Swedish universities are facing ever greater internal and external competition following the introduction of fees for students from outside the EU. Stockholm University is tackling the changes with enthusiasm, thanks to its reputation for high-quality research and teaching, combined with an extensive scholarship programme.
The first intake of students since fees were introduced say they are pleased with their experiences so far:
"The quality of the courses is very very high, I love studying here,” says Olga Natsarenus from Moscow, who is currently studying a masters in Information Systems Management.
"All of the teachers are highly qualified and experienced in their fields. We get to do relevant group projects and take on real business cases. I chose this course specifically to receive more practical knowledge and experience”, she adds.
The introduction of tuition fees for non-EU and EEA students has naturally had a profound effect on the number of applications from abroad, so Stockholm University has responded by heavily emphasising the quality of education.
Meanwhile, a scholarship scheme has been launched by the Ministry for Education, to ensure that talented foreign students can still study in Sweden, whatever their means. The ministry announced in October that it has allotted an additional 20 million kronor ($2.9 million) in scholarship funding to help offset tuition fees.
"The quality of our university programmes increases when successful international students participate. Scholarships are a way to attract talented students," said education minister Jan Björklund in a statement at the time.
Stockholm University's excellent facilities, top quality education and excellent prospects mean it numbers among the elite educational establishments of Europe. Its location in one of Europe's most beautiful and dynamic capitals adds to the attraction.
"There are facilities that just cannot be matched anywhere, especially for someone studying film and cinema,” says Jia Xu, who is studying for a Film Studies Master's.
”We have the Ingmar Bergman archive, which is a wonderful Unesco-certified resource, as well as the Swedish Film Institute Library. Add to that the wide diversity of the students here and good teachers, and it makes it a really competitive stimulating place to study.”
For Daniela Palacios from Ecuador, currently studying a Masters at Stockholm University's Department of Law, the international aspect of the courses at the university is also invaluable.
”It is a great experience for foreign students who come here. The university has a fantastic reputation, and it is one of the best in the world in both of the programmes I have studied here. The professors and quality of education here are of the highest quality.”
Furthermore, the fact that lectures are in English helps both personally and academically, according to the 27-year-old, who had previously worked as a lawyer in Quito, Ecuador before coming to Sweden.
”When I am finished, my studies and the experience from my time here make me pretty sure that I will be in a good position to start my career. Stockholm is a wonderful cosmopolitan city and the fact that lectures are all in English is an added benefit. If I was in France or somewhere else I would have to learn a new language on top of all my other studies,” says Palacios.
The benefits of being at Stockholm University are many, but the fact remains that for some, the only way to study in the Swedish capital will be to win a scholarship.
The Swedish Institute, a government agency, administers over 500 scholarships each year for students and researchers coming to Sweden to pursue their objectives at a Swedish university. This year, 697 applications reached the Swedish Institute, with Bangladesh, Ethiopia and Uganda representing 465 of them. As the new tuition fees come into effect though, that number is likely to rise significantly.
Jia Xu, who is from China, started last year when tuition was still free. Even though she has not had to pay for her tuition, sshe still believes the education and facilities still represent good value for those who do:
“It's not too expensive for many arts major students from Asia, but a lot depends on the individual student and on what you want and expect from the programme” she says.
For Chinese students in particular, there is another reason why Stockholm University still represents good value.
“In China we are experiencing unprecedented levels of inflation, so for some it wouldn't be so expensive anyway and Sweden is definitely one of the greatest options for somewhere to study.
"During my three years in Beijing I learned to make a living, but here I'm making a life.”