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Agents to attract foreign students to Sweden

The government wants to introduce tuition fees for students coming from outside Europe from autumn 2011. Efforts are now underway at LiU to increase international recruitment. Universities and higher education institutions nationally are also cooperating to increase the interest in Swedish education, including through the use of agents to market it.

Last week the government published its bill “Competing on the basis of quality - tuition fees for foreign students”. According to the proposal, fees for foreign students will be introduced from the autumn semester 2011. Charges will apply to students outside the EU / EEA area, who are not taking part in an exchange. Individual universities will themselves set the level of the fee, based on a principle of full cost recovery. In connection with the new charges the government proposes to introduce two new scholarship schemes. One is aimed at students in the 12 countries with which Sweden has established long-term development cooperation and the other is aimed at particularly qualified students. These will be administered by the Swedish Institute for the former and the universities for the latter.

Swedish universities now have little time prepare for the new system.

“International students are an asset to Swedish universities, but we have to expect fewer applications to come here. Our ambition at Linköping University is to create programmes that recruit talented international students. However, it will be difficult to maintain international master’s programmes that do not have a solid foundation of Swedish or European students. We currently see an unfortunate split in that some international programmes almost exclusively have non-European applicants” says LiU's Director of Information Lars Holberg.

In order to attract the best students there needs to be a good education on offer which appeals to students, an improved admissions process so that students can get a quick answer, a strategy for the scholarship money that LiU will manage and a better reception and service for international students.

And importantly there needs to be substantial international marketing of Swedish education. To do this, 29 Swedish universities, together with the Swedish Institute, have formed a consortium to collaborate on common issues. One of their first projects is a pilot project during 2010 on the use of agents to attract foreign students to Sweden. LiU is participating and will hire agents in India.

“We are interested in the project, but it does not automatically mean a long-term commitment to work with agents. Currently it is more about finding out what we a later stage might say yes or no to. Working with agents is an unknown market for us but it is quite common in many other countries. There are many fortune-hunters in the industry but also serious working people and they can often play a key role in recruitment. They are in place locally in the country, people have confidence in them in a completely different way than what is said on a foreign university's website and they can have personal contact with students and parents. Put simply, we are here to learn and see if the outcome is of benefit to us”, says Lars Holberg.

The agents will operate in countries such as China, Pakistan, Iran and India.

“LiU has chosen India because we have relatively few students from there and we see it as an interesting market. They also already an established system with agents.”

However Swedish student unions are opposed to the move, which they say will not benefit Swedish education but rather lead to lower quality and fewer resources.

“This is not a bid to improve quality as the minister claims. Instead it is a threat to the internationalisation of higher education” says Klas-Herman Lundgren, Chairman of the Swedish National Union of Students in a press release.

When Denmark introduced tuition fees for foreign students in 2006 and it led to a significant reduction of its overseas students.

The course fees that are now proposed to be introduced in Sweden do not apply to students from universities that Swedish education institutions have exchange agreements with.

Therese Winder 2010-02-24

Page manager: therese.winder@liu.se
Last updated: 2010-02-24