News from the world of higher education
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More and more foreign doctoral candidates are remaining in Sweden

The proportion of foreign doctoral candidates staying in Sweden has increased steadily since 2013. The question is what will happen now that the changes to the Aliens Act make it more difficult to obtain a residence permit. “Foreign doctoral candidates are crucial for the supply of skills in higher education,” says Anna Bengtsson at the Swedish Higher Education Authority, UKÄ.

Per-Olof Eliasson
A new report from the Swedish Higher Education Authority, UKÄ, shows how many and how large a proportion of foreign doctoral candidates stay in Sweden after completing their studies and what they work with.

Doctoral candidates from other countries who study in Sweden are an important part of the recruitment pool for higher education institutions. A new report from the Swedish Higher Education Authority, UKÄ, shows how many and how large a proportion of foreign doctoral candidates stay in Sweden after completing their studies and what they work with.

“The most interesting finding is that the proportion of qualified PhDs staying in Sweden has increased,” says Anna Bengtsson, an analyst at UKÄ and one of the authors of the report. “This is a change that can be seen quite clearly.”

The increase may be related to the change in the regulations in 2014, which meant that doctoral studies could qualify applicants to be granted a permanent residence permit. “It looks like there’s a link. But it may also be due to the economy, that there has been greater demand for qualified PhDs in the labour market.”

Steady increase
UKÄ has looked at the period 1998–2017. At the beginning of this period, the proportion of foreign doctoral candidates who stayed in Sweden decreased, and then remained stable for ten years until 2013. At that time, the proportion of people who were still in Sweden three years after receiving their doctorate was around 40 per cent. The share increased to 54 per cent in 2015.

There is a corresponding increase both one and five years after qualification, to the extent that UKÄ can identify where people are. In 2017, just over 65 per cent were still in the country one year after qualifying, showing that an increasing proportion of foreign doctoral candidates stay in Sweden after receiving their doctorate.

“When we divide the statistics by qualification year, it’s very clear that both the number and the proportion who stay have increased greatly,” says Bengtsson.

Furthermore, since 2010, the same proportion remains in Sweden after five years as after three years. It therefore seems that those PhD-qualified people who have stayed in Sweden for three years will remain in the longer term. In absolute numbers during the entire period from 1998, more than 4,000 people have remained in the country for at least three years, 3,000 have stayed for at least five years and 2,000 have stayed for at least eight years.

Men make up the majority of foreign doctoral candidates. However, this report shows that women stay in Sweden to a greater extent after receiving their doctorate. “We haven’t really found any explanation for this,” says Bengtsson. “It may be because people start families, but we have not researched that. We weren’t able to pursue all the findings that we found interesting, otherwise we wouldn’t have been able to complete the report within a reasonable time.”

Plenty of technology jobs
In terms of subject areas, those with a PhD in technology stay in Sweden to the greatest extent, with 49 per cent still in the country after three years. This is probably because there are plenty of jobs in the technology sector. Second on the list come those with a doctorate within the natural sciences, at 44 per cent.

Those with doctorates in agricultural science and veterinary medicine are the least likely to stay, with just 28 per cent remining in the country. Many of these doctoral candidates study with SIDA scholarships, which are part of Sweden’s overseas development aid, and the aim is for them to return to their home countries.

Also, a relatively low proportion of social scientists remains, with just 36 per cent staying. “SIDA also provides scholarships within social sciences, which is one reason why that group does not stay to such a large extent.”

In absolute numbers, there are large differences between the different sciences in how many people stay in Sweden after receiving their doctorate. For the entire period from 1998, after three years there are just over 1,300 within natural sciences, 1,200 within medicine and health sciences and 1,100 within technology. Then there is a big drop down to the social sciences, 280, humanities and arts, 110, and agricultural science and veterinary medicine, 100 people. If we look at countries of origin, the largest proportions staying are from Poland, Russia and Iran, with up to 60 per cent still in Sweden after three years.

Most people get jobs
Most people who stay in Sweden find employment. The report states that ”the fact that several thousand foreign doctoral candidates are employed in the Swedish labour market means a significant addition of highly qualified labour.”

The highest proportion of PhDs in work three years after graduation, according to the definition used by UKÄ in this analysis, come from humanities and fine arts, with 94 per cent, followed by social sciences and technology, at 92 and 91 per cent respectively.

“We were a little surprised that people in the humanities and arts are in employment to such an extent, because graduates in those subjects usually have a tough time in the labour market. Then we thought about it, and after talking to the universities about other matters, we understood that those in the arts and humanities who get recruited are the best. Those subjects are so small and have so few places that the higher education institutions really try to recruit the best, even in an international perspective, and they want to keep them,” says Bengtsson.

Around 59 per cent of those with doctorates in the humanities and fine arts work as university teachers. In total, a third work as university teachers, researchers, other teaching and research staff and the like, and just under a fifth work in engineering. “Engineers may well have research tasks,” she points out.

No answers about the future
One may wonder what will happen to the recruitment base for higher education institutions now that it is becoming more difficult for newly qualified PhDs to stay in Sweden. As the report concludes, “this study does not provide any answers about how things will look in the future, but the change in the law in the summer of 2021, which tightened the requirements for being allowed to remain in Sweden after doctoral studies, may impact both the opportunities and people’s willingness to stay in Sweden. That in turn might have an impact on the future supply of skills.”

“It is interesting that so many foreign doctoral candidates work in higher education,” says Anna Bengtsson. “They are important for the supply of skills at higher education institutions. Skills supply is constantly on the agenda, and it is an important issue for UKÄ as well.”

Per-Olof Eliasson

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