SWEDEN: Offers to foreign students in drastic fall

Swedish Universities have made 60% fewer offers to international applicants than last year, following the introduction of tuition fees for foreign students.

Offers have been posted to 10,019 international applicants for study places next year on either an international masters degree course or a separate international course, down from 24,515 in 2010.

Around 4,600 of the recipients are from outside the European Union, and will have to pay SEK100,000 to SEK200,000 (US$16,500 to US$33,000) a year in tuition fees. The majority of offers are for masters courses.

The first installment of the fee charge has to be paid before 15 June this year. Based on estimates that 50% of students from outside Europe will pay the fee required, the number of international students is expected to decline from 24,515 in 2010 to approximately 8,000 this year.

Swedish universities offered 540 different masters courses or separate international courses taught in English. Many of these now will have few if any students.

Universities are waiting anxiously to see how many of the fee-paying foreign applicants will accept their offer. Anything less than a 100% take-up could leave a shortfall in the SEK500 million that the government argued would be saved from taxpayers' money by charging tuition fees to foreign students. A 50% take up would create a shortfall of between SEK250 million and SEK300 million.

Eva Malmström Jonsson, Deputy President of the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH) in Stockholm, said: "Even though many universities have high ambitions and aim to attract fee-paying students I do not consider it likely that the sector will attract enough students to bring in SEK500 million, which roughly equals 4,000 to 5,000 paying students per academic year.

"This is of course worrying since this might reduce the total funding to higher education in Sweden."

However, the government has stated that the money will still be made available to universities, but will be distributed according the quality of education, Jonsson said.

KTH has lost half of its international applicants, and Lund University, with most applicants from outside Europe, has lost 25% of applicants compared with 2010.

KTH anticipates that the number of master programmes will be cut back, maybe even for 2012-13.

"In the slightly longer perspective we foresee that the course portfolio will have to be reduced. Another possible consequence is that since there will be fewer students graduating from masters programmes, the numbers of PhD students will be reduced," Jonsson said. "I believe the picture is similar at all Swedish higher education institutions."

The fall in applications followed the decision to charge tuition fees for international students from outside the European Union and European Economic Area, and means that Swedish universities have significantly reduced the work involved in sifting applications from foreign students. For 2011 they had to examine 15,000 applications, against 132,000 last year.

Daniel Guhr, managing director of ICG, which advises Swedish universities on strategies for change management, said the sharp fall in non EU-EAA international students likely to enrol in Swedish institutions this autumn is not a surprise - but the introduction of tuition fees may have played less of a role than is assumed.

He blamed the introduction of an SEK900 application fee. "The fee to apply to Swedish universities is the highest in the world and the fact that 70% of non EU-EAA foreign students who applied did not pay it is a near-unprecedented attrition rate in an application cycle, which should give cause for concern."

Swedish universities now participate in a 'forum for internationalisation' to monitor the effects of the introduction of tuition fees, coordinate international marketing and liaise with governmental agencies in the development of administrative procedures to manage the many changes needed.

Most universities are working on their international strategies and how to attract fee-paying students in the future.