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“Positive year” for Swedish universities despite Covid-19 uncertainty

Despite concerns about Covid-19, applications from international students seeking to study degree courses in Sweden have increased by 12% on last year’s figures. However, uncertainty remains as to whether students will be able to begin their studies in person in autumn.

A Study in Sweden virtual pre-departure event for Chinese students accepted to studies in Sweden managed by digital marketing manager Jan-Frederic Buss and project manager Xin Dai from Study in Sweden. Photo: SI

"It’s been a very positive year for Swedish universities"

Since March universities in the country have been teaching via distance learning, and applications for studies in 2020 closed in April.

“There is still too much uncertainty for us to predict what the status will be regarding courses in the autumn”

Sweden is becoming well-known as a study destination that offers an excellent education at an affordable cost, while the Swedish lifestyle can also be very appealing, according to Swedish Institute and Study in Sweden marketing manager, Douglas Washburn.

“It’s been a very positive year for Swedish universities,” explained Washburn. “We’ve seen a 12% increase in the number of international degree students admitted to Sweden compared to last year.”

“For students who are attracted by progressive values associated with Sweden such as sustainability and equality and those who are attracted by a safe and modern country, it’s hard to find a better place to study than Sweden,” he added.

Statistics showed that in 2018/19, international students – the majority of which were exchange students who study in the country for a limited period – decreased by 400 students compared to the previous academic year.

The Swedish Higher Education Authority (UKÄ) said there was a “break in the trend”, with domestic students making up the rise in the total number of students. It was the first year that new starting international students had decreased since the 2011/12 academic year, when Sweden introduced tuition fees for non-EU students.

Washburn said that the country’s approach to the coronavirus may have some advantages, but “it is hard to say if this will have an impact on prospective students”.

“I do think our strategy has been a uniquely Swedish approach and our strategy highlights cultural differences about Sweden, such as the importance of personal responsibility and the importance we place on being an open society,” he said.

To deal with the cancellation of pre-departure events organised by Swedish Foreign missions every spring, Study In Sweden has offered webinars, live streams and virtual events for students accepted to studies in Sweden.

“Over the last two weeks over 10,000 [international] students have taken part in these events,” Washburn noted.

“We’ve also been joined by the Swedish Migration Agency to help answer students concerns about residence permits, which is something that’s been appreciated by students.”

Digital ambassadors on Instagram have effectively highlighted the transition to social distancing and studying online in a country that’s avoided a complete lockdown, Washburn added.

One institution – University of Borås – saw an overall increase of 57% applications, and has announced it will teach digitally in the next semester.

Similarly, vice-chancellor of Lund University, Torbjörn von Schantz, has said it is his “personal perception that it will be distance education in autumn”.

“There is still too much uncertainty about the pandemic for us to be able to predict what the status will be regarding courses in the autumn,” Washburn added.

“We are hopeful that we’ll see face-to-face courses this autumn”

“This applies to not only international students but Swedish students. Given our approach to the virus, there are some positive signs that we may be in a good place to begin to open up daily life earlier than other countries but there’s still too much uncertainty for us to provide any guarantees.

“However, we are hopeful that we’ll see face-to-face courses this autumn,” Washburn added.

Universities have also told Swedish radio that exchange programs for Swedish students may be postponed.

Linköping University has offered replacement courses to almost 500 students who were planning on studying overseas in autumn. It is the first institution to announce cancellations, but others are expected to take decisions shortly.

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