SWEDEN: Living costs and fees deter foreign students

A government survey of the impact of the introduction of tuition fees on international students in Sweden this autumn has revealed that one in three of those accepted into universities did not take up the places because living costs are too high.

Only 29% of 4,600 fee-eligible students accepted for a study place actually registered, compared to 79% of Swedish students.

"What is now needed are more grants that do not only cover tuition fees but also living costs, or at least some of the living costs," Kåre Bremer, rector of Stockholm University, said on his blog.

The new 50-page survey, published by the Swedish National Agency for Higher Education (HSV), maps out the experiences of non-European Economic Area (EEA) students at 48 Swedish higher education institutions.

According to an earlier analysis published by HSV in autumn, between 2010 and 2011 the number of new students from outside Sweden decreased by 29%, from 19,400 to 13,800, compared to a 6% fall in the number of Swedish students.

The proportion of non-EEA students among the new intake fell from one in three in 2010 to one in 10 in 2011, after tuition fees were introduced for them.

The latest HSV survey found that the reform had created a huge burden for Swedish higher education institutions, which reported that the workload was disproportionately heavy for the results obtained - the recruitment of 1,350 students from outside the EEA.

However, some institutions reported that the reform had made them more aware of the need to clarify their internationalisation strategy, of which admission of non-EEA students, and securing grants for them, was an integral part.

Several institutions have hired new staff to work with non-EEA student recruitment, and two-thirds of the respondents said that they have had to improve their service towards foreign students in general.

Many institutions said that the housing question for foreign students had been addressed, and some said that they had to work out a guarantee for housing for non-EEA students paying the tuition fee.

Some institutions reported that the new demand for price-setting of university courses, even those courses that are only taught in Swedish, was a new challenge. One problem reported was how to treat non-EAA students who had been accepted before fees were introduced but now wanted to change courses; another was how to handle doctorate students who wanted to study courses at masters level.

Some 31 out of 37 public higher education institutions accepted non-EEA students this year, the highest number being at Lund University (213) followed by Chalmers Technological University (134), Royal Technological University-KTH (119) and Uppsala University (115). They each took more than 100 tuition fee students.

The four universities received 42% of all tuition fee-eligible students this year. The take-up rate to the universities was also 42%, significantly higher than the national average (29%).

Five universities received between 50 and 100 tuition fee-paying students, and 14 received between 10 and 50, meaning that 10 institutions received fewer than 10 students.

Of the 1,350 non-EAA students starting their studies in the autumn term, 40% or 569 students had a grant from Sweden covering all or part of the fee. But 100 students who had paid the fee did not take up their studies, probably due to problems with immigration, and 30% of those students offered a grant or part of a grant - 250 students - declined the offer.

The institutions reported that a full grant was a much more effective recruitment instrument, compared to grants covering only part of the tuition fee.

Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm offered all the 24 students it accepted a grant, but nine of these (38%) declined the offer. Lund University offered 16% of those accepted a grant, Stockholm and Gothenburg universities 9%, and Uppsala University 8%.

The total amount of grants awarded was SEK33 million (EUR3.7 million).