Data on foreign PhD graduates staying on to work revealed

The proportion of international PhD students staying in Sweden upon graduation after three years rose from 40% in 2010 to 54% in 2015, dispelling concerns that too many were leaving after graduation, according to statistics on international graduates from 1998-2017, published on 18 November by the Swedish Higher Education Authority (UKÄ).

But currently there are fears that the sharpening of the migration law this year will reduce the share staying on by making it more difficult for PhD candidates to secure a residence permit, compared to the 2014 law, which included the time spent studying for a doctoral degree in the time period living in Sweden required before qualifying to apply for a residence permit.

Under current requirements, introduced in July 2021, an international graduate can only obtain permanent residence if they have lived in Sweden and had a residence permit for doctoral studies for a total of four years over the previous seven years, and are in employment or self-employed in Sweden.

Robert Andersson who is chief negotiator at the Swedish Association of University Teachers and Researchers (SULF), told University World News it is still the case that times spent as a doctoral candidate with a residence permit for doctoral students is counted towards the requirement for application for residency.

“However, the new rule is rather that such a person must also have a stable income for the upcoming 18 months counted from the day a decision is taken by Migrationsverket [the Swedish Migration Agency] on their application.

“But given the fact that many of them get shorter contracts or stipends they will no longer qualify.”

12,000 international graduates in two decades

“International doctorate candidates are important for competence building within higher education,” said analyst Anna Bengtsson of UKÄ, on publishing the data, which covers 11,930 international graduates in the period 1998-2017 or 23% of all PhDs graduating at Swedish universities in this period.

At least 2,000 of these doctoral graduates stayed in Sweden for more than eight years.

Only those who graduated up to 2013, which was 9,580 persons, can satisfy this criterion as of 2021, meaning that at least 21% of international graduates 1998-2013 had been living in Sweden at least eight years after graduation.

Of the 11,930 international students taking a doctoral degree in Sweden between 1998 and 2017, 63% were men and 37% women. Some 4,350 (36.5%) were from Asia and 3,280 (27.5%) from the EU not including the Nordic countries. Of the graduates from Africa, 78% were men and 22% women.

China had the largest number of doctorates with 1,820, followed by Germany (870) and Iran (730).

The highest proportion of graduates staying in Sweden were from Poland, Russia and Iran, while the lowest proportion staying were from India and Pakistan. From all countries except from India and France the proportion staying in Sweden after three years was higher for women than for men.

The study was carried out in cooperation with Statistics Sweden. It is a part of the project ‘Focus on Research Training’, in which the UKÄ is casting light on the research training through different studies. The purpose of the study is to contribute to the discussion on whether the research training is correctly dimensioned in terms of matching the needs of society.

With the term ‘international doctoral graduates’, the study is focusing on people from other countries admitted to and being active in research training in Sweden. They have either been given a residence permit for studies that have started less than two years before commencing doctoral studies, or if they are born outside Sweden but have immigrated less than two years before starting doctoral studies.

Stable increase

In the beginning of the period examined, 1998-2017, the proportion of graduates staying in Sweden has sunk and then remained stable on approximately 40% up to 2013 when it started to increase.

During the period examined 4,000 international doctoral graduates stayed for at least three years, 3,000 for at least five years and 2,000 for at least eight years.

Other findings include that significantly more women stay in Sweden than men. Three years after qualifying, 84% of the international doctoral graduates were employed, and 91% after eight years.

Since 1998 1,200 graduating in medicine and health sciences have stayed in Sweden after three years, compared with 1,300 graduating in the natural sciences and 1,100 in technological sciences. In the social sciences 280 graduates have stayed in Sweden after three years and 110 candidates in the humanities and 100 in veterinary sciences.

Highest employment among humanities candidates

The highest degree of employment three years after graduation is found for graduates in the humanities and in arts, with 94%, followed by social sciences and technology with 92% and 91% respectively.

“We were puzzled to see this high degree of employment since the humanities and arts candidates are those who we often hear are having difficulties in the workforce,” Bengtsson said.

“Talking to the higher education institutions we understood that those recruited in the humanities and in the arts are the best candidates.

She said humanities courses “are so small when measured by the number of graduates that the institutions try to recruit the best in an international perspective”, and they want to keep them upon graduation.

Some 59% of the graduates in the humanities and arts are working as teaching staff at university and university colleges.