Swedish universities suffer enrollment drop

The number of first-time students at the country's universities declined in the autumn session overall, but the number of new students from other countries increased ahead of the introduction of tuition fees for non-EU students next year.

Swedish universities suffer enrollment drop

A total of 78,100 first-time students began university studies in the autumn, 2 percent less than last year, according to a statement from the Swedish National Agency for Higher Education (Högskoleverket, HSV) on Wednesday.

“What we see is that the new Swedish entrants are fewer this autumn than in 2009. We think it is because last year was an extreme year, probably due to the very bad economy and bad labour market for young people. We see there are far fewer Swedes going to university now,” Ellen Almgren of the HSV told The Local on Wednesday.

Although the number of first-time Swedish students declined to 58,700, the number of new students from other countries actually increased, meaning the number of new Swedish students fell 6 percent.

Before the autumn semester, 120,000 applicants with no previous university education applied for post-secondary schooling, a decrease of one percent from 2009. Overall, however, the number of applicants increased by 4 percent and reached the highest-ever recorded level of 374,000.

The proportion of incoming first-time university students has increased to one-quarter this year from one-fifth in 2009. The proportion of new students who are 19 years or younger increased by 1 percent to 32 percent even though there were more 19-year-olds graduating from secondary school last year.

Whether the increase in foreign students came as a result of the pending introduction of tuition fees remains to be seen, she added.

“The increase is not extremely large, but there is an increase. Of course, this is the last chance for free education. The real effect of the fees won’t be visible until next year,” said Almgren.

While the total number of new students fell in most major professional degree programs, they increased for general degree programmes, especially at the master’s level.

The largest decline in the number of new students came in business administration and social work programmes, which both experienced a decline of 13 percent, and in law, which fell 5 percent.

Almgren pointed out that business administration is a new professional programme that was introduced in 2007 and has increased rapidly both in availability and demand since then, registering a six percent increase in enrollment at one point.

The sole exception to falling enrollment was in specialist nursing and nursing programmes, where the number of new students increased by 9 and 3 percent respectively.

Almgren explained that several universities, including the Karolinska Institute and Uppsala University, lost their rights to provide specialist nursing programmes last year, as well as some of the smaller higher education institutes. These schools subsequently regained their authority to offer these programmes this year.

Although the number of applicants for the autumn semester decreased slightly this year, the number of students applying to the most popular programs remained high. Competition for places in psychology programmes was the fiercest, with almost nine first-choice applicants per place, according to HSV.

Other popular programmes among applicants that are the toughest to get into include veterinary sciences, medicine and architecture, added Almgren.

She warned that the number of young people in Sweden is decreasing on the whole and that the number of 19-year-olds in the country peaked last year, with the figure dropping rapidly.

“It doesn’t explain why the numbers are dropping. Many people are still applying, but the stock is decreasing rapidly in the years to come, so they have to be prepared to some extent for years of decreasing numbers of new entrants,” she said, adding that the schools do not know what to expect with the introduction of tuition fees for foreign students.

However, Denmark experienced a decreasing number of new entrants after introducing tuition fees for international students in 2006, Almgren pointed out.

“It is something they are probably working hard on, how to deal with the resources they have. The organisations are not very flexible. They probably have some problems ahead of them to adapt to a situation where there are fewer entrants,” she said.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


Swedish university exam unlikely to go ahead at all this year

It is looking increasingly unlikely that 'högskoleprovet' – an exam used by thousands of students every year as a way to enter Swedish university will go ahead – despite a government U-turn.

Swedish university exam unlikely to go ahead at all this year
In a normal year, 100,000 students sit what is known as the SweSAT or 'högskoleprovet'. Photo: Malin Hoelstad/SvD/SCANPIX

The Swedish Scholastic Aptitude Test (SweSAT, or högskoleprovet) is normally held twice a year, but was cancelled in spring and then later in autumn due to the coronavirus pandemic. But after pressure from opposition parties, the government last week said it would pave the way for the test to take place on its usual date in October in a limited format, open only to people who had not previously sat it.

Usually around 100,000 people sit the exam each year, around 40 percent of them doing so for the first time. The exam is not compulsory, but many people use its results to get into university, and it is seen as a crucial second chance for those who are not able to get accepted based on grades alone.

But any hope lit by the government's announcement last week was quickly extinguished this week, when university principals said it would still not be possible to organise a coronavirus-safe sitting. In the end it is up to the exam organisers to decide whether or not to hold it, so the government holds limited sway.

“They [the university principals] do not want to take responsibility for conducting the exam during the autumn, but would rather spend time and resources on conducting two tests as safely as possible in spring,” Karin Röding, director-general of the Swedish Council for Higher Education (UHR), told the TT news agency on Tuesday.

“I have no reason to have another opinion,” she added.

“It appears to be the case that you are going to have to wait another few months before an exam can be carried out in an infection-safe way,” confirmed Sweden's Minister of Higher Education, Matilda Ernkrans.

Meanwhile the political pressure eased on the Social Democrat-Green coalition government to ensure the test could be held before the deadline for applying to the spring semester of university, when the Liberal party joined the centre-left in voting no to pushing for an autumn sitting. Last week there was a majority for a yes vote on the Swedish parliament's education committee, consisting of right-wing parties Moderates, Christian Democrats, Sweden Democrats and the Liberals, but after the latter switched sides the committee voted no.

The Mdoerates blamed the government for not acting sooner to help the exam go ahead, by for example allocating more money and investigating the possibility of using more venues.

“There is one person who is to blame. That's Matilda Ernkrans,” said the party's education spokesperson Kristina Axén Olin. “The government has handled it really poorly and now it is thought to be too late and impossible.”

Ernkrans argued that she and the government had done everything they could, including making sure that test results from previous years will be valid for eight years rather than the usual five, as well as allocating extra funding to make it possible to hold more than one exam next spring.

Swedish vocabulary

cancel – ställa in

test/exam – (ett) prov

second chance – (en) andra chans

government – (en) regering

semester – (en) termin (note the false friend – the Swedish word semester means holiday)