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UNIVERSITY

Foreign applications to Swedish unis rebound

The number of foreign students applying to masters programmes at Swedish universities is on the rise, according to preliminary figures, following last year's precipitous drop in foreign applicants.

Foreign applications to Swedish unis rebound

“There has been a total increase of 20 percent of foreign applicants for next semester’s masters programs,” Kaj Svensson, Uppsala University’s International Coordinator, told The Local.

While final figures have yet to be tallied, Svensson estimates that about 80 percent of the increase comes from applicants outside of Europe.

According to Svensson, the higher numbers are due in part to better marketing and recruitment efforts.

Foreign students have also shown a renewed interest in masters programmes at Lund University, where early figures have shown that foreign applications have risen by 20-25 percent this year.

“It’s going in the right direction,” said Richard Stenelo, Lund University’s director of external relations, to Sydsvenskan newspaper.

Overall, applications to masters programmes in Sweden have risen by 24 percent to 31,223 applicants, according to the paper.

The rise comes a year after applications to master’s programmes in Sweden fell by 73 percent and the number of people who applied for international courses dropped by 86 percent compared with the previous year.

Last year’s drop in applications from foreign students was attributed to the introduction of tuition fees for applicants from outside the EU, EEA and Switzerland.

Officials are encouraged by the preliminary indications of a recovery in foreign applicants, but admit it’s too early to say for sure how many non-European students will end up studying in Sweden.

Figures from the Swedish Agency for Higher Education (VHS) show that the number of international admissions to Swedish universities dropped by two thirds last year.

“We want to get up to the same levels we had before the fees when we had 600 new students from outside of Europe each year,” Stenelo told Sydsvenskan.

At Lund, applications from poorer countries such as Ethiopia, Pakistan, and Bangladesh are down 35 to 45 percent in the wake of the introduction of tuition fees.

And while scholarships were also introduced to help offset the tuition fees for students with limited financial means, the head of Lund, Per Eriksson, claims the government needs to do more.

“Our main criticism against this is that the government hasn’t really put a lot into scholarship money. That puts our international competitiveness at risk of missing out on top students simply because they don’t come from well-to-do families,” Eriksson told Sydsvenskan.

Another obstacle to attracting foreign students from poorer countries is the relatively high university application fees.

“We have an application fee of 900 kronor ($132), which is very comparable with universities in the UK and Netherlands for example, but a major cost for some,” said Joachim Ekström, Uppsala University’s external relations manager, to The Local.

“We have potential students in countries such as South Korea or Sudan who are looking for scholarship opportunities, excellent students sometimes, but they don’t end up applying.”

The price tag can simply be too much, according to Ekström, who noted that such a sum could be equivalent to a monthly wage in some countries.

“We have many students who pull out before the application fee deadline. It’s a real shame to think of the great students we miss out on due to low finances.”

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UNIVERSITY

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)

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