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Study in Sweden: ‘Swedish education is about finding solutions together’

Interview with Study in Sweden about why students from abroad should choose to study in Sweden.


Douglas (Project Manager) and Monika (Head of Talent Mobility) of the Swedish Institute speak to us about how sustainability, collaboration and equality are intrinsic to the country's identity; Sweden's unique history regarding tuition fees for students from other countries; and how the likes of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and The Bridge have gotten the world buzzing about Scandinavia recently. The Swedish Institute administer the Study in Sweden website.


Tell us about some of the exciting developments or projects which Study in Sweden have been up to recently.

Douglas: 'We have lots going on! This spring we’re in the process of developing a new website. We’re also working on some new exciting digital projects that will be announced through our site later this year – so stay tuned! We can be found throughout the year at recruitment fairs, conferences and events at Swedish embassies and consulates throughout the world to meet prospective students and answer their questions about studying in Sweden, and to meet accepted students to help them get ready for their time here.

An exciting development is that this  year, the Swedish Institute – the government agency that is in charge of Study in Sweden – has received an extra 100 million SEK (ca 9.3 million GBP) to fund scholarships for international students.'


A lot of young people might be surprised to learn that Skype and Spotify have their beginnings in Sweden. What is it that makes such a small country so creative and innovative?

Douglas: 'Sweden has historically valued creative thinking and innovation, since the days of Alfred Nobel and long before. The Nobel Prize – for innovative and groundbreaking research discoveries – is a point of national pride for Swedes, as is our modern reputation as an innovation hub.

Swedish society and Swedish organisations, including universities, value equality between all individuals and keep hierarchy to a minimum. This means that everyone’s point of view is taken into account and seen as important. An entry-level employee can come to a CEO with an idea. In nearly all situations, including at universities, everyone is called by his or her first name, including professors, doctors, managers, and so on. This puts everyone on equal footing and fosters a culture of innovation and creativity where ideas are encouraged to grow.'

Monika: 'Some hundred years ago we were a poor country and we needed to develop. Because we are a small country with not many inhabitants we needed to develop the assets that we had in the country ourselves. Cooperation is a very Swedish way of being innovative and developing sustainable solutions beneficial to society and its inhabitants.'


In addition to Technology, what are the fields and industries in the country which are particularly strong or growing?

Douglas: 'In addition to our world-class education and research in areas such as engineering, IT and biotechnology Sweden stands out in sustainability, design, human rights and international relations.'

Monika: 'Mining for one. The mining industry was big in the 70s and then declined, but is now prospering again. That's a field which African students have discovered. We're good when it comes to sustainability issues. Students also come to Sweden for Social Studies since we are strong when it comes to gender equality and human rights issues.’


How career-focused are Swedish degree programmes? How does a degree from Sweden help students get started with their career?

Douglas: 'Swedish education mixes theory with practical work that is clearly connected to the working world. The reality is that the current job market demands a different set of skills and employers are now looking for students that can think outside the box. According to a recent IBM survey of more than 1,500 CEO’s from various industries and countries the most important trait to succeed in today’s world is creativity. In this regards Swedish education is among the best in the world as it gives students the tools to deal with problems where there are more than one solution and that is honestly what students need to be able to succeed in the global job market.'

Monika: 'Swedish education is very focused on working together and finding solutions together. We acknowledge that sometimes one person's knowledge isn't enough alone to find an answer or make something work. Students learn tools which they'll find are very useful when seeking employment.'


What other qualities can international students expect to find in the Swedish population?

Monika: 'We don't believe in hierarchy or elitism. You call someone by their first name. We don't pay attention to titles. This is the case when students speak to their professors at university and from what I understand, that isn't very common elsewhere in many other countries. You're really listened to as a student. A professor expects you to have your views to the question being discussed. So there is equality in many different relationships.'


Sweden has a reputation for being a rather expensive study destination to live in. Is this really true, and if so, what advice can you give to students to help them financially while studying in the country?

Douglas: 'Tuition fees in Sweden are actually not that expensive on a global scale. I think you could argue that tuition fees in Sweden are a bit under-priced in comparison to the quality of the education students receive.

While Sweden is a somewhat expensive country to live in students will quickly find that day to day life is actually quite affordable. However, leisure activities are certainly more expensive so if a student is coming to Sweden on a limited budget they will need to be conscious about how they spend their money.'

Monika: 'It is somewhat true that Sweden is an expensive country to live in and that is something which you have to think about before coming to Sweden. But you also have the possibility of working to earn some extra money. That's part of the responsibility of being a student: managing your studies and your finances.'


Has Sweden seen an influx of students from the UK who have been put off by the rise in tuition fees?

Douglas: 'We have seen some increase. Certain universities in particular have seen a rise in both the number of applications as well as the number of students arriving from the UK.'


Tell us about Sweden’s stance on tuition fees for international students, as well as scholarship opportunities.

Douglas: 'In 2011, Sweden introduced tuition fees for students outside the EU as a way of increasing quality in education. There is now a stronger focus on creating opportunities for qualified students to receive scholarships.

Currently there are around 180 MSEK available for funding students from countries outside the EU. The government plans to increase the amount to around 250 MSEK by next year. Approximately 120 MSEK is available for students from a wider group of countries. The increase in funding will be directed towards 20 low income countries, though.'

Monika: 'Furthermore, a lot of those scholarships are for students from developing countries. And as you know, it is quite a different story for students from within the EU for whom there are no fees and there never have been - this continues today.'


What spots or landmarks should a student in Sweden check out which they wouldn’t necessarily find in a Swedish tourist guide? What should they see if they want to see the “real Sweden”?

Douglas: 'Sweden has so much to offer beyond the traditional tourist sites and whenever we meet students, we encourage them to get on the road when they have some time off and experience the rest of the country. In no particular order:

Take a trip to the island of Gotland to experience beautiful landscapes and the charming city of Visby. The archipelagos outside of Stockholm and Gothenburg are also a must! Visit Umeå, this year’s European Capital of Culture. Visit Kiruna in the north of Sweden, located north of the polar circle. The Ice Hotel is built outside Kiruna every winter, and you can also go dog-sledding, meet reindeer, try out a snowmobile, and explore Kiruna’s enormous mine and architecturally unique wooden church.

Of course, the best way to learn about Swedish culture is to make friends with some Swedes! Swedes are friendly (if a bit reserved at first) and are usually keen to share their culture with international guests.'


In the last 2 years, people around the world have really been consumed by Scandinavian television, films and literature. The Bridge, The Killing and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo have made Sweden (amongst others) a part of the zeitgeist and offering a fresh take on these countries - at the very least, it's gotten a lot of people talking about Scandinavia when they might not have. Has this been beneficial when promoting the country abroad?

Monika: 'We are asked by others, "Are these stories really true?" and I don't think they are – not entirely [laughs]. However, it does give an intriguing picture of Sweden.'


It definitely gives the rest of the world something new which they can associate with Sweden and other countries in Scandinavia, beyond the outdated and passé connotations such as ABBA and flat pack furniture.

Monika: 'You may have noticed that in these dramas and pieces of literature, there is the underdog perspective, the hero is an underdog. Also there are strong women in these texts. Again, there is this idea of equality, whether gender or other, whereby individuals can make their own future and govern their own lives. In these shows, books and films, there is always the theme of empowerment.' 


What does the average Swedish classroom look like? Are Swedish universities very diverse?

Douglas: 'Sweden is a more diverse country than many people realise – even amongst the Swedish population, 20% of citizens are first- or second-generation immigrants. Swedish universities are home to thousands of international students per year and are currently the home to 35,000 international students, which is around 10% of the current student population.

Particularly master’s and doctoral programmes tend to be kaleidoscopes of students from different backgrounds, but even bachelor’s programmes are becoming more and more internationalised. Further, something that makes Sweden quite unique is that our international students tend to come from many different countries rather than a few very large groups from one or two countries. This means that international students in Sweden can expect a good mix of Swedish and international classmates.'

Monika: 'The biggest cities do attract the most international students. The master's programmes are very internationalised and most of them are taught in English. I know that Swedish universities prefer that one nationality does not dominate and that there is a mix, a mini UN you could say. So there are students from all over the world, from US, Uganda and Belarus to China and Indonesia. This makes it possible to discuss issues important for the whole world. Sustainability is always on the agenda for instance. It provides a great network for students who will one day be the leaders of the world. We find that those who come to study in Sweden want to be part of the solution, they want to change the world.'


Describe what kind of student chooses to study in Sweden?

Douglas: 'Of course, not just one type of student comes to Sweden but what they tend to have in common is a genuine curiosity about the world, an interest to learn at a high level and really engage with the subject matter. In Sweden, you’re rarely able to hide at the back of a big lecture hall. You’re expected to take an active role in your own learning and that means that the students who come here are ambitious, responsible and serious. Sweden is not a place for huge egos, but it is a place where your voice matters – and, at university, will be required. Students here learn from the best and are expected to contribute their own perspectives and critically challenge norms. 

Students here often tend to have an interest in contributing to a more ethical and just society through making contributions to their respective fields that are focused on the greater good. Sweden is a world leader in gender equality, sustainable development, CSR, and innovation, and students who come here tend to be attracted to those values.'  


If there was one message (one line) which you wanted to spread today in regards to why a student should consider studying in Sweden, what would it be?

Douglas: 'Studying in Sweden teaches students to think creatively, which is the most important tool needed to succeed in the global job market.'

Monika: 'Don't just pick a place, pick a future!'



Discover Sweden for yourself. Start browsing courses in Sweden now, including those at Kristianstad University


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Image courtesy of: Ola Ericson/ 

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About Author

Paul Ellett is the editor for Hotcourses Abroad. His role is to plan, produce and share editorial, videos, infographics, eBooks and any other content to inform prospective and current international students about their study abroad experience. When he's not thinking about student visas in Sweden and application deadlines, Paul is an avid fan of comedy podcasts and Nicolas Cage films.