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Sweden: Many fewer “third-country” students set to enrol in 2011/12

First applications, then acceptances, now confirmed tuition payments. As of 28 June, the Swedish National Agency for Higher Education (Högskoleverket, or HSV) announced that the number of confirmed international or “third country” students (i.e. non-EU/EEA or Swiss) for the upcoming academic year currently stands at just 1 280. This figure represents the number of incoming students for autumn 2011 who have paid their tuition fees by the 15 June deadline. It is not possible to know to what degree this figure may change before classes actually begin this autumn, but the HSV openly projects that “considerably fewer students [from] outside EU/EEA will be studying at Swedish universities and colleges”. The introduction of both an application fee and tuition fees, effective this autumn, are largely seen as the cause of this development.

In 2009/10, some 16 600 third-country students were enrolled in Sweden’s higher education system. The HSV cautions that the 2009/10 figure cannot be directly compared to the autumn 2011 information, given that the former encompasses “all educational institutions” and an entire academic year, while the 2011 data reflect autumn enrolment intentions only and relate to just 32 institutions. Still, the downward trend in applications (see ACA Newsletter – Education Europe, February 2011) and acceptances (see ACA Newsletter – Education Europe, May 2011) paint a clear picture of serious reductions in numbers of third-country students, at least for now.

How long this pattern will hold remains uncertain, but the experiences of other countries may provide some idea. Denmark introduced tuition fees in 2006 and saw a drop in new entrants from non EU/EEA countries of some 35% percent from 2005/06 to 2006/07, according to information from the Danish Agency for International Education. University master programmes were particularly affected at that time. By 2008/09, however, Denmark had recovered almost completely from the enrolment slump, at least in terms of overall numbers of non-EU/EEA new entrants. In Sweden, scholarships are seen by some as an important way to offset what the HSV sees as a real risk of a “very big” decline in third-country students. Some such programmes have been introduced and expanded of late, but there is no clear sense yet of how these efforts will affect enrolment patterns, if at all.

Meanwhile, while international enrolments falter, the domestic picture looks much brighter. The Swedish Agency for Higher Education Services (known in Swedish as Verket för Högskoleservice or VHS) is reporting a “record number of admissions to higher education” in general this fall.

Swedish National Agency for Higher Education - HSV (in Swedish)

Swedish Agency for Higher Education Services - VHS (in Swedish)