When Sweden last year followed Denmark’s earlier decision to introduce fees for non-EU students, it left Norway as the only country providing universal free education for all. However, with EU-based applications rising and a number of international markets remaining buoyant, institutions are optimistic of future growth and offer much to international students.
“Sweden is a country with a strong academic heritage, home to the prestigious Nobel Prize and also topped the Global Creativity Index as the world’s most creative country in 2011,” enthuses Helga Ekdahl Heun at Lund University. “Sweden has more large internationally leading companies per capita than any other country in the world. Sweden is also a modern, safe and eco-conscious country and has one of the world’s highest living standards,” she adds. Gabriella Hernqvist at Uppsala University agrees, “We are well-known for our innovation and research.”
Both underline strong academic credentials. “Swedish universities have an open, quite unique climate, with a strong focus on developing independent thought as well as group work that fosters ambitious, innovative and perceptive team players, which is very valued in the jobs market,” attests Heun, adding that Lund is Sweden’s strongest full-scale research university and has over 90 master’s programmes in English. “We are currently looking into introducing a study abroad programme for international students who want to study Swedish in Sweden,” she adds.
Meanwhile, at Uppsala there are 33 international master’s courses across numerous disciplines. “All of them have a close connection to research, and the researchers take an active role in the education and serve as teachers in many of the programmes,” Hernqvist informs.
Hernqvist also explains the support for international students. “We offer all fee-paying students a one-year housing guarantee, English language courses and at the moment we offer scholarships for prospective and current students.” Indeed a system of scholarships was introduced in Sweden so that universities could continue to attract the brightest global talent. “Lund University offers a Global Scholarship which is merit based. This is open for students that are required to pay tuition fees. All fee-paying students are also offered housing guarantees during their time at Lund University, and students can also apply for a scholarship through the Swedish Institute,” adds Heun.
As Ulla Bo Gjørling from Aarhus University attests, “There are several reasons why you would want to select Denmark as your country of study. Academic standards are very high, and the universities are well placed in international rankings.” Furthermore, Gjørling adds, “The academic environment in Denmark is not only of high quality, it is also very informal and characterised by profound interaction between professors and students. The learning experience is engaging and based on dialogue.” Anne Bruun at the University of Copenhagen praises the high standards of research teaching, the English proficiency and “the free and critical exchange of ideas and academic views exchanged between students and teachers”.
Aarhus University is a leading research university, giving priority to graduate and PhD level, and is pursuing a five-year internationalisation strategy that includes student and researcher mobility. Around 10 per cent of the 40,000-strong student population is international, mostly from inside the EU. “We expect to see more UK students applying for MA programmes in Denmark as tuition rates have generally been raised in the UK,” informs Gjørling.
Bruun reports, “The University of Copenhagen primarily focuses on student exchange rather than fee-paying study abroad and keeping a balance in our exchange agreements with the reciprocal action of attracting incoming students and encouraging our own students to study abroad,” adding that some of the exchange students have such a great experience that they stay to do a full degree. There are places for fee-paying full-degree students and each of the six faculties has recruitment responsibilities.
A recent positive development was the proposal by Denmark’s Minister of Education, Morten Østergaard, that international students should be given three years after graduation to find a job in Denmark.
Gjørling advises that recruitment approaches vary by region, often including stands at fairs. “When university studies in Sweden were free we didn’t need to have any active recruitment, but today the university is much more engaged to attract international students,” reports Hernqvist at Uppsala University, adding that they value online marketing. At Lund University, “We attend graduate fairs, work with agents, produce internationally aimed information/marketing materials and we have a strong presence in social media,” says Heun. “International students and the diversity they bring to the academic community in Lund are very important.”
Despite a drastic fall in international admissions in 2011 (see STM, July 2011, page 19), recent figures from the Swedish Agency for Higher Education Services (VHS) show an increase in enrolments for paid and exempt students in 2012, with China and India both up. Almost inevitably, institutions in Norway where Tora Aasland, Minister of Research and Higher Education, has said that support for universal free education remains strong have reported a strong rise in non-EU applications. However, Gabrielle Hernqvist at Uppsala University, Sweden, feels that within three or four years the non-EU population will return to pre-fee levels. She adds that 20 per cent of the student body was born outside of Sweden, and that Asia continues to be a big presence on campus. Helga Ekdahl Heun from Sweden’s Lund University, meanwhile, advises that Lund has received applications from 152 countries this year. While some lower-income markets declined, she highlights exceptional growth within the EU the UK up 30 per cent and outside, with Thailand up by 271 per cent and Indonesia at 196 per cent.