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School to collaborate with universities in Sweden, India and China

UNC School of Social Work students and faculty will soon have more opportunities to study abroad and collaborate with international peers on research and other academic activities.

The School recently signed “memorandums of understanding (MOUs)” to create graduate student exchange programs with the Maharashtra Institute of Technology (MIT) in Pune, India and with the School of Health, Care and Social Welfare at Mälardalen University in Västerås, Sweden. These new agreements will enable UNC to send up to two social work students per semester — four students per year — to study at the partner universities.

Students at MIT and at Mälardalen will have the same opportunity to study at UNC.

The partnerships, which also enable faculty members from the participating universities to work together on research, grants, and other projects, are the second and third international agreements that the School of Social Work has signed in recent years. In 2008, the School signed an MOU that promotes similar exchanges with the School of Social and Public Administration at the East China University of Science and Technology in Shanghai.

These latest alliances enhance the School’s “foothold in another part of the world,” and offer much potential, said School of Social Work Dean Jack M. Richman.

“It says to faculty and students that if you’re interested, for example, in Swedish policy or if you’re interested in the impact of healthcare in other countries and what we might learn, here’s an opportunity to go over there and study or to develop opportunities to collaborate.”

The exchange programs, which begin next semester, present an attractive incentive for students: no out-of-state tuition. Instead, students enroll and pay tuition to their home institutions and then work with an academic advisor to determine a program of study or research at the exchange university. Course credits toward the students’ degrees are still awarded by their home institutions.

The student exchange program with MIT comes as students and faculty prepare for the School of Social Work’s first study abroad trip to India next month. The two-week trip will offer participants a chance to learn more about India’s culture and political and economic systems, including the challenges of addressing severe poverty in the world’s largest democracy. The exchange program will enable interested students to delve even deeper into the country’s history and social policies, Richman said.

Although the School’s budding relationship with India evolved from an increasing student interest in studying social issues from a broader world perspective, the collaboration with Mälardalen builds on connections that Carolina established more than 10 years ago through the “Transatlantic Consortium on Early Childhood Intervention.” Rune Simeonsson, professor of school psychology and early childhood education at UNC’s School of Education, was the principal investigator for that project, which enabled students from Mälardalen and UNC to attend three-week institutes at their partner universities. Irene Nathan Zipper, clinical professor at the School of Social Work, worked with Simeonsson on the project and in 2000, she served as a guest professor at Mälardalen.

The new exchange program with Sweden gives UNC students a chance to study within a country that has maintained one of the most generous state-run welfare systems in the world. “By visiting programs and meeting students whose social system is so different from ours, our students can reexamine their assumptions about how social systems operate,” said Zipper, who helped spearhead discussions on the MOU.

UNC also has much to offer visiting students and faculty, added Mark Testa, the School of Social Work’s Sandra Reeves Spears and John B. Turner Distinguished Professor.

“There is the expectation from our Swedish colleagues that they can also learn from experiences in the United States,” said Testa, who studied at Sweden’s University of Stockholm in 1973, and helped negotiate the MOU with Mälardalen. Students and faculty may be particularly interested in exchanging ideas that address the challenges of immigration, Testa said.

According to the Migration Policy Institute, an independent nonprofit think tank in Washington, D.C., about 12 percent of Sweden’s population is foreign born. Over the past 15 years, many of the country’s new residents have migrated from the Balkan states and Iraq.

“While Sweden is still more culturally homogenous than the U.S., immigrant populations are growing more visible and are living in increasingly segregated areas of Swedish cities,” explained Testa, who travels to the country regularly to visit friends and members of his wife’s family, who still reside there. Young people, especially, continue to struggle in the Swedish economy, Testa said.

At UNC, School faculty will soon get the chance to meet their Swedish colleagues and explore possible mutual interests. The first faculty delegation from Mälardalen arrives on campus the week after Thanksgiving.