An analysis of Swedish university admissions statistics by the Swedish National Agency for Higher Education (Högskolverket) found that the total number of new foreign student enrollments dropped by a third between 2010 and 2011.
The drop in foreign student enrollment from 22,100 to 14 700, which has been documented previously, corresponds with the introduction of tuition fees for the autumn 2011 term for students from outside the EU/EES.
Much of the decline, however, consisted of "freemovers" – students who choose to come to Sweden on their own accord, rather than as part of an organized exchange programme – from non-European countries.
"Nearly the entire drop can be attributed to fewer freemovers choosing to study in Sweden," the agency's Torbjörn Lindqvist told The Local.
"China accounts for the largest drop in terms of the number of students enrolling, but in terms of percentages, some countries have seen their enrollments almost disappear completely."
Overall, the analysis found a 79 percent decline in the number of non-European students following the introduction of tuition fees.
While there were 1,827 new students from China for the fall term of 2010, the figure had dropped to 820 for the 2011 fall term.
But the 55 percent drop in new students from China is a relatively minor reduction compared to the more than 90 percent decline in new enrollments from Pakistan and Bangladesh.
And enrollment of new students from Iran, India, and Thailand also dropped by more than 80 percent.
"The drop is somewhat less pronounced for China because there are a number of organized exchanged programmes there," said Lindqvist.
He explained that officials had expected foreign student enrollment to decline in the wake of the introduction of tuition fees.
"In some ways, that was the point; not the reduction in itself, but as education minister Jan Björklund has explained, the fees are meant to focus on quality as the main attraction of studying in Sweden, rather than it being free," he said.
While all subject areas popular with foreign students included in the analysis experienced a drop in enrollment between 2010 and 2011, the largest reduction took place within the natural sciences (48 percent) and engineering programmes.
A total of 1,155 newly enrolled students, or 8 percent, paid tuition fees for the autumn 2011 term, according to the agency, with the highest number of paying students – 190 – enrolling at Lund University in southern Sweden.
Lund also experienced the smallest overall decline in foreign students following the introduction of tuition fees, will enrollment dropping by only 18 percent.
The University of Gävle, however, saw its foreign student enrollment plummet by 70 percent, while the Blekinge Institute of Technology had 63 percent fewer foreign students enroll in 2011 compared to 2010.
On average, foreign student enrollment was down by 33 percent across all Swedish universities.
"The drop is going to affect different schools in different ways," said Linqvist.
"Those with a large drop will likely have to make adjustments and in some cases that may mean cutting back certain programmes."
Despite the drop, Lindqvist added that foreign students still accounted for 21 percent of new enrollments at Swedish universities in 2011.
"Of course, more of them now come from other European countries as students from within the EU can't be charged tuition fees in Sweden, which is one of the consequences of the change," he said
It remains to be seen, however, whether current trends will continue.
"Being free was certainly a competitive advantage for Sweden," said Lindqvist.
"But higher education in Sweden has a pretty good reputation internationally."