International mobility in higher education from a Swedish perspective
The number of students crossing Sweden’s borders has increased significantly in recent decades. The difference between the number of foreign students studying in Sweden and Swedes studying abroad keeps increasing.
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 last academic year, however, the number of Swedes studying abroad has decreased for the third academic year in a row. Compared to the previous academic year, the number of Swedish students studying abroad has decreased by 300, from 24 100 to 23 800. The reason for the decrease was a fall in the number of free-movers, while the number of exchange students increased compared to the previous academic year. In 2017/18, 58 percent of Swedes studying abroad were women and 42 percent were men.
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 2017/18 academic year the total number of incoming students was 37 800, which was an increase of 5 percent compared to the previous academic year. Out of these, 36 percent were exchange students and 64 percent were free-movers. Among the incoming students in 2017/18, 53 percent were women and 47 percent were men.
Because the number of outgoing students has decreased and the number of incoming students has increased in the past few academic years, the difference between the two groups has become larger. The difference was at its highest in 2010/11, when the number of incoming students was twice as high as the number of outgoing students. The introduction of tuition fees made the difference smaller, and it was at its smallest 2013/14. Since then, however, the number of incoming students has been increasing, and in the academic year 2017/18 there were 14 100 more incoming students than outgoing.
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 signif-icantly higher than among the free-movers. The same pattern can be seen with outgoing students. 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 incoming free-movers, 79 percent studied a degree programme in the academic year 2017/18.
Number of first-year free-movers continues to increase
Of the 37 800 incoming students who studied at universities or higher education institutions in Sweden in the 2017/18 academic year, 24 200 studied for the first time in the country, i.e. they were first-year students in Swedish higher education. This was 3 percent more than in the previous academic year. The number of exchange students was 13 200 and the number of free-movers was 10 900. The number of first-year free-movers had increased by 11 percent, while the number of exchange students had decreased by 3 percent.
The increase was biggest among incoming free-movers who were paying tuition fees. Compared to the previous academic year, the number of paying first-year free-movers increased from 3 400 to 4 200, an increase by 22 percent.
More first-years from outside the EU/EEA
In the academic year of 2017/18, 11 400 of incoming first-years were from countries inside the EU/EEA while 8 900 were from outside the EU/EEA. Com-pared to the previous academic year, the number of incoming students from the EU/EEA has decreased, while the number of incoming students from outside the EU/EEA has increased.
Of the 13 200 incoming first-year exchange students in Swedish higher educa-tion in the 2017/18 academic year, 64 percent were from Europe. Asia and North America were next. The single largest countries were Germany, France and China.
Among the incoming free-movers, 28 percent of the 10 900 first-years were from Asia. Next came Europe with 27 percent. The single largest countries were India, China and Germany.
Many new incoming students at Lund University
Lund University had the largest number of incoming students who were study-ing in Sweden for the first time, 3 270. Next came Uppsala University and the Royal Institute of Technology, with 2 320 and 2 240 new incoming students respectively.
The Royal College of Music in Stockholm with 79 percent, Stockholm School of Economics with 60 percent and the Royal Institute of Technology with 55 percent had the largest proportions of new incoming students of the total num-ber of new entrants.
Fewer Swedish students studying abroad
In the academic year of 2017/18, 23 800 Swedish students studied abroad. However, the decrease was only among outgoing free-movers. Compared to the previous academic year, the number of free-movers had fallen by 3 percent, while the number of exchange students increased by 4 percent.
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 2017/18 academic year. Next came Aus-tralia, Poland, Denmark, The Netherlands and Norway. These seven countries together received 60 percent of all the students leaving Sweden.
The countries of choice have changed over time. In the last ten academic years, Denmark and Hungary have lost many of the Swedish students studying abroad, while the number going to Poland and China, among others, has increased.