai students – but none of them did, except for the Faculty of Law.
Written by Oskar Madunic Olsson and Virve Ivarsson Translated by Cecilia Eriksson
Sverker Jönsson is a Senior lecturer at the Faculty of Law. In 2014 he discovered that there had been an inquiry about the number of educational places available for Thai students, which was part of the JAS-deal that was made with Thailand in 2008. Sverker Jönsson found it inappropriate to educate the JAS-students.
– I told my head of administration that there might be a risk that this deal would undermine our research in human rights and constrict the independence of the University, he says.
The Faculty of Law Refused
As a result, a team of teachers in the Master’s programme in Human Rights Law opposed teaching the JAS-students, because it would jeopardise the integrity of the organisation. At this point, after Thailand experienced a period of unstable democratic ruling, many feared that the Thai military would regain power in Thailand – which they did later that year. These issues concerning the JAS-students were first noticed by the reporting site Blank Spot Project.
The Head of the Department: “In Hindsight, it Turned Out for the Best”
Vilhelm Persson, Senior lecturer in Public Law and head of the Faculty of Law at that time, says he did not find any reason to doubt whether higher authorities had handled the situation with the JAS-students correctly.
– But as head of the department I saw no valid reason to go against a team of teachers who felt uncomfortable, he says.
However, in hindsight, he is glad that the Faculty of Law didn’t accept any of the students.
– As it turned out, the Swedish Armed Forces did not have enough knowledge about the situation.
The Head of Office: “The Institution Decides”
The Faculty of Law declined the JAS-students. According to Susanne Norrman, head of the University’s commissioned education, all faculties have the opportunity to refuse students on commissioned education.
– The enactment of commissioned education clearly states that the effecting of commissioned education cannot affect the quality of the education. Therefore, an institution can decline students if, for example, the classes grow too large. In that case, the University will accept the situation, says Susanne Norrman.
LTH: “It Was an Accomplished Fact”
The first JAS-students started their Master’s programmes in 2010 and the last ones graduated in the spring of 2016. Thai students were represented at LTH, the Faculty of Science (FS), the School of Economics and Management (SEM), the Faculty of Social Sciences (FSS), the Faculty of Medicine (FM) and the Centre for East and South-East Asian Studies (CES).
Per Warfvinge, Assistant Dean at LTH, was on the LTH board in 2010. He does not remember knowing about the commissioned education until the decision had already been made.
– I recall us being presented with an accomplished fact. Even the registration of the students had already been completed by someone outside of LTH, which is extremely unusual, he says.
However, the students’ backgrounds were known.
It became clear that the employer was the Swedish Defence Materiel Administration and that the students were part of the JAS-deal made with Thailand, says Per Warfvinge.
But he doesn’t remember how he felt about the issue at the time or whether there had been a real discussion about it within the management at LTH.
FM: ”The Problem is Ethical”
The same thing happened at the Faculty of Medicine, where people felt more or less forced to accept the new students.
– Those who preceded me has explained how they got a signed contract about these students’ commissioned education from the board of commissioned education. But she didn’t know about their connection to the JAS-deal, says Martin Stafström, head of the Master’s programme in Public Health.
– Once a decision has been made about a commissioned education our job is simply to carry it out. I find the issue with the JAS-students to be problematic from an ethical standpoint, but in this case the decision had already been made by higher authorities, he says.
SEM: “Is not Pursuing its own Policy”
Pontus Hansson, the director of undergraduate studies at the Institution of Economics, confirms that they accepted a JAS-student to the Master’s programme in Finance. The student’s connection to the JAS-deal seemed to be known, but the Institution saw no reason to decline her a place in the programme.
– The Government had decided we were to educate them, and since the University is a public body that is directed by the Government we adhere to them. The Institution of Economics isn’t pursuing its own policy.
CES: “Did not Have a Military Background”
Monica Lindberg Falk, director of the Education Board at the Centre for East and South-East Asian Studies, supervised a JAS-student but says she didn’t know about his connection to the JAS-deal.
– We always have Thai students from some scholarship programme. And he definitely did not have a military background, she says.
FS: “The Moral Compass of Individual Co-Workers is of Great Importance”
At the Department of Chemistry there was no real discussion about the acceptance of the JAS-students. They did not see the acceptance as optional.
Olle Söderman, who was head of the Institution in 2014, finds it interesting to exchange students from undemocratic countries, but says the University has been avoiding the issue by not having a policy for it.
– At the international Master’s programme in Chemistry the students come from many different countries. Should there really be an exchange with China, for instance? In reality, this is up to the moral compass of each individual co-worker, a situation that can be further discussed, he says.
The Vice-Chancellor: “Not that Problematic”
The Vice-Chancellor of the University, Torbjörn von Schantz, does not see it as a big problem that the Government using educational places at Swedish seats of learning to negotiate with – as long as it doesn’t violate the University’s own organisation. As head of authority he respects the Government’s decision.
– I can understand that there are people who react – these are difficult issues. But personally, I don’t find it that problematic since the education that these students receive isn’t primarily used in the military.
According to the Vice-Chancellor, the University has acted correctly in regard to the JAS-students. He finds exchanges with undemocratic states to be risky, but according to him this is an issue for the Government to decide, rather than the University. In addition, he finds that educating foreign military has a more positive than negative effect.
– If a soldier comes to Sweden to study and meet people from Sweden and other countries, it might contribute to making the world more pacifist. I believe education has the ability to make peace, says Torbjörn von Schantz.
The Lecturer: “Why should the University sell Saab’s fighter aircrafts?”
Sverker Jönsson feels that more people need to understand that universities aren’t like any other authority.
– The Swedish military shouldn’t be able to call the University in the same way that the Enforcement Authority calls the police. You can utilize the fact that you are an authority, but why should Lund University help Saab sell fighter aircrafts? If anyone knows, feel free to contact me.
Sverker Jönsson also stresses that the problem with the University accepting the students isn’t about what subjects they study.
– Even if every JAS-student studied to become a dentist, it is still upsetting because the University’s acceptance of them means we are taking part in the arms trade.
To Sverker Jönsson this is about the University’s reliability and independence. According to him, the arms trade should be alarming to the faculties.
– For example, what do we do when bombs are falling from those JAS-planes? The military did do a coup d’état in Thailand right after the JAS-deal, and one might say that we, at the University, cooperated with the military by accepting the JAS-students, he says.
Lundagård has been trying to reach the Faculty of Social Sciences – who also accepted JAS-students – for a comment.
This article was written in cooperation with Blank Spot Project