Why international researchers love to call Malmö home

Malmö's not that big of a city. And it's not world-famous, either. But researchers love it anyway - why?

Why international researchers love to call Malmö home
Photo: Christoph Zielinski

You would struggle to find a country which does not want to attract the world’s brightest brains in the hope that what they might achieve will help secure scientific, medical, societal and economic prosperity.

And post-graduates looking to study a PhD abroad arguably – and with funding allowing – can pick and choose a research hub almost anywhere in the world.

Sweden has long had a reputation for academic prowess, but what is it which draws researchers to these Nordic shores, and, more specifically, Malmö University?

Silvia Galli, from Modena, Italy, graduated in dentistry before eventually finding herself in Malmö.

Since then, her ground-breaking PhD work has led her to secure second place at the Researchers’ Grand Prix, a Swedish competition that challenges scientists to present their findings in as captivating, inspiring and educational a way as possible.

“I always thought I was a Mediterranean girl,” she confesses. “I would have pictured myself in Madrid, Lisbon, Athens or Rome. I didn’t choose Sweden for Sweden; I chose it as the best place to do this work.”

Her research came from an interest in titanium dental implants designed to substitute the root. After completing her master’s thesis on developing such implants, she attended a lecture by a professor which fuelled her interest and led her to a one-year scholarship in Gothenburg.

It was there that a professor recommended she apply for a PhD at Malmö University’s Faculty of Odontology.

Now she is on the cutting-edge of developing a magnesium-based metal which has the potential to change how fractured bones are treated. While Galli’s primary focus is on the jaw, new funding is enabling the exploration of the potential of using this smart material to heal bones elsewhere in the body.

Photo: David Bergström

“Some fractures need to be operated on and stabilised with metal plates or screws, which later need to be removed, but with the materials we are developing, the fracture will heal and then the metal will dissolve by itself,” Galli explains.

That means that the patient won’t need a second operation, reducing hospital stays, trauma, and further scars.

“At the moment there are clinical applications for fractures in small bones in the hands, fingers, feet, and ankles, and we are trying to develop them for longer bones like the femur, especially for children.”

Galli credits Sweden and Malmö University for opening up her world to the field of research.

“I saw it as a chance to have an experience abroad. There were many factors in this decision, but then I liked it very much when I started doing research. Before I came here, I didn’t even know what a PhD involved! It really opened up the world for me.”

And it was at Malmö University, with its ethos and multidisciplinary approach, that she fully realised the potential of her research.

“One department alone, like ours, can of course not have all the devices, all knowledge and all expertise”, she explains. “But if you take our network, that is an important strength. You really need to cooperate, and when it comes to that, Malmö University is excellent.”

“I think one plus that Sweden has when it comes to research is that there is a better work-life balance than in other countries,” she adds.

“Research can sometimes take up all of your time and if you are in a group in society which expects you to invest all your time working, that can affect your life. But here I have a life outside of research.”

Of course Galli and the other researchers work hard, she clarifies. But life feels easy and the work environment is democratic, as opposed to the hierarchical structure she was used to in Italy.

“In Italy a professor is ranked much, much higher than a PhD student, and they like to highlight that,” Galli says.

While Galli is due to complete her doctoral studies in December, she has no plans to leave Malmö any time soon. The city is a perfect fit – both personally and professionally.

“It’s an attractive city, the western harbour and the beach in particular,” she says. “The Skåne region has lots to explore. We have Copenhagen nearby, but to be honest I don’t tend to go there that often. I prefer to spend my time in Malmö. It’s home.”

Discover more about the Faculty of Odontology’s research here.

Check out all Malmö University’s international bachelor’s and master’s programmes here.

More Malmö University stories on The Local

 This article was sponsored by Malmö University.


‘They feel conned’: Swedish universities fight for PHDs hit by new residency rules

Sweden's top universities are to call for doctoral students to be exempted from Sweden's tough new permanent residency rules, arguing that it will damage both academic standards and national competitiveness.

'They feel conned': Swedish universities fight for PHDs hit by new residency rules
At Lund Technical University, a majority of doctoral students are international. Photo: Kennet Ruona/LTU

In a post on Wednesday, Astrid Söderbergh Widding, the chair of Association of Swedish Higher Education Institutions, said that Sweden’s universities had agreed to submit a joint letter to the government “very soon”, calling for parliament to put in place a special exemption for PHD students to make it easier to stay in Sweden after their studies. 

The parliament, she wrote, “should introduce an exemption for doctoral students and young researchers from the requirement to be financially self-sufficient”. 

Previously, doctoral students were eligible for a permanent residence permit if they had lived in Sweden with a residence permit for doctoral studies for four out of the past seven years. Apart from a slim set of requirements, this was granted more or less automatically.

But according to Sweden’s new Migration Act, which was introduced in July this year as comprehensive legislation to control the number of asylum applications, they now need to be able to additionally show that they can support themselves financially for at least a year and half.

The new law means that the rules for permanent residency are now the same for all categories of applicants, including doctoral students.

Stefan Bengtsson, the rector at Chalmers University of Technology, said that the change would mean as many as 400 to 500 doctoral students, many of whom have built up considerable expertise, might be unable to stay in Sweden.

“This makes for an uncertain future for those from outside of Europe who have applied to come to Sweden for an academic career, which is cause for great concern and disappointment among those who came here under other circumstances,” he told The Local. “Some of them may, of course, feel like they’ve been conned

But what was even more worrying, he said, would be the impact the change to the law might have in the longer term. 

“This change to the law could contribute to giving Sweden a bad reputation. This will create difficulties in recruiting internationally and damage our long-term skills supply.”


At Lund University, the majority of doctoral students in the science and technical faculties are from outside Europe, while Söderbergh Widding, who is also vice chancellor at Stockholm University, estimated that about half of doctoral students were international. 

Söderbergh Widding told the TT newswire that the change was “a devastating death blow”, which put to waste a “previously hard-won battle to make it possible for doctoral students to obtain a permanent residency permit after four years of studies”. 

She said in her letter that the change contradicted the research policy proposition from December 2020, which stated that the “number of foreign doctoral students who stay in Sweden should increase”, and said that giving residency to doctoral students was a good way to increase this.  

Ole Petter Ottersen, the rector of the elite Karolinska medical university, told the newswire that he thought the change in residency laws would damage Swedish competitiveness. 

“This is not good for Sweden. This will damage our ability to attract and recruit talent from other countries. For a country that lies on the periphery, the goal should be to make it easier, not harder, to recruit competence.”