Studying in Sweden For Members

How many foreign students are there in Sweden and where are they from?

Loukas Christodoulou
Loukas Christodoulou - [email protected]
How many foreign students are there in Sweden and where are they from?
A student looking for reading material at Kungliga Biblioteket in Stockholm. Photo: Isabell Höjman/TT

Almost 40,000 international students started courses in Sweden last year. How does this compare to previous years? What countries are they from, and which universities are most popular?


Some 39,806 international students began studying in Sweden during the 2021/22 academic year. Of this figure, 21,754 were female and 18,052 were male.

Of these students, 28,197 were so-called "free movers", meaning that they have organised their own studies and applied independently, rather than moving to Sweden as part of a student exchange programme, and 11,644 were exchange students.

This is a slight increase in the total number of international students from the 2020/21 academic year, which saw a lull in admissions due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Just 33,298 international students arrived in Sweden that year.

The year before, 2019/20, saw similar figures to 2021/22, when 39,589 international students registered for courses in Sweden.


Where do they come from?

Looking at the breakdown of the 39,806 students by country of origin, we can see that the country at the top of the list is not a country at all; it’s a group of more than 7,000 students where the country of origin is unknown.

Erik Dahl, analyst at the Swedish Higher Education Authority, told The Local that this category includes students who haven’t given any details, “for example it can be those from the rest of the Nordic region or an EU/EEA country".

Some students in this group will also be students studying remotely, or those in Sweden for fewer than three months. EU citizens are allowed to stay in Sweden for three months without registering their details, and non-EU citizens staying fewer than three months do not need to apply for a residence permit (but may need a visa in some cases).

Of the 'unknown' category, all were so-called 'free-mover' students.


Germany and China the biggest 

After students with an unknown country of origin, the next-largest group of students arriving in Sweden in 2021/22 came from Germany, with an all-time high of 4,166 German students arriving in Sweden last year, most of whom (2,346) were exchange students.

The next largest group was China, with 2,302 Chinese students starting courses in Sweden last year. In contrast to the German students, the vast majority (2,003 of 2,302) were 'free-mover' students, rather than exchange students.

China was followed by France in third place (2,276 students, mostly exchange students), India in fifth (2,125, mostly 'free-movers'), and Finland sixth (1,951, also mostly 'free-movers').

Rounding out the rest of the top ten were Spain with 1,463 students, Pakistan with 1,395, Italy with 1,305 and the Netherlands on 1,152.

See the end of this article for a full breakdown of countries.

Pandemic changes

Comparing 2021/22 with 2020/21, it is clear that pandemic-related restrictions caused a drop in the number of exchange students coming to Sweden as part of a university programme in their own country, whereas the number of 'free-movers' was not particularly affected.

The big drop in 'free-movers' occurred instead in 2011/12, where 38,140 students came to Sweden, down from 46,691 the year before. This is likely due to the fact that fees were brought in for 'free-movers' from non-EU countries in 2021.

In fact, statistics show that the ‘free-mover’ student numbers that fell so abruptly after 2010 continued to climb unbroken through the pandemic years, whereas exchange students saw a sharp drop in numbers in academic year 2020/2021. 

Exchange student numbers for 2021/22, however, had almost returned to pre-pandemic levels.


Technical universities most popular for Indians

In terms of students paying course fees, the highest numbers came from India (1,713), China (1,655) and Pakistan (1,135), followed by students with an unknown country of origin.

The most popular universities for international students in general were Lund (5,362), Stockholm (4,426), Uppsala (4,263) and Gothenburg (3,663).

Looking at international students from specific countries, the three top universities for students from India were Chalmers University of Technology (350 students), KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm (320 students), and Blekinge Institute of Technology in Karlskrona (266 students).

KTH was the most popular university for Chinese students, with 526 Chinese students arriving there in 2021/22. This was followed by 391 Chinese students at Lund University and 302 at Uppsala.

For Pakistani students, Linnaeus University in Småland was most popular, with 183 students commencing studies there in 2021/22, followed by 182 at Uppsala and 111 at Stockholm University.

You can have a look at the full statistics here.



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