“It looks like the drop in students from outside the EU may be quite steep. It is now up to all good forces in the country to come up with a good scholarship programme that could make Sweden an attractive place for higher education again,” said head of the agency Lars Haikola in a statement on Tuesday.
The deadline to pay the fees lapsed on June 15th. According to the Swedish National Agency for Higher Education (Högskoleverket), only 1,280 students had paid their fees by then.
Previously free, fees at Swedish universities will range from a minimum of 100,000 kronor ($16,000) per annum to around 230,000 kronor, depending on the programme and school, from the 2011 autumn term.
Since the decision to introduce fees was taken, experts have warned that Swedish universities will see a significant drop in interest from abroad.
And already in May, figures from the Swedish Agency for Higher Education (VHS) showed that the number of international admissions to Swedish universities had dropped by two thirds compared to last year.
Fresh figures from the Swedish Migration Board (Migrationsverket) also show that 6,277 people applied for a student visa in Sweden during the first 6 months of 2010.
So far this year the number of applicants has only reached 3,747.
In the 2009-10 academic year, more than 16,000 non-European university students studied in Sweden. Although the figures aren’t strictly comparable, as the larger number comprises all places of higher education in Sweden and both the autumn and spring term, they point to a significant drop, according to the agency.
According to Torbjörn Lindqvist, analyst at the National Agency for Higher Education, it has been hard to foresee what impact the new tuition fees would have on applicants, despite the warnings.
“I think that it was expected that there would be a drop, we had seen that from other countries introducing similar schemes, but how large it would be no one could say in advance,” he told The Local.
What practical effects this will have on Swedish universities, and just how large the actual drop in foreign students will be, still remains to be seen.
“Many universities will find themselves with less students than they had expected and some might have a problem filling their courses,” said Lindqvist.
The government has initiated two scholarship programmes that will cover the fees for about 300 applicants, according to Lindquist. But sadly that will not cover everyone.
“I think the expectations are that the Swedish higher education will hold such a high international standard that students will come anyway,” Lindquist told The Local.