Sharp fall in new doctoral students after foreign fees

While the amount of external research income for Swedish universities increased significantly in 2013, the number of new doctoral students fell by 800 to 3,100 – a whopping 20% drop – following the introduction of tuition fees for students from outside Europe three years ago.

Even so, foreigners accounted for 24% of new students admitted to Swedish higher education institutions last year, according to annual statistics compiled by the Swedish Higher Education Authority.

In the autumn of 2013, 2,800 tuition fee-paying students were registered in Sweden, 19% more than in 2012, while the total income generated was SEK301 million (US$41 million).

The total expenditure on Swedish higher education last year was SEK62.5 billion (US$8.5 billion), or 1.7% of gross national product – among the highest in the world.

Falling applications

The effect of introducing tuition fees was especially visible in terms of the number of applications for international undergraduate courses: they fell by 86% between 2010 and 2011, and international masters courses fell by 81%.

In 2010, 94,400 students applied for international masters programmes and 19,800 were accepted. In 2013, Sweden received 24,500 applications and 10,500 were accepted – one third were Swedish citizens.

Swedes and other Europeans have increased applications to enrol in international masters courses since tuition fees were introduced, but this has not compensated for the fall in the number of students from outside Europe.

In 2013, the number of registered doctoral students was 19,100 and the number awarded degrees was 2,600. More than 80% of the registered doctoral students were enrolled at nine institutions and each had 1,100 to 2,900.

Of the new doctoral students, 41% or 1,250 were foreign citizens last year. In 1997, the percentage was 16%. This increased every year until 2012, and in 2013 the number of foreign students admitted to doctoral studies for the first time fell by 300.

Doctoral candidates from outside Europe do not have to pay tuition fees. But since the number of foreigners fell after tuition fees were introduced in 2011, this seems to be significantly affecting the intake to doctoral studies.

The fall-off between 2012 and 2013 was largest for the humanities and the social sciences – down by 37% and 36% – while medicine and health sciences were reduced by 12%, natural sciences by 13% and technological studies by 18%.