Sweden’s 19% Increase in International Student Growth: A Look at the Numbers and Growth Plan

Key Takeaways:

  • According to the official statistics from the Swedish Higher Education Authority, 39,806 international students studied in Sweden for the academic year 2021–22. 
  • China and Germany are the two leading countries sending these international students, with 4,166 German and 2,302 Chinese students. 
  • The Migration Agency is looking forward to replanning the residence and work permit application processes for visa-free countries.

With a long history of academic quality, Sweden has established its reputation as one of the top destinations for international students over the years. To tackle any problems, international students studying in Swedish universities learn to think critically, creatively, and independently. Students in many fields of study have the opportunity to participate in internships that give them hands-on experience in their field. In short, they don’t focus on grades but on theory and its practical application. This is why Sweden’s educational system is ranked among the top systems in the world.

And today, data shows that the population of international students pursuing their education abroad is growing and showing high interest in Sweden.

The Growth and its Source Market

The Swedish Higher Education Authority’s official numbers show that 39,806 international students chose to study in Sweden for the academic year 2021–2022. This is a 19% increase from the previous year when 33,298 international students chose to study in Sweden.

And if you look at the difference between exchange students and free movers, you can see that each group is growing, though the number of international students who applied and enrolled on their own is higher than the number of exchange students. While data showed that there were only 6,162 exchange students during the 2020–21 school year, 2021–22 showed that the number of exchange students increased to a total of 11,644.

Meanwhile, free movers continued to soar since the pandemic to 28,197 international students or more than double the number of exchange students in Swedish institutions.

Sweden's 19% Increase in International Student Growth: A Look at the Numbers and Growth Plan

When it comes to source markets, China and Germany are the two leading countries that send these international students, with 4,166 German and 2,302 Chinese students. Of these numbers, it can be noted that China is sending more free movers (2,003), while the majority of German students (2,346) in Sweden are under an exchange program.

Meanwhile, France is in the third spot with a total of 2,276 students in the academic year 2021/22, most of whom (1,854) came to the country through exchange programs.

Other countries sending significant numbers of international students to Sweden are India (2,125 students – 2,066 free movers and 59 exchange students); Finland (1,951 – 1,760 free movers and 192 exchange students); Spain (1,463 – 563 free movers and 900 exchange students); Pakistan (1,395 – 1 391 free movers); Italy (1,305 – 591 free movers and 719 exchange students); The Netherlands (1,152 – 419 free movers and 737 exchange students; and The United States (931 – 593 free movers and 338 exchange students).

Meanwhile, international students from other Scandinavian countries are also choosing Sweden as their study destination, including Denmark, which sends 415 international students, and Norway, which sends 474 international students to Swedish universities.

Replanning Residence and Work Permit Application

In November last year, Sweden imposed a new rule regarding residency and work permit applications for international students and researchers. According to the approved rule, international students and researchers from visa-free countries must pay a visit to a Swedish embassy or general consulate to verify their identification.

However, Swedish higher education institutions and the Swedish Minister of Education, Mats Persson, viewed this process as troublesome and said it might have “disproportionate consequences.” This came after reports that researchers from the West Coast of the United States are obliged to go to Washington, DC, just to confirm their identity by physically showing their original passports for ID verification.

After hearing people’s worries about this issue, the migration agency has been told to come up with a plan to fix it.

Furthermore, the Minister of Migration, Maria Malmer Stenergard, suggested creating mobile teams that would visit visa-free countries where the largest universities are located, so applicants could have their passports checked. She shared that this way, the country can simplify the application process for residency and work permits for international students and scholars.

“The government does not want Sweden to lose competitiveness. We are therefore taking the necessary measures to make it easier for people who are visa-exempt to present their original passport in person,” Minister Stenergard expressed.


Sweden made a modest growth compared to the previous year. Aside from the country’s unconventional education, environmental sustainability, and diverse culture, another thing that I would like to commend is its government’s effort to look out for the welfare of the international student community in the country, one of which is through simplifying certain application processes. This is evident as in January of this year, the country issued a total of 7,862 residence permits in January 2023, representing a slight increase compared to November 2022, when it issued just over 6,290 permits. To add to this, the Swedish Migration Agency revealed that the highest number (2,720) of permits were issued for work purposes. (SUNEETHA QURESHI)

MSM President

Suneetha has worked for 15 years in the international education sector and 25 years overall for her work for other industries. As president of MSM, she fortifies its business development outreach globally, particularly in the face of MSM’s foray into edtech-based recruitment via MSM Unify. She preserves the premium, value-adding services provided to each MSM partner institute, including dedicated teams on the ground, agent management, lead generation and inquiry management, application prescreening, and student and parent support through pioneering pre-departure briefing sessions.

She has an impeccable track record of successfully launching the representative offices in Asia and Africa of many North American and European higher education institutions. Her key strengths include hiring, training, and developing teams as evidenced by the successful results of the dedicated in-country college and university client teams.

Suneetha also has taken the lead in developing several initiatives at MSM, including building robust standard operating procedures, the Rise ‘n Shine team engagement platform, and the organization’s data analytics and audit segments.



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