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Sweden: “positive signs” as student admittance higher than expected

The number of students admitted to international master’s degree programs at Swedish universities in 2020 has increased by 13% on last year’s figures, statistics have revealed.

The numbers are "all in all, very positive signs, given that we are dealing with a pandemic". Photo: pexels

International exchange and full-degree students contributed around SEK 3.9bn to the economy in the last academic year

However several universities have reported a drop in short-term exchange students and stable or slight declines in admissions of international students overall.

Some 27,329 students have been accepted to international masters programs in Sweden in 2020, according to Swedish Council for Higher Education figures, up from 24,099 last year, with Finland, India and China topping the list of source countries. The figures also include some Swedish nationals.

“In terms of actual newly arrived international degree students, the numbers are going to be lower”

The numbers are “all in all, very positive signs, given that we are dealing with a pandemic”, according to Study in Sweden’s Douglas Washburn.

While the number refers to program admittance and not students who have arrived in Sweden, Swedish universities have reason to be optimistic, he indicated.

“In terms of actual newly arrived international degree students the numbers are going to be lower… Rather, we are following signals from Swedish universities who are painting a positive picture,” he noted.

“There is always a discrepancy between admitted and arriving [students], but this year the difference is bigger and the students have also had the possibility to register and commence their studies without being physically present,” added Johanna Forsström from the international student recruitment team at Mälardalen University.

The Swedish government announced in April that people with a residence permit for studies in the country would be exempt from an entry ban in a bid to help current exchange students return to Sweden if they were overseas.

In the south of the country, distance learning at Malmö University for first year English-taught programs for the first semester has limited issues around arrival, and international numbers “stayed around the same”.

Residence permit issues stemming from closed embassies have led to delayed arrivals Mälardalen’s Forsström agreed, explaining that some master’s students had chosen to begin studies remotely and arrive later.

“In the cases where students have been or will be unable to arrive physically in time, we as a university have tried to solve the study situation so that they can participate on distance,” she added.

“Like many institutions, we were concerned about the possible impacts of the global pandemic on the ability for students to fulfil their higher education ambitions,” director of International Student Recruitment at Dalarna University, Michael Oppenheimer told The PIE News.

Although issues at Swedish Embassies in Tehran and Islamabad continue to prohibit small numbers of students from arriving, numbers of enrolled international students is similar to last year, he said.

“As per my knowledge, students who are studying online are primarily doing so out of personal choice, or because they started the application process for a residence permit very late and are still awaiting a decision so that they can come to Sweden,” Oppenheimer suggested.

At Mälardalen, EU students “tend to be in majority of the students who have actually arrived,” Forsström continued, noting they would not have been affected by delays associated with reduced capacity at Swedish foreign missions.

Mälardalen’s fee-paying student cohort saw a 29% rise in applications in 2020, she added, with Dalarna, Lund University and Umeå University also seeing rises in fee-paying students. African applicants contributed to a rise in fee-paying students at Kristianstad University, with half coming from Nigeria,

According to Study in Sweden, 24,099 first-year international students contributed some SEK 1.1 billion (£95 million) to the Swedish economy in the 2018/19 academic year.

In total, international exchange and full-degree students contributed roughly SEK 3.9 bn (£336m) to the economy in the last academic year.

But there is a mixed picture from other institutions in the country. Chalmers University of Technology recorded slight declines in new fee-paying students, from 351 last year to 331 in 2020.

“Many cancelled their exchange or the course/program during summer but we are not waiting for anyone now to come,” Susanna Svensson, international coordinator at Karlstad University said.

According to head of the unit for study and career guidance and international mobility at Stockholm University, Åsa Petri, international fee-paying students has dropped from 274 in autumn 2019 to 207 in 2020.

However, this year’s figure is still higher than the autumn 2018 number (170). Additionally, incoming exchange students for 2020 is “significantly lower” than in previous years, falling to 382 this year, from approximately 800 in 2019

Chalmers also said exchange student numbers had almost halved from 434 last year, to 224 in 2020, while Luleå University of Technology has around 50% fewer international students overall this autumn, it said.

“There are several hurdles for students who planned to travel internationally for studies this autumn,” Petri said, including travel restrictions in home countries.

“We were relieved when the EU decided on an exception in the travel restrictions to the EU to allow for students to come and study in EU member states,” she said.

“There are several hurdles for students who planned to travel internationally for studies this autumn”

“The Swedish Migration Agency does not grant students a residence permit for online studies. As most of the teaching at Swedish universities is currently offered online, this causes problems to international students.”

However, Petri said they may follow the courses at SU online and arrive on campus later when the situation improves.

Jönköping University has seen a decrease in international students from outside of the EU due to the pandemic, but students from within the EU has “slightly” increased, the head of the university’s international office Karin Hermansson, agreeing with Haglund at Linnaeus.

“We thought that the situation could have been worse concerning international students this semester,” she said.

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