SWEDEN: Fees deter foreign applicants

Universities have experienced a severe drop in the number of international applicants for places on masters programmes and international courses compared to last year, following Sweden's introduction of fees for students from outside the European Union, the European Economic Area and Switzerland.

The number of international applicants for masters programmes dropped by 73% compared with 2010, while the number for international courses fell by 86%

The academic year 2011-12 is the first year that international students are to be charged fees, which vary according to the rate set by individual institutions but in some cases are expected to top SEK200,000 (US$30,000) per year.

Tuula Kuosmanen, responsible for applications at the Swedish Agency for Higher Education, said the fall in applications was expected.

One objective of bringing in fees for foreign students was to cut the immense volume of work involved in handling an ever-growing number of international applications.

But there were fears that a dramatic fall in international applications would lead to the closure of undersubscribed courses and programmes. For example, some masters programmes are reportedly more than 50% populated by Asian students, and if they stopped coming the programmes might cease to be available for Swedish students.

Kåre Bremer, Rector of Stockholm University, said the drop was actually "somewhat less than we expected.

"But we need to wait to see how many applicants actually fulfill their application by paying the registration fee before the deadline at the end of this month."

Niklas Traneus, head of the project Study destination Sweden who has coordinated information campaigns between 31 Swedish higher education institutions, says it is too early to draw any conclusions.

"I think all Swedish higher education institutions are expecting a drop in the number of international students in the short term. But within a few years, many of them should be able to attract increasing numbers of international students," he said.

Around 23,000 international students have applied for a study place that demands tuition fees. Another 7,886 are exempted from tuition fees. The total number of international applicants is thus 30,866. There were 25,094 applicants for masters courses, compared to 91,788 in 2010; and 5,772 applicants for international courses compared to 40,429 a year ago.

Next week's deadline for payment of the application fee of SEK 900 (US$136) and next April's deadline for paying the first instalment of the tuition fee could affect the final number of applicants accepted.

The highest numbers of applicants for masters courses came from Ethiopia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Iran, Germany, China, India, UK, Nigeria and the United States. The highest numbers for international courses came from Nigeria, Pakistan, Ethiopia, Bangladesh, Iran, Ghana, Cameroon, Kenya, the UK and India.

The institutions receiving most applicants to masters courses demanding tuition fees are: Lund University (7,234); Stockholm University (3,928), Chalmers University of Technology (3,195) and Uppsala University (3,186).

The most popular institutions for applicants to international courses with tuition fees are: Linnaeus University (1,569), Malmö University (1,149), Jönköping University (1,067) and Umeå University (1,053).

The tuition fee issue has made Swedish universities and governmental organisations work out totally new strategies for internationalisation. Lund University states in a new action plan that it aims to have 400 tuition fee-paying students starting their education in the autumn of 2011, two-thirds the number of those accepted from outside EU-EEA-Switzerland in 2009. But it expects the numbers to rise rapidly with the help of a reported EUR1 million (US$1.36 million) marketing drive.

"Within three years Lund is expecting to be at the same level of students from outside the EEA as in 2009, with 1,000 fee-paying students, and within five years the number will be greater than today, with approximately 1,500 tuition fee-paying students."

Altogether, 29 higher education institutions this year offered 583 different study programmes for international students.

Around 3,500 of applicants who are exempt from paying fees had registered for the Swedish Institute Scholarship grant by 20 January, a day before the deadline.

The Swedish Institute offers about 500 study grants in different programmes, including 80 to 100 Swedish Institute Scholarship grants for nationals from Bangladesh, Bolivia, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, Ethiopia, Kenya, Mali, Mozambique, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia.

In 2008-09, the last year for which full figures are available, there were 36,000 foreign students in Sweden, 5,000 more than the year before. Two-thirds of them were 'free movers', and one-third came on exchange programmes. Asian students accounted for 40% of the free movers, with 10% coming from China, and the most common areas of study were technology and production. In 2009-10, 25% of new students were foreign.

Foreign students already studying in Sweden will not have to pay tuition fees.