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.
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.