Non-EU students drop Swedish unis as fees bite

Enrollment of non-European students in Swedish universities decline drastically following the introduction of tuition fees last year, with engineering students from Asia being among those most affected by the change, a new analysis has found.

Non-EU students drop Swedish unis as fees bite

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.”

David Landes

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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)