Are we as international as we can be?

2 June 2022

Students with a migrant background who were born in Sweden are over-represented among first-year students in the country. One the other hand, this group is small at Umeå University. In light of the future competence development in the north, this group needs more attention.

The other week I attended a meeting on the transformation of northern Sweden. During the meeting, a municipal commissioner from an inland municipality stated that greater efforts are needed to integrate people with a migrant background into various types of community activities, including in Norrbotten and Västerbotten. The hundred or so participants in attendance were themselves living proof, as I was apparently the only person with any kind of migrant background.

Dieter Müller, Deputy Vice-Chancellor

Photo: Mattias Pettersson

I was reminded of this event when Statistics Sweden and the Swedish Higher Education Authority (UKÄ) recently published the latest statistics on students and doctoral students with an international background at Swedish higher education institutions.

Among first-year university students, about a one-fourth have two foreign-born parents and two-thirds of this group are themselves born abroad. With only 14%, Umeå University does not belong to the group of higher education institutions with the highest proportion of new students with an international background. Instead, the list is dominated by universities in Stockholm, led by Karolinska Institutet, where 38% of new students have an international background.

What is interesting in this context is that the probability of starting university level studies before the age of 25 for people born in 1995 is only slightly higher for people with a Swedish background (44%) compared to the international group (40%).

However, this is a wide variation within the international group in terms of their relationship with Sweden. In fact, 51% of those born in Sweden to two foreign-born parents enter higher education. People with a background in Asia, North America and Africa stand out in particular. This contrasts with the fact that people born in Africa and Asia have among the lowest transition rates to higher education.

Among newly admitted doctoral students in the 2020/21 academic year, around 1,300 out of 3,300 came directly from abroad for doctoral studies. Of the remaining 2,000 doctoral students, about a quarter had an international background. However, doctoral students with a European background are overrepresented here. Umeå University's low proportion of students with an international background is also reflected when it comes to doctoral students. Among first-year students, only 15% have an international background (not considering doctoral students who come directly from abroad for doctoral studies). This puts Umeå University, together with Luleå University of Technology (LTU), at the bottom of the list of universities, where the majority have levels above 25 per cent.

Without looking further into these statistics, it is evident that there may be reasons to reflect on broadened recruitment in relation to the group of Swedes with a migrant background. These are individuals who often seem to be motivated for higher studies and who, for various reasons, do not choose Umeå University to the same extent as other higher education institutions. Certainly, the figures reflect the overall geographical distribution of Swedes with a migrant background in Sweden and so it is not surprising that Umeå University does not top the statistical lists.

Given the great demand for people and skills in northern Sweden, this is a group of people that northern Sweden cannot afford to lose. Therefore, it is essential for employers in the private and public sectors, as well as for universities in northern Sweden, to attract Swedes with a migrant background to the north in order to recruit for work and education.

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