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Sweden: int’l student numbers ‘recovering’

A 28% decline in new international student enrolments in Sweden saw some 16,950 begin courses in the Scandinavian country in 2020/21. But recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic appears to be taking place.

Sweden did not reach a goal of having 20% of all higher education students gaining international experiences by 2020. Photo: pexels

Of the 66,160 students taking exams in Sweden during 2020/21, 13% participated in mobility programs

A total of 33,300 incoming overseas students joined classes in Sweden in 2020/21, a fall of 16% when compared with the year before.

While the 16,950 new students was a significant fall from the 24,400 new students in the prior year, the latest statistics for autumn 2021 suggest that the inflow of international students has increased.

“The number of incoming students was largely back to the levels they had reached before the pandemic, even if they hadn’t completely returned,” the annual report Swedish Higher Education Authority (UKÄ) noted.

“Above all else, the group of exchange students has recovered.”

The data divides exchange students and freemover students, who are international students completing full courses without travelling as part of an exchange program agreement.

The drop of incoming new exchange students was considerably more than the fall in freemover students, the report noted. In 2020/21, there were 11,040 incoming freemover students – a 4% drop (430 students) compared with the previous year.

It also found that the number of new freemovers that were paying tuition fees declined by 770 students, with 4,440 new students paying for tuition in 2020/21.

“Above all else, the group of exchange students has recovered”

“The coronavirus pandemic also affected how many Swedish students travelled overseas to study,” the report continued.

The total 16,250 Swedish students abroad in the 2020/21 academic year was a decline of 28% when compared with the previous year. Again, the impact on exchange students was more noticeable than freemover students. Outbound exchange students fell from 7,060 to 1,800, while 14,450 were freemover students.

The report said, if counting higher education figures, Sweden did not reach a European-wide goal set in 2011 for 20% of all students completing post-secondary level education to join mobility programs by the year 2020.

Sweden’s neighbour, Norway now has a goal that half of those completing degrees in the country should have had a study or training period abroad during their studies.

Speaking at NAFSA 2022Birgit Siebe-Herbig of DAAD in Germany outlined a similar aim, outlined in the DAAD 2025 strategy, for 50% of German students to gain “substantial international and intercultural experience” through study abroad, virtual experiences, or ‘internationalisation at home’.

Of the total 66,160 students taking exams in Sweden during 2020/21, 13% participated in mobility programs in the previous 12 study semesters, which was a small drop compared with the previous year, the report noted. The average for the last few years has been around 14-15%, the report added.

It also identified study areas which saw the largest proportion of students join overseas opportunities.

Among the 2020/21 economics students, 44% studied abroad, for landscape architects it was 41%, architects 40%, social sciences 39% and law degree students 36%.

Students seeking degrees in preschool teaching and nursing were at the other end of the scale, where only a fraction of students studied abroad.

All European countries saw fewer exchange students from Sweden in 2020/21, apart from Denmark, Switzerland and Latvia, while North American countries saw the biggest drop, falling from 4,420 to 2,490.

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