In 2015 over 138,000 studied at the tax-payer funded courses, an increase of 11 percent compared to the year before. But only 37 percent of students followed their studies through to the end.
Of the total number of students that took a break from studies, 22 percent dropped the classes entirely, while 41 percent opted to continue the course the following year.
Explanations for the low completion rate vary. Maria Rönn, deputy chairman of Swedish teaching union Lärarförbundet, believes that a shortage of competent teachers could be to blame.
“Only with high quality classes are students encouraged to continue their courses,” she told news agency TT.
But Sivert Kvarnéus, SFI rector for southern Stockholm, said that students starting new jobs is the real explanation.
“Many of them get a temporary job. Some move because they get a job elsewhere,” he said.
“The SFI system is structured so that students can come back after a long time and pick up their studies where they left off. Many students have dependents, and for their family they have to first and foremost have work.”
Union boss Rönn argued that the high dropout rate is still a significant problem even if the departing students were leaving for work.
“Language is the key to society. Of course it’s good that many of the students that interrupt their courses get a job, but students need the language for more than just what they learn in their profession,” she said.
In May a report showed that it now takes an average of two years to complete the basic SFI A course, with the frequency of breaks cited as an explanation for the slow pace of learning.