International mobility 2015/16

A summary of international mobility in higher education from a Swedish perspective.

Less Swedes studying abroad

The number of students crossing Sweden’s borders has increased significantly in recent decades. This applies both to Swedish students who travel abroad to study and foreign students who come to Sweden to study.

These two groups are called students from abroad and Swedish students studying abroad. They can be broken down further into exchange students who take part in an exchange programme and students who arrange their studies in the country on their own. The latter are known as “free-movers”.

In the 2015/16 academic year, there were 26,400 Swedish students abroad, which is a decrease compared to the previous academic year when there were 29,100 Swedish students abroad.

However, over the last ten years the number of Swedish students studying abroad has risen from 23,900. Studying abroad can be done either in exchange programmes or as free-movers with financial support from the Swedish National Board of Student Aid (CSN).

During the same period, the number of incoming students to Sweden has increased every year up until the 2010/11 academic year when it was 46,700. The introduction of tuition fees in the autumn of 2011 led to a reduction in the number of incoming students, however. In the 2015/16 academic year, the total number of incoming students was 35,100. Of these, 40 per cent were exchange students and 60 per cent were free-movers.

The number of incoming students is still higher than the number of outbound students, despite the introduction of fees.

In the 2015/16 academic year, 58 per cent of the incoming students were women and 42 per cent were men. Among the Swedish students abroad, 52 per cent were women and 48 per cent were men.

Big differences regarding length of studies

Most of the incoming students studied for one or two terms in Sweden. However, the difference between exchange students and free-movers was considerable.

The percentage of exchange students who only studied one term was significantly higher than among the free-movers. Of the registered exchange students in the academic year of 2014/15, 82 per cent studied for one term in Sweden. The corresponding proportion of free-movers was 16 per cent.

The differences in length of studies is to a large extent due to the fact that considerably more freemovers studied a degree programme while virtually all the exchange students did freestanding courses. Of the free-movers, 76 per cent studied a degree programme. Most of those Swedes who studied abroad also studied for one or two terms abroad.

Considerably more free-movers than exchange students studied for three terms or more abroad, however. As in previous academic years, the proportion of free-movers who have been abroad for seven terms or more was high.

Increasing number of first-year free-movers

Of the 35,100 incoming students who studied at universities or higher education institutions in Sweden in the 2015/16 academic year, 23,100 studied for the first time in the country, i.e. they were first-year students in Swedish higher education. This was 6 per cent more than in the previous academic year.

The number of exchange students was 13,700 and the number of free-movers was 9,400.

The number of first-year free-movers had increased by 9 per cent, and the number of exchange students had increased by 4 per cent.

More first-years from the EU/EEA

In the academic year of 2015/16, 11,500 of incoming first-years were from countries inside the EU/EEA while 7,800 were from outside the EU/EEA.

Compared to the previous academic year, the number of incoming students both from the EU/EEA and outside has increased, but the biggest increase was in incoming students from countries within the EU/EEA.

Of the 13,700 first-year exchange students in Swedish higher education in the 2015/16 academic year, 66 per cent were from Europe. Asia and North America were next. The single largest countries were Germany, France and China. Among the free-movers, 26 per cent of the 9,400 first-years were from Europe. Next came Asia with 23 per cent. The single largest countries were India, Finland and China.

Many incoming students at Lund University

Lund University had the most incoming students who were studying in Sweden for the first time, 3,200. Next came Uppsala University and Stockholm University, both with 2,000 incoming students.

The Royal College of Music in Stockholm with 75 per cent and Stockholm School of Economics with 55 percent both had a high share of the total number of incoming first-years.

Decrease in Swedish students studying abroad

In the academic year of 2015/16, 26,400 Swedish students studied abroad, either on exchange programmes, as free-movers, or participating in language courses with financial support from the Swedish National Board of Student Aid (CSN). Compared to the previous academic year, the number of exchange students has risen by 1 per cent and the number of free-movers has fallen by 4 per cent.

The number of Swedish students studying language courses abroad has decreased by 67 per cent, mostly due to a reclassification of what counts as higher education language courses.

Poland still popular but Denmark on the wane

The majority of Swedes who studied abroad studied in Europe, especially in the UK, Denmark and Poland. In recent years, more and more have chosen to study in North America and Asia. The US and the UK are the single largest recipient countries of Swedish students in the 2015/16 academic year. Next came Australia, Poland, Denmark, Norway and Germany. These seven countries together received almost two-thirds of all the students leaving Sweden.

However, their countries of choice have changed over time. In the last ten academic years, Spain, France and Italy have lost students while the number going to e.g. Poland, the US and Croatia has increased. In the last five academic years, the number of students going to Denmark has also decreased.