How can we attract more students?

17 March 2023

Umeå University has been discussing and taking a critical look at this question. We are one of Sweden's main comprehensive universities. In terms of the number of applicants who list us as their first choice – an indicator of a university's popularity – we rank fifth among Sweden's higher education institutions. In spite of this, however, we need to attract more students to remain competitive, reach the funding cap the Government has set for us and educate as many students as we have been granted resources for.

At its most recent meeting, the University Board discussed what we could do to attract more students and hit our annual performance equivalent target. The faculty deans and the director of the Umeå School of Education explained how they usually go about attracting students, after which we engaged in an interesting and rewarding discussion. It became clear that the issue is complex, multi-faceted and linked to everything from the quality of our study programmes, student completion and the student-teacher ratio, to there being enough prospective students who both want to and have the means to attend university. We concluded that we would need to recruit more students – both Swedish and international ones. I look forward to discussing this matter in greater depth and continuing to work on it together, to reach our funding cap. I believe we should view the issue as an opportunity: we get to educate more students, develop our courses and programmes, and identify new approaches and flexible ways of educating students.

Cathrine Norberg, Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Umeå University

Photo: Mattias Pettersson

A recent analysis of our students' backgrounds shows that Umeå University recruits more than its fair share of distance students, but comparatively few on-campus students, especially from Sweden's biggest cities. This is clear proof of the fact that we need to do more to raise prospective students' awareness of Umeå University. That is why the Vice-Chancellor has approved a targeted initiative that will run from 2023 to 2024, to get more students to apply to Umeå University.

One challenge we will need to tackle, and which has become a bit of a bottleneck, is the fact that several of our biggest programmes require students to spend significant periods engaging in an internship or clinical training. If we cannot guarantee future teachers or nurses a placement in their chosen field of study, we cannot admit them either. Solving this puzzle will require an ongoing, close dialogue with Sweden's regions and municipalities. Another dilemma we are trying to solve is the fact that we want to enable more people to take a freestanding course or study with us remotely, while student completion for these courses and programmes tends to be lower than for on-campus ones. Lower student completion in turn negatively affects our funding cap.

Studies have shown that there is a link between a higher education institution's number of first-choice applicants and its international ranking. As Umeå University's global ranking has slid in recent years, this is something we will need to keep discussing. One of our goals is to recruit more international students. This is a less straightforward goal than attracting Swedish students, however. One reason is the fact that it takes a long time for foreign students and researchers to receive a residence permit. I myself and the other members of the University Management regularly take up the matter with the Swedish Migration Agency, both via the Association of Swedish Higher Education Institutions and in other fora.

Safe to say, student recruitment is not without its challenges. But I believe there are wonderful opportunities for us here; our University has plenty of selling points, which we have every reason to be proud of. We offer a broad range of courses and programmes in all major fields of study. We have many highly qualified, excellent teachers and conduct world-class research. Many of our programmes and courses skilfully combine research and education. And let us not forget the fact that our centralised campus in Umeå genuinely feels like a home, in a city with a rich cultural scene and student life. And then there is IKSU, a sports facility in a class of its own.

We need to keep putting Umeå University on the map, both in Sweden and abroad. We should market our Master's Programme in Public Health, for example, which is very popular among international students. We are also the only Swedish higher education institution where students can study Health Care Administration remotely. And these are just two of the many programmes that might interest students. I will be participating in a national educational science research seminar, courtesy of the Swedish Research Council. The seminar's background material indicates that when it comes to educational science citations, Umeå University ranks third in Sweden. We have also been allocated more unrestricted educational science project grants from the Swedish Research Council than most other Swedish higher education institutions.

This is a fantastic university. We just need to get better at letting others know.

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