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Sweden: The crux with the tuition fees

The recently published Budget proposition of the Swedish governments plans to increase funding for scholarship grants for international students from currently SEK 160 million to SEK 210 million (EUR 18.5 million to EUR 27.7 million). The decision for raising scholarship has to be seen in the light of the introduction of tuition fees in Sweden for international students in 2011, which had a significant impact on student numbers from abroad, in particular from developing countries.

Tuition fees currently apply for all students who are not citizen of a country of the European Economic Area (EEA) or Switzerland. Exceptions can be made for third-country nationals with proven strong ties to Sweden such as persons holding a permanent residence permit. The introduction of tuition fees in 2011 was accompanied by measures to decrease state funding for Swedish universities (see ACA Newsletter – Education Europe May 2011 and July 2011). Swedish universities now charge non EEA+Switzerland students between SEK 80 000 to SEK 140 000 (EUR 9000 to EUR to EUR 16 000) per academic year. Fees apply for regular enrolment in a bachelor’s or master’s programme – but not for a PhD programme – and only for those students who enrolled for the first time after the introduction of tuition fees. Similarly, international students coming to Sweden within the framework of an exchange programme are not charged any tuition fees. 

According to a recently published statistical analysis by the Swedish Higher Education Authority – Universitetskanslersämbetet, the number of international students (outside from the EEA+Switzerland) decreased by 60 % from 10 200 to 4300 students, following the introduction of tuition fees in 2011. This figure has since then largely remained the same, affecting mainly so called ‘freemover’ international students, i.e. students coming to Sweden outside the framework of an exchange programme with a partner university. In total numbers this has led to a decrease of approximately 1000 Chinese, 900 Iranian and Pakistani, 800 Indian and 500 Bangladeshi students. In relative terms, there was an almost 95 % decline in students from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Cameroon. However, the number of international students from the EEA and Switzerland has increased by 64 % from 1400 freemover students in 2010 to 2300 in 2012. In either case, the number of international students coming to Sweden through exchange programmes remained stable, thus, not affecting the recent developments.

Considering the change in numbers, Sweden has most certainly suffered a loss of international student numbers. Nevertheless, the budget proposal issued by Swedish Minister for International Development Cooperation is not to be seen as some form of window dressing to boost international student numbers, but is rather a concern with regard to development aid, given the strong effect the introduction of tuition fees had on developing countries. However, this step has not come without meeting severe criticism. Until now, the budget for international students amounted to SEK 160 million (EUR 18.5 million) million of which already SEK 100 million (EUR 11 million) were part of the budget for development aid. Critics have argued that development aid should be spent on other things and that the amount of money spent on international students from developing countries should be kept, but covered by other budgets such as the budget for higher education.

Swedish Higher Education Authority - Statistical analysis (in Swedish) Swedish Higher Education Authority - 2013 status report Government Offices of Sweden (in Swedish) SHARE