International mobility in higher education from a Swedish perspective 2016/17

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.

More foreign students studying in Sweden than Swedes studying abroad

Students from abroad and Swedish students studying abroad 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 last academic year, however, the number of Swedes studying abroad has decreased, from 26 400 in 2015/16 to 24 100 in 2016/17. A large part of the decrease is because the number of exchange students has decreased, but another reason is a reclassification of language courses abroad, making many language courses no longer count as higher education. However, over the last ten years, the number of Swedes studying abroad has increased since the academic year 2007/08 when the number was 23 400. Studies abroad can be done either through exchange programmes or organised by the students themselves with financial support from the Swedish Board of Student Aid (CSN). The students abroad with financial support from CSN consist of free-movers and students in language courses abroad.

Over the last ten years, the number of foreign students coming to Sweden increased each year until the academic year 2010/11 when they were 46 700. However, the introduction of tuition fees in the autumn of 2011 led to a reduction in the number of incoming students. In the 2016/17 academic year the total number of incoming students were 35 900. Out of these, 39 percent were exchange students and 61 percent were free-movers. The number of incoming students is still higher than the number of outbound students, despite the introduction of fees.

In the 2016/17 academic year, 58 percent of the Swedish students abroad were women and 42 percent were men. Among the incoming students, 53 percent were women and 47 percent 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. The differences in length of studies is to a large extent due to the fact that considerably more free-movers studied a degree programme while virtually all the exchange students did freestanding courses. Of the free-movers, 79 percent studied a degree programme in the academic year 2016/17.

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

Number of first-year free-movers continues to increase

Of the 35 900 incoming students who studied at universities or higher education institutions in Sweden in the 2016/17 academic year, 23 500 studied for the first time in the country, i.e. they were first-year students in Swedish higher education. This was 2 percent more than in the previous academic year. The number of exchange students was 13 700 and the number of free-movers was 9 800. The number of first-year free-movers had increased by 6 percent, and the number of exchange students was the same as the previous academic year.

More first-years from outside the EU/EEA

In the academic year of 2016/17, 11 700 of incoming first-years were from countries inside the EU/EEA while 8 200 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 outside the EU/EEA.

Of the 13 700 incoming first-year exchange students in Swedish higher education in the 2016/17 academic year, 66 percent were from Europe. Asia and North America were next. The single largest countries were Germany, France and China.

Among the incoming free-movers, 30 percent of the 9 800 first-years were from Europe. Next came Asia with 25 percent. The single largest countries were India, Finland and China.

Many new incoming students at Lund University

Lund University had the largest number of incoming students who were studying in Sweden for the first time, 3 300. Next came Uppsala University and the Royal Institute of Technology, with 2 200 and 2 100 new incoming students respectively.

Stockholm School of Economics with 61 percent and the Royal Institute of Technology with 47 percent had the largest proportion of new incoming students of the total number of new entrants.

Fewer Swedish students studying abroad

In the academic year of 2016/17, 24 100 Swedish students studied abroad. Compared to the previous academic year, the number of exchange students has fallen by 2 percent and the number of free-movers has fallen by 8 percent. The number of Swedish students studying language courses abroad has decreased to only a few, mostly due to a reclassification of language courses abroad that previously were considered higher education.

Poland still popular for Swedes studying abroad

The majority of Swedes who studied abroad studied in Europe, especially in the UK, Poland and Denmark. North America and especially the US also draws many Swedish students. The US and the UK were the single largest recipient countries of Swedish students in the 2016/17 academic year. Next came Australia, Poland, Denmark, Norway and Germany. These seven countries together received 61 percent of all the students leaving Sweden.

The 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 Poland and the US, among others, has increased.