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Go Back to the List March 01, 2019
International student recruitment booming in Stockholm

The number of international students in Stockholm, Sweden, will exceed 10,000 this year, bringing it back up to the level experienced before the introduction of tuition fees for international students in 2011, which led to a fall in recruitment. 

The number of international students attending universities in Stockholm has increased by 20% over the last three years.

The data is published by the Stockholm Academic Forum (STAF), which is the peak collaborative body of the City of Stockholm and its 18 higher education institutions. As the collective voice of its members, STAF promotes and supports Stockholm’s position as “one of the world’s leading academic centres”.

Its reportStudy Destination Stockholm: International student mobility, Stockholm 2017-2018, written by Brita Lundström, found that the number of international students coming to Stockholm increased by 1,630 students from 2014 to 2017, or by 20% to 9,750, and that the number will exceed 10,000 this year. 

This also means that 26% of all incoming international students to Sweden now are studying in Stockholm. 

China is biggest source

For the first time since student fees were introduced in Sweden in 2011, China is the biggest source of international students, taking over from Germany. Currently, 826 Chinese students are enrolled in programmes across the city, which is an increase of 18% compared with the previous year.

Among the city’s 18 higher education institutions, the KTH Royal Institute of Technology has the greatest number of Chinese students.

“That is no coincidence”, says Sigbritt Karlsson, president of KTH. “We have spent close to 20 years developing strong connections with several of the country’s leading universities and our own students are very interested in China. 

“We are also delighted about Stockholm’s increased popularity with Chinese students. At the same time, we are committed to maintaining a multicultural international campus, which is why we are working broadly to recruit students from other parts of the world as well,” she said.

For many years, Germany and Finland have been the top countries of origin for international students in Stockholm, but their numbers have not increased as quickly as those from China, meaning that they have now fallen to a second and third place respectively. 

France remains in fourth place with 482 students, while India comes in fifth place with 385 students, which is an increase of 16% compared with the previous year. They are followed by Italy (362 students), Spain (339), Greece (275) and the United States and the Netherlands (222).

Fast-growing region

Lotta Edholm, Stockholm’s vice mayor for schools and education, said: “In total, we are seeing meaningful growth and that is great for the city. Stockholm is one of the five fastest-growing regions in Europe and an increased level of diversity within our academic circles can only strengthen our competitive potential.”

The Stockholm School of Economics has the highest proportion of international students, followed by three of the city’s liberal arts colleges. The highest total number of international students is, however, at Stockholm University, which has 3,796 international students, of which the largest group comes from Finland, followed by Germany.

Stockholm University is followed by KTH (3,398 international students), Karolinska Institute (838) and the Stockholm School of Economics (559).

There is a lot of variation among the different higher education institutions as to which student groups are the largest. At the Stockholm School of Economics, Germans make up the largest group of international students, while Chinese are in the majority at KTH Royal Institute of Technology. At Stockholm University and Karolinska Institute, however, Finnish students represent the largest contingent of international students, making up as many as 18% of all inbound students at the Karolinska Institute, the report says.

The greatest share of international students studying in Stockholm – 69% – are ‘free movers’, who are students who plan their own study abroad as opposed to exchange students.

While only 10% of international free-mover students at Stockholm University pay tuition fees, at KTH 42% pay tuition fees. Stockholm University charges SEK180,000 (US$19,000) to SEK280,000 (US$30,000) in tuition fees, while KTH for masters programmes charges SEK320,000 (US$34,600).

Student characteristics

Some 58% of incoming students come from the European Economic Area or European Union countries and 3% from the rest of Europe, 27% come from Asia, 5% from North America, 3% from Africa and 2% from South America and Oceania.

Some 78% of the Chinese and 95% of the Indian students are ‘free movers’, 60% of the Chinese and 24% of the Indian students are women, and 60% of the Chinese and 74% of the Indian students in Stockholm are studying at KTH.

The Chinese students at KTH are selecting masters courses in embedded systems, information and network engineering, machine learning, communication systems and architecture. The Indian students at KTH are choosing the masters degrees in production engineering and management, industrial management, sustainable energy engineering and embedded systems.

On average international students account for 11% of all students in Stockholm. This percentage is highest, however, at Stockholm School of Economics (30%), the Royal College of Music (30%), the Royal Institute of Art (27%), Stockholm University of the Arts (23%) and KTH (21%).

Outbound exchange students

Among outbound exchange students there has been a dramatic shift, with the appeal of Britain as a study destination “clearly declining, which can only be interpreted as a consequence of concerns over Brexit affecting student mobility”, the report says. 

The United Kingdom was previously for years the second most popular choice of Stockholm students going abroad, after the United States, but the percentage dropped 16% between 2016 and 2017 and Britain dropped to fifth choice, while Australia took its place as the second most popular destination.

The ranking is now: the US (201, +21%), Australia (157, +20%), France (131, -1%), Singapore (127, -5%) and the UK (122, -16%), the report says.

At 1,894, the number of outbound exchange students is unchanged compared to the previous academic year. This means that the imbalance between inbound (2,983) and outbound (1,894) exchange students continues. As was the case before, most outbound exchange students come from Stockholm University and KTH. 

During the academic year 2017-18, however, only about 2% of all students who are enrolled in one of Stockholm’s higher education institutions took advantage of the opportunity to go on an exchange. The same figure applies to the whole country, the report says.

Fewer outbound ‘free movers’

The number of outbound ‘free movers’ has dropped by 4% compared to 2016-17, to 4,766. While numbers to the UK declined by 3%, this is far outstripped by the decline in US numbers, down by as much as 15%. “It is the second consecutive year that these two countries have seen a drop in numbers, which corresponds to -26% for the US and -17% for the UK over the past two years,” the report says.

Despite the downturn, the US (with 1,182 students) and the UK (1,164 students) are by far the top destinations among free-moving students from Stockholm County. Then comes Poland (382), Australia (280), Latvia (156), the Netherlands (135), Spain (134), Denmark (133), Germany (128) and France (83).

Strategic work

The report says that underlying the increases in international student numbers studying in Stockholm is strategic work, including cooperation with prestigious universities worldwide and marketing. 

“The number of exchange students remains largely unchanged, both inbound and outbound, while the quality of exchange programmes has gone up. Higher education institutions in Stockholm have reviewed their exchange agreements, retaining only those with a quality and infrastructure that worked for them and their students.” 

It also says the work of recruiting free-moving students has also become more strategic, as individual institutions focus on prioritised markets. 

Moreover, several higher education institutions offer joint programmes, called dual degrees, with foreign universities. To receive a double degree, students spend one year in Stockholm and one year at the foreign university. 

A popular example is the masters programme in embedded systems at KTH, which is a collaboration with China’s University of Electronic Science and Technology of China and with Khalifa University in the United Arab Emirates. The Stockholm School of Economics offers double degree-programmes with Bocconi University in Milano, Italy, University of St Gallen in Switzerland and Sciences Po in Paris, France. 

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Written by Jan Petter Myklebust,
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