SWEDEN: Scholarships to woo back foreign students

The Swedish government has responded to the drastic fall in the number of international students from outside Europe, following the introduction of tuition fees, by increasing funding for scholarships.

When fees for non-European students were introduced from the 2011 autumn term, two schemes were brought in to compensate for the loss of international students.

The Swedish Tuition Fee Waiver was earmarked for specially gifted students from all over the world, and enables them to have part or all of their fee waived. The Swedish Institute Study Scholarship was created for nationals of 12 countries with which Sweden has development cooperation programmes.

Both schemes have now been enhanced in the government's budget for 2012. The waiver scheme doubles from SEK30 million (US$4.4 million) to SEK60 million, while the scholarship scheme has been opened to students from all developing countries, with funding raised from SEK30 million to SEK50 million.

However, this may make only a small dent in the sharply falling number of students from outside the EU, European Economic Area and Switzerland taking up degree places.

The number of these students declined by more than 80%, from 8,000 in 2009-10, the last year of comparable figures, to 1,400 this year. The fee waiver is available only for students not eligible for the scholarship programme and is awarded to students nominated by the universities to which they have applied.

In 2011 the scholarship programme attracted 7,026 applications from 2,700 individuals, but only 105 were granted. Chalmers Technological University secured scholarships for 17 international students, Lund University 12, the Royal Institute of Technology 11, and 18 other universities received one to six places each.

The grant covers all tuition fees, which might go up to SEK322,000 this year, and also provides for a monthly payment of SEK6.720 to cover living costs.

Eligibility is evaluated on the basis of the applicant's resumé and a letter which, among other things, has to answer the question: "In what way would your intended studies in Sweden contribute to the development of your home country?"

Kåre Bremer, Rector of Stockholm University, said the measures would increase the opportunities for good students to come to Sweden, but warned that lack of student housing deterred many potential applicants.

He wrote on his blog that there was a need to work in many different ways to bring more international students to Sweden, now that tuition fees were in place.

"They become important ambassadors for Sweden, Stockholm and Stockholm University, and some choose to stay here or to return. More grants are needed, more information and more student housing. The shortage of student housing means that many say no. In some cases they even come here but go back home again when housing cannot be arranged. Stockholm cannot afford to manage its future knowledge base in this way."

Of 70 fee-paying students at Stockholm University at the start of the autumn term, 27 were in receipt of scholarships. The university had awarded scholarships to 13 students from 10 countries, and the Swedish Institute had granted 14 scholarships to students from 10 countries.

Richard Stenelo, assistant head of external relations at Lund University, said last year 600 non-European students started studying in Lund free of charge. But this autumn, after tuition fees were introduced for certain foreign students, the number fell to 220. Of those 143 have paid the fees without any Swedish support.

"We should still be pleased as other institutions have had a much greater drop in numbers," he said. "We have increased our national market share from 7% to 19%. Lund University has by far the most international students in Sweden."

Scholarship recipients were from more than 20 countries, ranging from China and the US to Ukraine, Turkey, Ethiopia, Zambia and Mexico.

At Linköping University, 40 fee-paying students from 12 countries enrolled this autumn, down from 400 last year. Twelve of these had half of their fee covered by the waiver scheme, and eight had a full scholarship from the Swedish Institute..

Daniel Guhr, an education consultant with Illuminating Consulting Group, who advises several Swedish universities, said the increased funding for scholarships was welcome, but universities should not be looking to government alone to fund good quality higher education.

"To attract and retain talent, universities and businesses need to step up as well," he said. "The introduction of tuition fees has made an alignment in this area necessary."

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