Educating to power the transformation of northern Sweden

20 January 2023

The industrialisation and societal transformation of the counties of Västerbotten and Norrbotten in northern Sweden calls for more people and requires skills. Creating attractive spaces for all these workers to live and providing relevant education will be key building blocks if we are to achieve the ambitious targets of the envisioned green transformation. The results of a new survey show Umeå University will be an indispensable partner in this.

When Umeå University was founded in 1965, one of the goals was to educate the workforce in the north of Sweden and equip them with research-based knowledge. Results of a recent survey by the Centre for Regional Science at Umeå University on the educational background of academics in Västerbotten and Norrbotten reveal that our university has managed to do just that over the years.

Dieter Müller, Deputy Vice-Chancellor

Photo: Mattias Pettersson

Three in four university educated employees in Vässterbotten hold a degree from Umeå University*. In Norrbotten, the figure is one in four. Among graduates in Norrbotten's Arvidsjaur and Arjeplog too, Umeå University is the primary university, whereas those in other municipalities in the county are most likely to have graduated from Luleå University of Technology (LTU)**. The number of academics with a degree from our own university is particularly high in municipalities in which many work in the public sector or where economists and social scientists are in demand. More than half of all social scientists in Norrbotten county have a degree from Umeå University.

Municipalities with an active manufacturing industry, on the other hand, are home to a higher number of LTU graduates. Take Skellefteå, where 25 per cent of graduates has a degree from LTU. Approximately 60 per cent of all graduates in the municipality went to Umeå University – a figure just below the average for the county. At the same time, it's interesting to observe the way current labour market statistics positively reflect the growth of technological programmes and courses at Umeå University.

We have successfully contributed to the acquisition of talents in northern Sweden through both programmes based in Umeå itself and through distance learning. These past two decades, our University has become one of the higher education institutions in Sweden that is best at recruiting students from all over the country. Today, the majority of our more than 35,000 students hail from the counties that are home to Sweden's biggest cities. Just one in ten students comes from Västerbotten. In comparison, that figure was one in three at the start of the new millennium. This change is one of the reasons our University has managed to keep growing: had it not been for the influx of students from other regions, northern Sweden's demographics would have nipped our expansion in the bud.

A survey of those who graduated from our University in 2018 shows that seven in ten leave Umeå once they've completed their studies. Many settle elsewhere in Västerbotten and Norrbotten, but most actually leave northern Sweden. These graduates could be an important, hitherto untapped resource that could provide northern Sweden with the skills and talents it needs in the future. Still, most students who come from Umeå remain here or otherwise return to their home municipality after their studies, which suggests social networks or local familiarity are important factors in recent graduates' decisions on where to live.

But that doesn't negate the fact that many students do decide to move to places where they've never lived before. No fewer than 30 per cent of those who graduated from Umeå University in 2018 did just that.

This means employers here in the north may want to consider reaching out to students while they're still in university, to recruit them and fill the many new job openings in the region. Convincing more graduates to stay (and encouraging others from around the country and the world to move up north) will be crucial to transforming northern Sweden into the sought-after place to live and work that we envision.

Parts of the text you just read were featured in an op-ed article published earlier this week to mark the fact that Skellefteå now has its own vocational education programme.

Would you like to peruse the statistics yourself? Have a look at the Centre for Regional Science's reports "An Analysis of Recent Graduates' Mobility Patterns" and "Umeå University's Importance for Talent Acquisition in Norrbotten and Västerbotten: Where We Are Today".

* Umeå and Skellefteå are situated in the county of Västerbotten.
** Luleå is situated in the county of Norrbotten.


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