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Sweden: Application numbers down for 2011

The Swedish Agency for Higher Education Services (known in Swedish as Verket för Högskoleservice or VHS) is reporting a dramatic drop in applications for autumn 2011 for both Master’s programmes and so-called “international courses” (at the first-cycle or bachelor’s level). According to VHS data, application numbers are down for both Swedish applicants (defined as those with a Swedish civic registration number) and non-Swedes (those who do not hold such a number). But the non-Swede numbers are the most striking. Among these applicants, Master’s programme numbers are down 75% (from 85 521 in 2010 to 21 021 in 2011), while international course application numbers are down nearly 88% (from 39 384 in 2010 to 4 873 in 2011). Even among Swedes, there are 13% fewer applicants for international courses this year as compared to last, and 35% fewer Master’s programme applicants.
Press releases by VHS and analysis in other media point to the fact that this is the first year that tuition fees are being implemented in Sweden for students who are not citizens of the European Union, European Economic Area or Switzerland, which could explain the drop in applicant numbers. In terms of countries of origin, Sweden’s top ten sending countries have not changed markedly from 2010 to 2011, with most students hailing from Africa and Asia. However, it is interesting to note that Great Britain has moved this year onto the top ten lists for applicants to both Master’s programmes and international courses; Germany and the United States also figure among the top ten nationalities represented among Master’s applicants for 2011, where last year neither was present among the top ten nationalities.

Citing similar experiences of softening application numbers in the Netherlands and Denmark following the introduction of fees in those countries, VHS notes that a drop in applicants was not unexpected in Sweden this year. Indeed, in an effort to head off potential enrolment difficulties, Swedish higher education institutions were initiating a variety of responses leading up to this admission cycle (particularly in the area of increased marketing), while the government introduced a couple of new scholarship schemes for non-Swedish students. What will ultimately be most telling will be the actual yield of enrolled students in Swedish programmes in the autumn, and the trends in application numbers from 2012 on, once the “new normal” of Swedish fees becomes better established.

Swedish Agency for Higher Education Services (VHS)