International masters applications rise despite high fees

Applicants for international masters programmes in Sweden for 2012-13 are up 24% over last year, at 31,223. But this is significantly lower than before Sweden introduced tuition fees for students from outside the European Economic Area.

In 2010, 132,000 students applied for more than 500 masters programmes.

Swedish universities now have three strategic objectives: to broaden the number and quality of applicants from Europe who do not have to pay tuition fees; to compete globally for tuition fee-eligible students; and to recruit more Swedish students to the programmes.

One in four applicants for international masters studies in 2012 do not have to pay tuition fees.

The number who had paid the application fee by this week's deadline has increased to 6,182 from 5,061 last year, or 22%. In addition, 834 have paid application fees for single courses, an increase of 14%. Altogether 6,157 have applied for international courses, an increase of 7%.

It is not clear how many international students will be offered a study place, how many will pay the first instalment of the tuition fees by the first deadline of 15 June, how many have applied on the condition that they get a grant either from the Swedish government or a higher education institution to which they have applied, and above all how many will take up their place in August 2012.

Lund University in the south of Sweden has received most applicants with 11,160 (a 23% increase on 2011-12), followed by Stockholm University (6,444, up 30%), KTH-Royal Technological University, Stockholm (5,304, up 3.3%), Chalmers Technological University (4,355, up 7.8%), and Linköping University (4,355, up 34.7%). The Karolinska Institutet received a 50% increase in applications.

Lund had the most sought-after masters programme, in international marketing and brand management, with 992 applicants, while its masters in international development and management received 719 applications. Of the 20 most popular international masters programmes, Lund has nine.

Data on applicants nationality is not yet available. Early figures from the main sought-after institutions indicate significant changes in the countries of origin of the applicants.

But at Lund, UK students increased by 30%, US students by 20%, Australia by 75%, Denmark by 56%, Greece by 48% and The Netherlands by 26% over the previous year. Countries with a significant drop in the number of applicants include Pakistan (-42%), Bangladesh (-34%); Ethiopia (-41%), Nigeria (-42%) and Rwanda (-44%).

However some other countries in Africa and Asia show a strong increase, such as Thailand (up 271%), Indonesia (up 196%), Zambia (up 123%) and Egypt (up 126%).

Niklas Tranæus, project manager for Study Destination Sweden at the Swedish Institute, told University World News: “It is clear that international recruitment efforts have had an effect. Up until now Swedish higher education institutions have spent very little resources on international marketing and recruitment.

"Increasing one’s visibility in the global education market takes time and Sweden is far from a well-known study destination, so the effect should be even more notable in a few years time.”

At Stockholm University, where applications for international masters students are up 30% at 6,444, students from the UK are in the majority with 388 applicants, followed by Germany (374), China (276), Bangladesh (238), US (234) and Ethiopia (228).

Some 4,664 tuition fee-paying students have applied to Stockholm, compared with 3,015 last year (a 55% increase). The majority come from China, Bangladesh, the US and Ethiopia.

In 2011, approximately 5,000 students from outside European Economic Area were offered a study place in Sweden, of whom 1,360 paid the first instalment of the fee, and subsequently took up the place they had paid for.

Stockholm Rector Kåre Bremer believes the increase in international applications is the result of an extensive marketing campaign at several universities abroad, in particular in China and the US. Most applicants are from the UK, Germany, China, Bangladesh and the US, in that order. The most popular studies are in economics.

“We have the potential to receive more applications and accept more international students, but the major problem is now the lack of student housing,” he wrote on his blog. “It is regrettable that international students who want to come to Stockholm have to decline the offer for a study, or even have to return home, due to the lack of available study rooms”.

Daniel Guhr, head of Illuminate Consulting Group, has advised several Swedish universities on their strategies to attract international tuition fee-paying students.

He told University World News that the increase, though encouraging, needed to be seen in the context of a sharp drop in applications from non-EEA countries in 2010-11 and the fact that only 10% of that much-diminished pool eventually enrolled in Swedish universities.

Guhr said Swedish universities should seek more international alliances, focusing on ties to industry to offer internships and job placements, opening up new recruiting channels through agents or pathways programmes, and engaging with social media.

“It is noteworthy that universities which made an effort to actively recruit and which invested in marketing activities have done disproportionally well. This includes large universities such as Lund, but also a small school such as the Jönköping International Business School,” he said.

“The rise of application numbers highlights that the argument that Swedish tuition fees are prohibitively high has been misguided. Tuition fees of course impact application numbers, but not to the extent often claimed,” he said.

Guhr believes the next few years are likely to produce changed mobility patterns. For example, the rise in applications from the UK is mirrored by a rise in applications to Dutch (English language) programmes and to well-funded US higher education institutions.

Similarly, Greek students who might have chosen the US or UK in the past can also be expected to apply to tuition-free degree programmes across Europe in larger numbers, he said.

Only 820 of the more than 31,000 applicants to more than 500 Swedish international masters programmes for 2012-13 are Swedish citizens, which means that there is a great potential also for local recruitment.