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More foreigners earning PhDs in Sweden

David Landes · 28 May 2009, 14:30

Published: 28 May 2009 14:30 GMT+02:00

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A new report from Sweden’s National Agency for Higher Education (Högskolverket) finds that efforts by Swedish universities to attract doctoral candidates from other countries are working.

In the last decade, the percentage of non-Swedish students enrolled in PhD programmes has more than doubled. In the report, the agency defines a foreign PhD student as one who moved to Sweden for the express purpose of pursuing doctoral studies, not students with foreign backgrounds who grew up in Sweden.

Students from Asia account for much of the growth, while the number of students from other European countries has declined.

The agency attributes the influx of foreign students in part to the proliferation of international masters-level programmes, which often serve as a stepping stone for foreign students who later elect to stay in Sweden to pursue a doctoral degree.

Another reason for the steadily rising number of foreign PhD candidates is the difficulty many universities report having in recruiting Swedish students.

Of the foreign doctoral students who completed their degrees between 1997 and 2001, 44 percent were still in Sweden five years later. The highest percentage of students who stayed, 50 percent, come from the technical and social science fields.

“That half stay in Sweden and half return is a good balance. Those who stay become a resource for the Swedish labour market and those who go back to their home countries also become a resource because the Swedish business community gets a network and contacts around the world,” said University Chancellor Anders Flodström in a statement.

Foreign doctoral candidates are also more likely to complete their programmes faster than their Swedish counterparts.

According to the agency’s statistics, 55 percent of foreign students finish their PhD programmes within five years, while the corresponding figure for Swedish doctoral students is 34 percent.

Story continues below…

Part of the reason that foreign students try to complete their studies in less time may be that many are on scholarships, freeing them from the need to serve as teaching assistants in order to make ends meet financially as many Swedish PhD students are required to do.

In addition, foreign students are less likely to have their studies interrupted by things like parental leave. They may arrive in Sweden having already completed a portion of their coursework in their home country.

David Landes (david.landes@thelocal.se)

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Your comments about this article

16:49 May 28, 2009 by Eurostan
quality is important than quantity.
17:03 May 28, 2009 by Puffin
Surely this is a good thing - Universities have been set internationalisation as a goal - so good to recruit talented people from diverse backgrounds
17:19 May 28, 2009 by Gurkhan
It sounds like a discriminatory report to me to tell the truth. Unfortunately I remember last year there being an article on the number of post-graduate students in sweden growing in numbers, and as a result this year Studera.Nu decided to decline many foreigners for trivial reasons... As a similar situation, this article would result in a decline in the number of foreign students in Sweden I think... And in a few years of time (thanks to PM Reinfeldt also) the rightist views will be more dominant in Sweden... However, there has always been a hidden racism in Sweden among the society that I could feel when I was there...
17:20 May 28, 2009 by bolababu
"quality is important than quantity".....

thats the same greed that has driven the western world point. taking only the best from other people. when you take away the best, you leave the place in chaos so you still have to take the rest as time goes on.

what you see today in sweden was in-evitable from the start, stop blaming refugees and blame the forces behind the conflicts in their land.

i am from Nigeria and the only conflict we have there is caused and promoted by greedy western oil companies with the backing of their governments.
17:28 May 28, 2009 by shahidbutt
sweden promoting her good image and will gain market labour. now it is important to emphasize on labour problem in upcoming years when whole europe need foreign labour.
17:30 May 28, 2009 by bolababu

I agree about the hidden racist views held by many swedes but for pretence, fortunately there is a good balance on the part of genuinely kind swedes, especially those from the south of sweden. This isn't perculiar to sweden though as you can find worse scenarios elsewhere.
17:53 May 28, 2009 by Puffin
???? Sorry I don't get your point - Studera has nothing to do with PhD recruitment

In addition the report said that the numbers of overseas PhDs was partly as a result of the high numbers coming to Sweden for international Master's courses taught in English - many apply to PhD programmes as a result

Also I think that a PhD programme in Sweden is very attractive for many overseas students:

- no fees

- you get paid a salary while you do your PhD
18:03 May 28, 2009 by powerofknowledge
Eurostan u really made me laugh ok sorry but i was waitinig for ur comment before i write something actually as i work in some university in Swed id like to say that there are (some) but not all (there r too many good people here in Swed), professors or trying to recruit Swedish with much much less quality than the foreigners into the PhDs or another places as Researchers

Otherwise, the Swedes perc. will be only 2 to 5 % not only in university but in all places related to scientific matter, so really if the racists or nationalist or whatever they called themselves love thier country they should respect and Appreciate those people that Serve Promote And Save thier country, and u see in the News the blood shortage in Swed wherase this rarely happened in other countries where people themselves donate without ask, anyway may be ill try 2 donate Blood next days
18:28 May 28, 2009 by DidiE
Not all foreigners studying at the PhD level get paid bidrag. At least at my school, they are either funded through grants to work as research assistants, or they are sent home to work on their research on their own. In fact, doktorander have to sign attestations that they will NOT need any funding support. I had to provide an employer's statement to my school, and another statement that I was self-financed and would not ask the Swedish government for any support.
18:39 May 28, 2009 by Xzion
as an educated human being students have right to stay and help sweden in all ways and at same time it helps swden, it is health outsourcing of problams.

if i can give openion to improve this

A: diversity in university staff not just on bases of man and women (as used to be in sweden)but on bases on cultuers,ethinicity is very helpful for students. that will help a lot to become social

B: some change in trade unions and language policy aspacially in research and technical jobs to create competion and capital.

C: critical review of admission process to stop fake students, and suport true students socially,ethically, can make system perfact.

Swedish nations pays a lot tax for us and we students are thankful for that but these problams dont let students pay back, i know many students plane to go to DK,NG,IR,UK because of these issues
18:55 May 28, 2009 by Puffin
This is rather iffy - while it is possible for those with adjunkt and reasearch asst roles to take a PhD Universities are not supposed to employ unfinanced doktorands -it's almost on the boundary of *skuggdoktorands* which HSV has outlawed - Universities are meant to have financing in place before doktorands are employed. The finance can come from a variety of sources.

In any case it's not a bidrag - it's a salary - and with a doktorand position you get employment rights
19:01 May 28, 2009 by Puffin
Sorry but this makes no sense in respect of the article under discussion:

- 33% of PhD students are foreign students

- 44% of those foreign students who complete their PhD thesis are still in Sweden 5 years after graduation

I don't know what you mean about fake PhD students - it's pretty hard to fake and very competitive
19:02 May 28, 2009 by Eurostan
university admission procedure in sweden is faulty one.

who are these foreigners? it is said that they are asians.

if they give country wise break up then it will be good.

they are from india,china or pakistan,iran,bangladesh.

who are funding those phd s.that is the same situation in usa . almost all master students are foreigners.they are form china , south korea and india.

i will get some information by asking some of my swedish friends. i will get the facts soon.
19:11 May 28, 2009 by Puffin
Keep on topic - it's not about Masters students but about PhD students - PhDs work in the department and teach courses etc and present their research at public seminars - it's not like writing an essay
19:22 May 28, 2009 by Bender B Rodriquez
Lol, what would you expect?

Nowadays The Local is flooded with people who barely speak English and certainly cannot spell nor use punctuation. Judging by their undeveloped brains it would not expect it to make any sense...
19:34 May 28, 2009 by bolababu
@Bender Rodriguez...

I have often noticed your racist and anti-immigrant opinions on this site.

Judging from your name, your parents must have been refugees in Sweden and you were most likely brought here as a child. Funny how people of Hispanic and Arab origins like to point fingers at Caucasians accusing them of racism when they are actually worse off.

I have noticed that Arabs and Hispanics in Sweden are even more racist towards Africans than the Swedish people are but they are always the first to cry foul at the slightest show of discrimination from their Swedish hosts.
19:42 May 28, 2009 by Bender B Rodriquez
OMG! You actually believe that people use their real names! Here is a hint: google my name...

PS. I make a lot of derogatory statements towards stupid people like yourself, but rarely any racist comments except for some UK/American bashing now and then...
19:46 May 28, 2009 by Mzungu
Haha...A 'lurker' has finally arrived at a conclusion...

*nice one Bender*

PS..You may shortly be receiving a letter,stating your inheritance of $9,000,000!
19:50 May 28, 2009 by Eurostan
as i know, people who dont have any proper job and dont know what to do and getting bored keeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep on studying masters or double masters or phd .that is prevalent in certain countries.

i saw people who have done 5 master degrees and 2 phd because he dont have job.

because of financial crisis people lost jobs and many are trying to enroll in colleges and universities for master programmes and phd.

i may be wrong but it is a good topic.who will do PHD?
19:54 May 28, 2009 by DidiE
I did a PhD in Sweden as a foreigner. Wanna make something of it? I've been paying my taxes and working here for years. I am glad Sweden had this policy in place, although its future is uncertain.
20:03 May 28, 2009 by bolababu

you come from a part of the world where all they do is kiss white people's arses.

Inheritance? ..that definitely is for the greedy, ..you probably have been a greedy victim once.
20:10 May 28, 2009 by DidiE
Wow. Bolababu, I have read all your comments on this thread, and they are quite insulting, as well as incorrect, particularly as relates to Nigerian History. You are deploring racism, but it is YOU who has said the most racist and prejudiced comments here. I don't like your words. They are hateful. So it's off to never never land with you- I don't want to read this hate anymore.

I personally am really sorry that you feel this is a site where this kind of crap passes as conversation. I don't appreciate it, so at least one reader-poster is going to be extremely leery in the future of any postings with your name, or variations thereof, on it. Tyvarr.
20:28 May 28, 2009 by Xzion
yes there are people who keep studying and mostly they are local people, international students don't stay for long because they don't have finicial advantage of this.

just university and study is not solution until you make way clear for new labour,
20:45 May 28, 2009 by bolababu
Of course DidiE, be my guest. The truth isn't meant to be sweet to your ears. Unless you are being prejudiced yourself, Mzungu's comments should have qualified as the most insulting on this thread.

Good riddance!
21:05 May 28, 2009 by Nilspet
Puffin, let me tell you that you get paid for doing PhD studies in other countries too. It is the same in US, Canada, China, Japan, Malaysia, Australia, S. Africa, Brazil, Thailand, Chile... so what is the point?

The point is not about getting paid while pursuing a PhD., Sweden has great reputation in PhD education. The undergrad education here has been very bad for many years now but the PhD one is still among the best in the world.

I agree also that the report has a hidden agenda but in any case it is good that they write it. It will show to the world that foreigners do contribute to Sweden in decent ways. By the way the majority of foreign PhD students in Sweden are still from Europe. In my department there lots of Russians and ex Soviet countries, Germans, Italians, Danes and Finns + a few Chinese.
21:53 May 28, 2009 by Kibiri
22:30 May 28, 2009 by tewodros
22:38 May 28, 2009 by Puffin
Colleagues who have worked in other countries tell me that the situation is a little different in Sweden - they tell me that the main differences are:

- in other countries you get a grant/scholarship as a student - whereas in Sweden you get a salary once you have a full doktorand position with social benefits - PhD students are eligible for paid sick leave and parental leave.

- in Sweden PhD students are very much colleagues - most have an office, computer and phone provided by the department.

- some visiting post grad students have found it unusual that PhD students attend the hgher research seminars and sit with their professors in the lunch room - don't know if this is unsual in an international perspective.

- there are different types of PhD contract - with a full doktorand position there is often a 20% teaching role included in the position whereby you automatically lecture, teach seminars etc
22:55 May 28, 2009 by himilo
Its good news but, what we need is job creation!
23:40 May 28, 2009 by Mamoshka
I heard that the United States is the best in medicine degree and you get paid when you study to be a doctor and work there.

I got 3 from my family one brother who is a doctor and one sister too a doctor the last sister is a pharmacist all are getting very well paid in the United States.

Then there are my relatives two cousins are doctors working in the states too. My brother's wife is a doctor too. My sister's husband is a doctor as well.

All are getting very well paid there.

No one asked me from my family or relatives to study or work in Sweden. All on my own here without any family only a Swedish husband, my Swedish parents in laws and our kids.

Besides many Swedish doctors are working in the United States.

It is a nice article about Sweden. I hope a better multicultural, better intergration, coexistence and tolerans for Sweden!
00:49 May 29, 2009 by tuerd1982
If you have ability just take the position instead of blaming the others.

Sweden is my ideal, if I am a politician I would like to implement Swedish higher education and welfare system in my country. It is really nice.

One fellow said that '' the quality is important than quantity" . In my opinion, the Swedish higher education is really good and worldwide famous. Every Swedish inistitute has a lot of knowledgeable and responsible professor and researcher. The PhD students in Sweden also very resourceful and creative.
06:52 May 29, 2009 by DidiE
Re Puffin's last remarks- not to be a belabouring Miss Know It All, but the scenario you cited does NOT play out for many foreign students who study at the PhD level. At least not in my very large school. More than half of us had no salary, no assistance, no office, and no respect. I only raise this issue again because I know how starved for information I was when I was applying from Alaska to get into the PhD programme, and how I would have loved the kind of set up you describe. I just want other dreamers to know it isn't always so great. But I still loved every minute of my work, and am very proud of Sweden for giving me this opportunity to get a PhD. First in my family to do so, first in my neighbourhood to do so, the first woman from Alaska to get a PhD from the school. I used my degree to go on to teach several hundred other students, most of whom are from outside Sweden, so the circle expands. Pretty cool.
07:06 May 29, 2009 by Puffin
I think that where overseas PhDs can be at a disadvantage is that they do not know about the PhD handbook produced by HSV which sets out the official terms and conditions for being a doktorand in Sweden - many do not know about this and the obligations that the department has


I think that some departments take advantage of this
07:29 May 29, 2009 by Omidn
I am a biomedical researcher and in my opinion the Swedish higher education system is poor compare to North America. In order to be a PhD candidate in Canada you have to do either Candidacy Exam which consist of oral presentation of the project that you want to work on or lengthy written examination as well as English requirements or finishing MSc (2-3yrs program). I have seen in two occasions that the PhD candidate could not even speak proper English and I was in his PhD defence. With this type of language skills Canada won't even let you in for undergrad education 

Overall quality of education should be standardized in Sweden.
07:40 May 29, 2009 by DidiE
I am curious about the costs of a PhD in Canada. I don't know very much about the Canadian system. One of my students went there but was so dissatisfied he quit. I keep wondering if costs entered into his decision making?
10:35 May 29, 2009 by Nilspet
I forgot to say that while many PhD students in Sweden do earn a salary (like doktorandtjänst or a doctoral position) there are many who do not..and most of them FOREIGN PhD students. This is because most of them are admitted based on the fact that they have funding already. So there are many cases where we see a big difference in terms of life quality between well-paid PhD students (mostly Swedes) and their foreign colleagues who earn about half.

Some Swedish organizations like Stint, Swedish Institute have funding for foreign PhD students but the sum is far below the doktorandtjänst and no social benefits. In principle the department can upgrade foreign PhD students on such the funding to the full salary but they choose not to.
14:55 May 29, 2009 by what_ever
Having worked as a PhD on both sides of the Atlantic (Canada and Sweden), I can say that the situation is Sweden is by no means unique. At least in science, most universities are very international. A PhD is very much like a job where you get paid to execute the research programme of your supervisor. It is no free lunch! Grants are written in order to cover the majority of salary and the difference is usually covered by extra teaching stipends. There is no free time for anything else.

It is also very common for a PhD to remain in the host country upon completion of the degree- either for domestic situation (they end up marrying someone that they met there) or for employment purposes. I witnessed this in Sweden and in Canada.

I say good luck to all those who stay in Sweden... and all those Swedes who end up in their "adoptive" countries... After all the work involved in obtaining a PhD, there is no doubt that you are a hard worker.
15:51 May 29, 2009 by Puffin
This varies from institution to instituion - in my department there is a principle that all doktorands should be on similar contracts - therefore they turn down students if the terms are not similar to those financed by the faculty.
16:02 May 29, 2009 by Omaro
Everybody knows the deal is rotten

Old black joes still pickin cotton

For your ribbons and bows

And everybody knows....
17:19 May 29, 2009 by Omidn
For your info. DidiE, Canada has a high standard, but just wondering why so many people applying to get into Canadian Universities and they work hard to complete the requirments. In terms of financial obligations, Canada also have grant/scholarship for international PhD students. So what you are saying is that because Swedish University is Cheap that's why so many international students coming there to study. Again quality of higher education is poor in Sweden. This is my experience since I have been there for six yrs....by the way there is limited financing in the field of Biological Sciences. I love Sweden but this is the fact.
11:04 May 30, 2009 by Nilspet
Totally agree with what_ever above. Your point is universal.
13:00 May 30, 2009 by gote
Most foreign students reading PhD in Sweden are actually helping Sweden by promoting thier brands but sad still most of these students are been used for free by most Swedish usniversities and the public would think that they are been paid with swedish tax payers money.

Pls any foreign PhD students out there put your affliates in your home countries in your articles and scientific papers . The PhD education in it self is not free because most contribute scientifically to the research of their professors.

In other for me not to be discriminatory an average student be it masters or which Swedish university has an impact factor of 2.75 in the last years Please finish your studies and move to places like Cali ,Singapore where knowledge is rewarded irrespective of colour .
16:26 May 30, 2009 by Nomark
I did my Ph.D. in the UK and have also supervised students there. In addition, I work with Ph.D. students from around the world and now supervise students in Sweden. In my field (and IMO) there isn't a great deal of difference between the various countries. Compared to the UK, Sweden is slightly better in terms of the quality of the training given to the student although, for the brighter students, this is a marginal effect.

Having seen a lot of theses (though not my students' work!) end up as unread books on library shelves, I'm a bit cynical towards the whole process. If the research is substandard then there's little point in it being done since the conclusions of the work are questionable. Without personal drive, a good project and a supportive supervisor its probably more worthwhile to get a job than waste several years in academia just to get a title and a fleeting sense of personal satisfaction.
19:06 May 30, 2009 by glamshek
1. Scolarships are offred in Ph.D anyway.

If not, then it means it is same for both categories and in that case a foriegn student will spend even more time to make ends meet. Moreover, foriegn students will always have to be mentally worried about finances in an alien land.

2.There are a lot of things that can eat up your time, e.g parental leave, socializing, chating, finding new places, time and money spent in communication problem for foreigners especially, visiting new places by foriegners etc. This could be common for both foriegn and local students.

So it simply means that foriegn students are more focused as compared to local students.
11:39 May 31, 2009 by gorgepir
As a foreign PhD student who came here for a Masters degree and continued as a PhD candidate, I have to say I think the statistics are wrong. In my field (communication engineering) almost 80% of the new PhD students in the past 3-4 years have been foreigners. Maybe in other fields it is not like this.

In our university there are no scholarships awarded anymore, and every new PhD has to be employed which gives you more benefits like parental leave and ...

I am just stating the case in my university, I don't know about other universities. In terms of quality, I must say that (except for me) the foreign students studying here are of the best in their home countries. Obviously not the best, but all come from the best schools and had the best grades.
13:10 May 31, 2009 by Upgrade
It's ridiculous to let foreigners come here here for a free education at the tax payer's expense and exit and give nothing back. TG they will start charging tuition to foreign students soon.
18:10 May 31, 2009 by Northernline
The above is not strictly true for all PhD students in Sweden; it's a more a broad generalisation. I am sure conditions, practices, relations and even salaries vary widely depending on which institution and even group you were in.

Within Lund University's Medical faculty, the salaried 'doktorandtjänst' position you mentioned above usually applies for only the last 2 years of a PhD student's time spent here - the first 2 years are simply stipends, thus no social benefits.

The rest is also broad generalisations: facilties in the work place, attendance of fellow students at seminars, amount of teaching required, vary WIDELY as I said above. It depends on many factors, the chief one being how well funded the research group is.

As regards comparing countries for quality of PhD students, that's a waste of time - I would look first at the quality of the potential supervisor and his/her setup. A great research groups usually thrives anywhere, as long as they have the support they need, and they would then i turn attract and churn out some high calibre PhD graduates.
19:20 May 31, 2009 by Nomark
I pretty much agree with your post barring the country comparison. As I mentioned in my post and specific to my own field the difference between, eg, UK students and those from continental northern Europe is quite small but still significant. The UK students are, in general, a bit less well prepared for the demands of research. One could hazard many guess as to why this is, though I would say one factor is the declining demands of the UK undergraduate degree.
20:18 May 31, 2009 by Bender B Rodriquez
Isn't UK graduate students also a bit younger than continental/northern Europe.

In my field (engineering and applied maths) I know that both German speaking countries as well as the Nordic countries require that you have at least a 5 year engineering diploma before you start your 5 year PhD studies, so the students tend to be a bit older...
20:48 May 31, 2009 by Nomark
Yep - though this is gradually changing now owing to the new Bologna process. I fear this will lead to a degrading of European standards to match those in the UK.
02:00 June 18, 2009 by Sam1
Obviously, this sense of insecurity drives them wild to study and feel important, hehe...every one shows a foriegner the look like aigh i think u are a nutcase, from some cave, some maybe didnt have opportunities to study in the country because of some calamity or poverty and they should be glad they have a chance here, and its good some are punctual, they didnt start life with a cigrette and a beer bottle, so they appreciate living, and sieze the chances they get to grow..
20:10 April 12, 2011 by Elina Smith
Here this website gives some Information on study in swede, scholarships and finding PhD positions in Sweden:

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