Why are international doctoral students flocking to Stockholm universities?

The share of international doctoral students in Stockholm has increased sharply in the past ten years, a new report shows.

Why are international doctoral students flocking to Stockholm universities?
The KTH Royal Institute of Technology gets the largest share of international doctoral students. Photo: Veronica Johansson/SvD/TT

A total of 43 percent of Stockholm's 5,440 doctoral students come from another country – an increase of 14 percentage points since 2008 – according to the report by the Stockholm Academic Forum (Staf).

Most of them are enrolled at the KTH Royal Institute of Technology, where almost 1,000 doctoral students are of foreign origin – or, in other words, 58 percent of doctoral students at the university.

The Stockholm School of Economics has seen its share of international doctoral students grow from 25 to a whopping 53 percent over the past ten years, and from 19 to 42 percent at Stockholm University.

Sweden as a whole has seen a rise from 20 percent to 35 percent in the same period.

“It is a testament to the great reputation of our higher education institutions. We know that Stockholm is highly valued by foreign researchers, and in international comparisons, we often see that higher ranked universities have a higher proportion of international doctoral students,” said Maria Fogelström Kylberg, CEO of Staf, a collaborative body of Stockholm City and its 18 higher education institutions, in a statement.


Being a doctoral student in Sweden comes with several perks. One of the main ones is that unlike in many other countries, in Sweden doing a PhD is considered a job, which means that it often comes with not just student discounts, but also a range of employee benefits: salary, holiday days, sick pay and a pension.

If you come from a non-EU country, you may also be eligible for a permanent residence permit after your four years of doctoral studies – an attempt by Sweden to convince foreign talent to stay after their studies.

But students waiting for an extension to their permit often face long waits for a decision, and several readers have told The Local of the stress this causes: including being prevented from travelling to their home countries to visit family and friends, or missing out on key international academic conferences.

If you are an international doctoral student in Sweden who want to share your story – good or bad – we would love to hear from you. Please email [email protected].

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Swedish PM pledges to ban profit making at free schools

Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson has pledged to stop companies withdrawing profits from schools, in what is likely to be one of the Social Democrats' main campaigning issues in the coming election campaign.

Swedish PM pledges to ban profit making at free schools

The proposal, one of three measures announced to “take back democratic control over the school system”, was launched on the first day of the Almedalen political festival on the island of Gotland.

On Sunday evening, Andersson is set to give the first big speech of the festival, with Ulf Kristersson, leader of the centre-right Moderate party, and Left Party leader Nooshi Dadgostar scheduled to make their speeches on Monday, and Sweden’s other party leaders taking slots on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.  

“Schools in Sweden should focus on knowledge, not on the pursuit of profit,” Andersson said, as she made the pledge, stressing that her party aimed not only to ban withdrawing profits, but also “to make sure that all the possible loopholes are closed”. 

Free schools, she complained, siphon off billions of kronor in tax money every year at the same time as free schools increase divisions in society. 

Banning profits from schools is an obvious campaigning issue for the Social Democrats. The latest poll by Gothenburg University’s SOM Institute found that fully 67 percent of voters support such a ban.

The only issue is that the Centre Party, whose support the Social Democrats will need to form a government, is likely to block a future Social Democrat government from implementing it, something Andersson was willing to acknowledge.

“What I know is that there’s a very strong support for this among the Swedish people, but not in the Swedish parliament,” she said. 

The Social Democrats have campaigned on the issue in past elections, pledging to stoppa vinstjakten, or “stop the pursuit of profit in schools”, or, in the run-up to the 2018 election, only to see the policy blocked in the January Agreement the party did to win the support of the Centre Party and the Liberal party.  

On Sunday, Andersson would not give any details on whether companies listed on Swedish or international stockmarkets would be prevented from operating schools, saying she was leaving such details to an inquiry into reforming Sweden’s free school system the government launched on June 30th.  

In the press conference, Andersson criticised the inflated grades given out by free schools, which are dismissed by critics as glädjebetyg, literally “happy grades”.

“We end up having pupils who graduate with good marks who then realise that their school has let them down,” she said. 

At the press conference, Andersson also reiterated the Social Democrats call to ban the establishment of new religious free schools, and announced plans for a national schools choice system, stripping free schools of the ability to run their own queue systems.