Spotlight on Europe 2017: How Swedish Universities can recruit international students from China, India, SE Asia and Brazil

Spotlight on Europe 2017: How Swedish Universities can recruit international students from China, India, SE Asia and Brazil


We are always interested in looking at the various key challenges faced by European universities and outlining our top tips on how best to increase international enrolment from key target markets.

With one of the highest standards of living in the world, amazing scenery, more winter sports than you could shake a ski at and one of the coolest capital cities going, Sweden has a lot offer.

It’s been five years since they introduced tuition fees for international students which is plenty of time for the impact to have become clear… so lets have a look at the figures:

–       The number of non-EU students in Sweden since fees were introduced has dropped

–       The proportion of non-EU students is now  below the EU average

When these reforms were put in place the desired effect was to attract a smaller number of applications but more talent, which was a pretty bold show of confidence in the quality of the Swedish higher education system.

How do they still welcome international students?

So, with the Swedish government going on the charm offensive to position Sweden as an attractive study destination and to justify the fees, new measures were put in place to make life easier for international students, including:

  • A simplified visa process, enabling the right to work during studies
  • Significantly increasing the amount of English taught programmes – which now represent almost a quarter of all programmes, exceeded only by Germany and the Netherlands.

With more than half of international students attending just four institutions (Lund University, KTH, Chalmers University of Technology and Uppsala) universities have had to get more creative in their marketing efforts and many have been prioritising activity in key strategic regions including China, India, South East Asia and Brazil.

Swedish international student recruitment

Is it working?

YES! Well, it seems to be working – with fee paying foreign students coming from 107 countries, inbound numbers have increased by 30% in 2015. Academics however, are still not keen, arguing that politicians have completely ‘de-internationalised’ the higher education system in Sweden, disputing the idea that tuition fees secure talent (instead favouring those who can afford it) and should have at the very least, allocated additional funding for scholarships to exceptional students from non-EU countries.

And do international students stay?

Despite the fact that the majority of international students say they would like to stay after graduating, few actually do so – with reasons ranging from the strict immigration and visa policies, to simply finding a job. With strong competition from countries including Germany, Canada and Australia, it is clear Sweden still have some way to go, to attract and retain the talent they strive for.

Top Tips for Swedish institutions to reach their priority markets


  • China accounts for 25% of Sweden’s total international student population, therefore it is a significant market. Research shows that subject-specific rankings are more important to Chinese students than overall rankings, so big up any subject specialisms you offer.
  • Career services, links to the business community and connections with prestigious businesses are all a major draw.
  • Peer reviews go a long way in convincing Chinese students of where to study so using current students as advocates would be a great way to go.
  • Use Baidu, China’s main search platform.


  • The number of Indian students in Sweden has quadrupled in the last five years and now accounts for roughly 14% of international students.  Engineering, law, medicine and business are all very popular subjects for Indian students so if you offer particular expertise in these areas, it would be good to shout about it
  • Students will also research academics when choosing an institution and strong teaching staff carries great importance
  • Google is a super important channel with almost 100% market share in India.

 South East Asia

  • Student behaviours and preferences vary hugely between countries in South East Asia so make sure you are using data and country specific insights to engage effectively and reach the right audience, with the right message, on the right platform
  • In Indonesia students are mostly influenced by rankings, quality of teaching and awards – terms such as ‘internationally recognised’ resonate well as they want transferable qualifications
  • Vietnam is a growing market for international students and currently have over 53000 students abroad. Business related courses are most popular, including finance, marketing and economics.


  • Brazilian students studying internationally has grown by 600% since 2003. Email and social media are great platforms when engaging with this market and with mobile usage at an all time high, make sure your website is mobile optimised.
  • Students search in Portuguese, so it’s important to bear in mind that copy in English on Google does not work as well for driving leads.
  • Video is another great way to engage with students in Brazil. Here’s a 360° video we produced with The Courtauld Institute of Art. Think about ways in which you can cause prospective students to form an attachment or emotion at this point.

Get in touch with our team of digital experts, to learn how we can revolutionise your digital marketing strategy and generate more student enrolments for your institution.