Swedish students seek “life experiences”

It’s essential for international education professionals to analyse global mobility trends, looking at how many students worldwide are travelling for an education experience, what they are studying and where. A healthy international student recruitment plan will include a good mix of origin countries, rather than simply relying on a few larger markets. Educators looking to explore new markets might consider Sweden, where students are actively searching for opportunities to go abroad.

ICEF Monitor recently spoke with Anders Akerlund, Managing Director of Avista, a Stockholm-based recruitment agency that sends Swedish students of all ages around the world to study, learn and work. He spoke about his 30 years’ experience with the outbound Swedish market, noting changes in the industry and giving insight into a Swedish student’s decision making process.

Mr Akerlund says he’s noticed students have a greater interest in going abroad for a wider variety of reasons now than when he started the business in 1980. Back then, many language travel companies offered only language learning courses, but now Avista and other similar student recruitment agencies need to offer a wider range of products to meet students’ needs. Not only are Swedish students going abroad to study languages, but also to volunteer, work and get a degree.

Proficient English speakers

As Mr Akerlund says in the video, only about 25% of students on Avista language programmes are learning English. In general, Swedish students have a high level of English, which they learn at secondary school. So then why are they going abroad to learn a language? The majority travel overseas to learn another (perhaps third or fourth) language which adds value to their CVs. Many of them are 18 years old and just graduated from high school; they are looking for a “life experience.”

The ease of international travel makes going abroad to learn a language all the more attractive. In the 2013 Henley & Partners Visa Restriction Index, Sweden came out on top as the nation which can travel visa-free to most countries.

It’s my decision!

In Sweden, it’s most often the student who is the decision maker on where and what to study, unlike in many other countries where parents and other family members have influence. Swedish students are entitled to a loan from the government to pay for their education, so they choose how to spend it. Therefore, experience has taught Mr Akerlund to market Avista’s programmes directly to the student, a tip which could be useful for any institution keen on recruiting Swedish students.

In the interview, Mr Akerlund also discusses which programmes are most popular with the Swedish market, and his answer might surprise you. Community colleges in the US are a favourite choice because of the low fees and the opportunity to transfer to university to complete a degree.

Home sweet home

After completing their studies and experiencing invaluable time abroad, Swedish students typically return home to put their newly learned skills to good use. By all accounts, the economy is growing and Sweden will be a good place to build a career.

According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Index (which is determined by how innovative a country is, among other things), Sweden is the 6th most competitive nation in the world. Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum has said, “Innovation becomes even more critical in terms of an economy’s ability to foster future prosperity.”

As a destination for incoming international students, Sweden is attractive – despite the introduction of fees for international students (see the 2012 ICEF Monitor article “Sweden on the rebound from tuition fee fallout”). Safe, prosperous, innovative, and a good quality of life – this is what draws people to Sweden and keeps them there.



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