In its budget for 2013 the Swedish government has proposed doubling the grant for students from outside Europe. The move should help attract foreign students to Sweden, which saw a dramatic drop in numbers following the introduction of fees for non-Europeans in 2011.
Earlier this month the major newspaper, Dagens Nyheter, reported a reduction of 80%, compared to 2010, in the number of foreign students admitted to higher education institutions in Stockholm.
The grant for students from outside Europe is to be increased from SEK50 million to SEK100 million (US$15 million) and distributed to universities from the Swedish Institute in Stockholm.
The funds will include students from OECD and Development Assistance Committee (DAC) countries outside Europe. A further SEK60 million is to be provided for students from countries not on the DAC list.
The application fee at Swedish higher education institutions is SEK900 (US$137) and the average tuition fee per year for students from outside Europe is SEK120,000 (US$18,300).
Defending its 2011 introduction of tuition fees for non-European students, an education ministry press release argued that Swedish higher education must compete globally through its quality rather than by virtue of tuition-free education.
But the budget increase comes as a reaction to numerous calls for grants from Swedish higher education institutions, amid reports of increased workloads in running marketing campaigns to attract foreign students and finding grants from other sources.
There have also been complaints about lack of good students on international masters courses; until 2010, foreign students from outside Europe were often in the majority.
Magnus Mörck, director of studies at the University College of Arts, Crafts and Design in Stockholm, said the number of masters students from outside Europe had decreased from 45 in 2010 to just four in 2012.
And KTH, the Royal Institute of Technology, said there might need to be a reduction in courses and even in personnel, due to lack of masters students.
Rector of Stockholm University Professor Kåre Bremer told University World News: “Doubling the number [of grants] is welcome but it is still far from satisfactory, and we need more grants – not only for students from developing countries but for students from any country outside Europe where tuition fees apply.”
He explained: “The grant programme is for students from countries defined by the UN as ‘developing countries’, but Sweden needs many more incoming students from, for instance, the US and other developed countries outside Europe, where students have to pay tuition fees in Sweden.”
At Stockholm University 81 students paying tuition fees started this autumn term, with the largest numbers coming from China (17), Ukraine (nine) and the US (eight). Of these, 64 were at masters level (32 of whom received a grant).
Niklas Tranaeus, a manager at the Study in Sweden programme of the Swedish Institute, told University World News that the institute welcomed the funding increase: “This will help universities to recruit students from a larger number of countries. It is good for students and it's good for the internationalisation of Swedish higher education.”
But Daniel J Guhr, managing director of Illuminate Consulting Group, questioned whether doubling grants for students from outside of Europe, while undoubtedly a “generous measure”, was the most effective approach to recruiting talented international students to Sweden.
For one thing, he argued, even SEK100 million was “a far cry from what would be needed to directly and indirectly attract substantial numbers of talented international students.
"Moreover, scholarships are only one tool in a larger toolkit Swedish universities must deploy. This toolkit also includes regulatory clarity, sufficient national brand support measures, and institutional structures that support a tuition fees-based recruiting model.
“It is not unlikely that SEK50 million would be better spent supporting institutional recruiting efforts, creating a larger presence of Swedish education at international events, and supporting new and innovative partnering approaches. The latter has worked rather well for Canada, and it should work well for Sweden.”
In terms of the increased funding made available for grants, around 60 scholarships are to be for citizens of the following countries with which Sweden has long-term development assistance programmes: Bangladesh, Bolivia, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, Ethiopia, Kenya, Mali, Mozambique, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia.
International students seeking financial help are also advised to examine the web page of the university in Sweden where they want to study.
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