Saturday, April 9, 2011

Sweden through my eyes

I've been reading a lot of posts and articles about Sweden lately, specially about the new university fees. I most say that a small comment on any of those posts won't express all my feelings. Well, probably this post won't express all my feelings either but I would like to try. I'm really disappointed to hear so many irrational complains on this subject. I really thought that potential master students were grownups, but now I doubt it.

First of all, it's Swedes right to apply tuition fees, after all, they do pay for maintenance of the university buildings, libraries, teachers, employees, etc etc etc, so, if they decided to put a value to it and charge something for what they offer they are free to do it. After all, I don't think anyone reading this post think that they are going to work for free (or at least work at a university for free). Swedes pay taxes and the government uses those taxes to pay for the universities so I think it's fair to charge those who haven't pay taxes a tuition fee.

Second, maybe the tuition is a bit high, maybe the living expenses are high as well. Maybe some people love the snow and some just hate the winter. It doesn't mean the price is not right. We've all heard about supply and demand. From where I come from, the best universities were free and the bad ones were really expensive. Why? Well, the best ones were public universities (and free in consequence) but they are really hard to get in, so... everyone who wants to study and doesn't get into a publish school have to pay. What I mean by this is that the price might not have a direct relation with the quality of the school. I do think that Uppsala University is a great University and I would have thought that people applied here not just because of the free tuition but because of the quality. Studying takes time and effort so I want the best education I can get, not just a cheap one.

Third, I don't think the fees has anything to do with excluding international students at all. What I do know, and I know it because I've seen it, is that some students just pretend to have money to survive while their are studying and as soon after they arrive they put all their effort into getting a job even at the expenses of their courses. They don't go to class, they don't do the assignments, they don't take the exams. Their only intention was to get into Sweden (or maybe just Europe) somehow and have a legal status to get a job, but they couldn't care less about their master program. This is just wrong! This is not good for Sweden, it's not good for the image of the immigrants, it's not good for other serious students that were not offered a sit... But they might think twice about it after paying the fees.

Forth, Swedes are extremely friendly and have an speak EXCELLENT English! I've been in many many countries. I've been in Venezuela, Argentina, Mexico, Spain, Italy, Portugal, Germany, France, Morocco, China... (I think you get the point) and Sweden is the only non English speaking country I've been were actually everyone speaks English and they do it really well too. I mean, even in the US I've seen people pretending not to understand tourists (in English) just because they are mean and racist. This is the only country were you can really go around with no problems while not speaking the language. And after all these I still have to hear people complaining that you can't get a job if you don't speak Swedish! For God's sake! English is NOT the official language! I would like to see anyone getting a job in Spain without speaking Spanish! It would have to be a super big company and you would have to be a super star and still, since most people don't speak English I don't think how you could work. The fact that a university offers programs taught in English doesn't mean that you can get a job by speaking just English.

Sweden is a lovely country, night life is fine, food is fine, everything is fine. Yes, you have to adapt a bit. You'll fine Swedish food! You won't fine Spanish food everywhere like in Spain, you won't find Chinese food on every corner like in China, you'll find Swedish food like the one you can eat in Ikea. You won't find Italian night life or French night life, it will be Swedish stile and if you're open to it you'll have a GREAT time!

So please! Stop complaining as if Swedes owe you free education! Apply to the universities you like and enjoy it! If you don't like Swedish universities just don't come. I'm sure there is enough people who disagree so don't worry, they won't close the universities any time soon.


  1. Hej!

    I'm also an international student in Uppsala and couldn't agree more with your views. Everything is fine, as they say, its lagom! I love Uppsala and Sweden! If every country in the world was like this one no wars would ever occur!

  2. Hej Tiago! I'm glad to hear your comments :-)

    I take this opportunity to add that it is really sad they decided to charge because of course there were many many students like me taking this amazing opportunity and getting an excellent education for free. I wish they didn't had introduced the fees... I just think that since they are the ones offering it's their right to charge for it if they want to...

    Enjoy the nice weather in Uppsala! :-)

  3. I don't necessarily think charging is such a terrible thing in the sense that Sweden has been the massive exception to the rule. Swede's should be the first priority of the education system. But saying that, an ideal, especially in Europe, would be a free model everywhere, so everyone has the freedom and incentive to study elsewhere and learn from the diversity across Europe. It's very different still from the UK where we fleece every penny out of international students, and will soon be doing to same with domestic students. Happy I'm moving to Uppsala in August!

  4. I totally agree with you! It would be amazing to be able to study anywhere in Europe! Since we are already able to live in any other European country it would be great if education were free all over Europe and we could just go and study anywhere we want. I think that the fact that degrees are now recognize all over Europe could be a step towards that idea. It would force universities to compete with each other in order to attract the best students regardless of scholarships and fees, which sadly place, most of the time, a great influence on the decision process when picking a University.

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  6. Dear Andry,

    so far I've been a find reader if your blog, but I'afraid I have to strongly disagree with you.

    Tuition fees select by money and therefore by social status. Tuition fees mean that only people from wealthy families can study. If Sweden thinks there are too many foreign students, they could have just raised the entry requirements and select applicants by their academic potential instead.


  7. Hi Knut!

    I think you totally misunderstood what I said. I do think that in an ideal world education would be free everywhere! I think that education should be based on "who is the best" instead of "who has the resources". So, I agree with you when you say " Tuition fees mean that only people from wealthy families can study". The thing is that I don't think at all that Swedes decided to introduce tuition fees to reduce the foreign students. I just think we all have to accept that "free education" is not really free. Tax-payers pay for it! So, I think it's their right to decide if they want to continue paying for everyone's education or not.

    I really really want to stress that I don't think their is nothing racist about the fees! They are not trying to scare people away! Almost every country have tuition fees. I mean, Swedes could even decide to reduce taxes and then everyone should pay the university fees. If you check universities in the UK, US and many other countries you can see they have different fees for home students and overseas students and I don't see anyone calling them racists or saying they just take rich students.

    I think it is sad because maybe a lot of potential great students might not be able to come because they don't have enough money, but even when only non-European students are the only one affected it doesn't mean their decision was based on the idea of reducing international students. There are many exchange programs and Swedes really care about that.

    Hopefully people around the world will keep funding scholarships!

  8. Hi Andry

    This is such a fantastic blog. I'm starting the Masters in Peace & Conflict Studies at Uppsala this upcoming fall semester and am really grateful to have come across your site. It's full of very useful information and I really appreciate you making the effort to make this available to new students!

    I'm starting to look into housing and having difficulty using Studentstaten/Dombron. I know that you have previously said it's possible to register on that site in English (and the Uppsala student union site has similar advice) but that doesn't seem to be the case anymore from what I can see. Do you know anything about this or have any advice?

    I look forward to hearing from you and thanks again

  9. Hi Laura!

    I'm really happy you like my blog! :-) I just checked and you're right, they just added a link to google translate so there is no English version but just a translated version... I think you can register there anyway and if you have questions about the form just let me know :-)

    After you are registered you need to start clicking on almost every offer! I mean, it's really really hard to get a room here! I recommend you to try because they don't have (or at least they didn't) a queue. So, must of the time there is nothing available in Uppsala and as soon as they publish some offers you should "express you interest" until you get something.

    It all gets easier around December and I think it's possible to move if you don't like your room but right now it will be quite hard to get one... Do not wait until September! By them everything is taken and you might spend at least a month paying for a room in a hostel or hotel and you'll spend much more than if you got a room before arriving.

    See you soon in Uppsala! :D

  10. I understand you really like Sweden and it's people. That's why you defend them, even though you don't have to. You need to understand that people criticize the Swedish government, not the Swedish people.

    And you can't just say other countries have tuition fees, too. That's comparing peas to apples, because most of them have sholarships as a compensation.

    And what the british government did with their tuition fees was just as socially injust and discriminating. Why should some people have to pay a fortune to study in Britain or Scandinavia just because they don 't happen to be born in the EU?

    It's so sad to see that the Scandinavian countries, where free education was a basic right, follow that example without any necessity. They could have chosen other ways to sort out international students.

  11. Andry!

    I live in SWeden and I do not think it's wrong that foreign students come here, they study, go back to their countries and they don´t pay anything. Until that, the Swedish society will not profit from anything.
    HOW the University will pay teachers, maintenance of the college, everything?.
    Moreover, where in the world, a person can land and study, without paying anything?
    The Swedish people were paying for foreign students coming here, studying and investing knowledge gained in Sweden, in their countries.
    YOur point.
    YOur arguments are corrects. We pay high tax in Sweden. I know that many students wish to study in Sweden and they don´t have financial condition but I disagree that Swedish citizen need to pay the bill.
    The non-European students don´t pay tuition fee because the countries where they live are members of EUROPEAN UNION like Sweden.And part of the money that is invested in Education in Sweden comes from European Union( these students and their families pay tax in their countries). That´s one of the reasons WHY they don´t pay anything at all.
    The same case are the people like me - I was born and studied in Brazil - but I live in Sweden, I work in Sweden, I pay tax in Sweden, my husband and his company pay high tax. So...I don´t pay tuition fee.
    Your blog is very nice. I´ll study Master in International HUmanitarian Action and all are welcome to my actual homecountry( I was born in Brazil but I live in Sweden with my husband who is Swedish).
    We're open mind and we hope to make your days in Uppsala, as easy as possible
    Glad Påsk från Sverige!Lycka till( Happy Easter from Sweden! Good Luck!)

  12. Hi anonymous!

    The thing is that in Sweden "free" education is still a basic right for SWEDES! Swedes work hard and pay their taxes so the newer generations get good-quality education. You don't see them complaining that international students come to Sweden and study for free while if Swedes go to another country then they have to pay.

    I'm really not discussing the idea that having free education all around the world be great. I'm saying that I have the right to do whatever I want with my money. I'm free to choose how to spend it and I'm pretty sure you're free to do the same. Well, then countries have the same right. Governments have a responsibility with their citizens! And yes, in the case of European countries they have special treatments with each other, but other than that it's their right to decide what is it that they want to do with their money.

    Thanks to the Brazilian woman for her comments!

    Free education has never really been free. Someone was paying for it and from my point of view it was a gift that we were all getting! I think it's really unfair to get mad when someone stops giving free stuff.

  13. I think this is a good article

    "Swedish higher education institutions must compete on the basis of high quality and good study environments, not on the basis of a free education" + "Swedish tax revenues should primarily cover the educational needs of Swedish citizens"

  14. Hey Andry

    Thanks for your reply. I'm still having trouble registering with Would it be easier to do this via personal email? Mine is

    The registration form indicates that you can register without having a Swedish personal ID, but if you select that it still asks you to complete something called Person/Org and it has to start with 18, 19 or 20? I'm quite confused. Uppsala has sent me my social security number but it starts with 86 so that doesn't appear to help..

    I'd really appreciate your assistance! Happy Easter


    1. Hi Laura, I know this is a bit unusual, but I am thinking of applying to study Peace and Conflict studies at Uppsala and I was wondering if you would mind if I sent you an e-mail just to ask general questions about your impressions of the course and the application process? It would be greatly appreciated if you have the time.


  15. Hi Laura!

    The Swedish personal numbers are composed of your birth date YYYYMMDD and some extra 4 numbers. Since you don't have one the system wants to generate you a temporal one so you can register there. Then the 18, 19, 20 means when where you born like 1990 or so. (Pretty weird the 18, right?).

    Anyway, I'll contact you through email anyway but I thought maybe someone else had the same question.

    Happy Easter!

  16. Gabriel MeirellesApril 24, 2011 at 6:19 PM

    Hej Andry!
    I'm planning to Study in Sweden next year,right now I'm studying for TOEFL..(I'm from Portugal)i just wanna say that your blog is great,hope I can achieve my dream of studying in Sweden as you did.
    Do you know where i can find information about what master courses/Universities are harder/easier to be admitted?
    Happy Easter!

  17. Hej Gabriel!

    I wish you a lot of success on your TOEFL and getting into a Swedish University :-)

    I came across once with some statistical information about the admitted students in some programs, but I don't think there is any official information about which ones are harder to get it. If I find the one for this year I'll post it! Maybe it will give you a sense of the competition.

    Have a nice week!

  18. Hej!

    Hi Andry, I am from Venezuela and I am starting MSc in Computer Science this fall! I found your blog really useful to resolve some doubts.

    In the tuition fees subject I couldn't agree more with you! It is really hard to some people, like me :P, to gather all the money to pay the fees but, I think Swedes have the right to charge non-EU students for education. There are a lot of reasons for this: ensuring the quality of education, protect the country of excessive immigration for the wrong reasons, maintain the right of swedes to free education, among other things.

    On the other hand, I also think that fees are a little bit expensive comparing them to other countries with excellent education like UK, Canada, or Australia. This could be a double edge sword. the amount of foreign students could drop too much and it will vanish the dynamism and cultural exchange that is typical of Swedish universities. Which, btw, was one of the reasons I chose Sweden.

    Kind regards,

  19. Gabriel

    This might help! :)

  20. Hej Harold!!

    First of all: VENEZUELA!!!! :D

    Second, I'm glad you understand my point about the fees. It was great while it lasted and yes, they are a bit expensive compare with other countries and that might affect drastically the amount of non-European students in Uppsala. Hopefully Uppsala (both the city and the University) will keep being an amazing and vibrant city full of young people from all around the world. I think that even when the amount of degree students have drop, as can be seen from the vhs (thanks Anonymous), exchange students are also a great source of cultural exchange.

    Hope to see you next semester Harold!

  21. Hej!

    Sure!! I am sure we have a lot of friends in common (Simoneto 100% <3) hahahahaha

  22. I'm swedish and I agree to a certain extent.
    As a swede I believe in free public education that should hold top quality. "Should" as there's room for improvement, but that's an entirely different discussion.

    But we do have the right to charge non-citizens for it, especially those coming just for the entry-ticket to the European Union. Those people should have their visa removed, you don't take your credits (or even try take them)? Leave.

    Hopefully students come because we offer a good education, not because it's free. Having international students in the class is usually a good thing.

    Still, while we have the right to charge for it, I liked that we offered it for free. There are scholarships and such for those that can't afford it I believe, but I'm not sure those are enough, I don't even know how they work. In Sweden education is a right, one I would like to offer to others but not without demands, passing your classes is the least we can ask.

    Same thing with swedish, if you get a job where you don't need to know swedish? Great! I'm happy for you. But if you're going to stay in Sweden, you should learn the language. You can't get a job because they want someone that knows the language? Tough, learn the language, we offer SFI (Swedish for Immigrants) for a reason.

    Finally, I'm glad you're enjoying Sweden and your studies here. I'm even happier that you find us friendly and welcoming as that's sometimes a problem, we can be a little asocial compared to some countries.

  23. Thank you! I believe you're the first Swede to comment here and I'm really glad to hear your point of view. I agree with you 100%

    SFI courses are there for everyone to take and are free. I think it's not always easy to find information about those courses. In my case, by the time I found out about SFI it was already late to register and I had to wait until the next semester. Still, the master programs are 2 years long so there is plenty of time to at least start learning. I think it is really great that we can easily move around in Sweden speaking English to everyone but it is important to understand that even when almost 100% of the population speaks English, the official language is Swedish and we need to learn it in order to find a job and integrate to the society (not just to other students)

  24. When I came back to the US for a few years, I actually told my friend's sister about the free educations in Sweden. Eventually she applied and got into a masters program in Umeå, free (minus living expenses). She actually graduated this year.

    It's funny what a little word of mouth advertising can do =D

    1. It's true. It was really hard to believe that you could get good education for free! I was also one of those that could not believe it and I found out through a friend of mine.

  25. I agree with everything you say except that Sweden ( especially Uppsala) has a "fine" nightlife, especially if you're coming from somewhere like Australia. At first the concepts of Nations, and the late closing hours, general safety on the streets at night seem good, the excessive tendency to drunkenness means that you really can't have any meaningful conversation with anyone at a party after 9 pm.

    1. oh well, I guess the problem is not the nightlife but the people living it! ;-) Maybe you just need to show them how to drink without getting drunk!

  26. One thing I disagree with some here is that a lot of foreign students in Sweden ( coming from outside the EU ) come here just to get into Sweden, etc. In general, these students belong to a different category than your typical immigrants and asylum-seekers, I believe in general they are an asset to Sweden - they have good English, they learn Swedish really fast, they are motivated students and even f they wish to join the Swedish work-force, there shouldn't be a problem, as Sweden is an under-populated country still having some labour-shortages. The skilled workers amd students coming over as immigrants in Sweden should not be the same issue as in France, Germany or the UK, those countries have a large native population, Sweden does not.

    1. Well Jenny, as you just said, in general qualified immigrants are an asset. Now, there are special mechanisms to come to Sweden and work. Sweden is not telling non EU students not to come. Simply decided that the cost of offering free education vs the amount of non EU students that stayed was not worth it. Maybe they just wanted to have more room for swedish students (those who are paying taxes and so paying for "free" education). Maybe they had other reasons and I'm just choosing to believe they did it for the right reasons. I just really think swedes had the right to stop giving away education for free.

      Besides, if you're non EU and you moved to Sweden with a work visa, you can still study for free.

      I can't emphasise this enough: I am an immigrant myself, my grandparents were immigrants too. I think immigrants are great and can be really valuable, even if it is only as a source of different ideas and view points. I am just not viewing at this issue as a discrimination towards non-europeans. I am viewing at it thinking that Sweden has no responsibility to give anyone free education except for swedes. There are tons of countries were there are not free universities and I guess that's ok because then you pay fewer taxes. I prefer having free education but it might just be me. So, I think it is great that Sweden is still offering free education for EU students. It is a great opportunity and I see it as a "scholarship". I could be wrong and maybe I'm just too grateful, maybe I'm just seeing a glass half full.