I suppose some of our politicians don’t really help, and the press can be pretty hostile. So, maybe we shouldn’t be surprised that British people are often portrayed as being a bit, shall we say, anti-European.

But one group dismisses any such accusation – UK students looking for master’s courses. And they’re not just hitting the Mediterranean sun spots.

These days there’s little holding back the more adventuress Brit wanting to gain the competitive edge by studying abroad but lacking foreign language skills. For more mainland European universities are switching to English as the lingua franca for master’s programmes (4,500 at last count by the Institute of International Education in 2012).

And in Anglophone-friendly northern European countries, like Sweden, there’s the added attraction of no tuition fees if you’re a EU citizen (and despite the best efforts of the UK Independence Party and some Tories we’re still in the European Union).

No tuition fees

Sweden was among the first to see the potential of increasing its pool of talented postgraduate international students by providing tuition in English and offers over 700 degree, mainly postgraduate courses, taught in English rather than Swedish.

It recruited well, particularly among British Commonwealth students (many of whom had done their first degree in the UK) until the country introduced tuition fees for students from outside European Union in 2011.

International student numbers slumped dramatically, particularly from countries like Pakistan which sent large numbers of engineering students abroad.

Recruitment is starting to recover thanks to a generous scholarship scheme for some bright students from Third World countries, and Indian applicants now make up one in 18 applicants to master’s programmes across Sweden. But international students numbers are not nearly high enough for many Swedish universities who see themselves as global centres of excellence.

Doorstep talent

Hence the renewed interest in tapping into the pool of talent on their doorstep – mobile British, German and other students from within the European Union.

Niklas Tranaeus, marketing manager, Study in Sweden at the Swedish Institute, says: “Increasing one’s visibility in the global education market takes time and Sweden is far from a well-known study destination, but it is clear that international recruitment efforts are having an effect.”

Applications rising

UK applications are rising (as they are from India, China, the US and Germany) but many applicants in the past hedged their bets and also applied to UK universities and failed to turn-up.

With higher fees now hitting British master’s degrees as well as bachelor’s courses, studying in Sweden, Germany or further abroad for a master’s becomes increasingly attractive.

Clearly there’s a big marketing and knowledge-awareness job to be done, but Sweden has a lot of good universities and a government that is investing heavily in science and higher education. Importantly, it is willing to pick up the tuition fees tab – at least for fellow Europeans.

And this is starting to get noticed, with UK applications at one Swedish university – Linköping – up by over 100% this year to over 130. At Lund, which traditionally recruits well from the UK, there’s been a 15% rise this year with applications from Great Britain reaching 639.

Eva Lena T. Rodríguez, who markets international master’s programmes at Linköping University in south east Sweden, is among those delighted that more UK students are coming and says: “The British students fit in very well.”

Fit in well

Her university was ranked on a par with English universities such as Surrey and Keele in last year’s Times Higher Education ‘Top 100 universities in the world under 50 years old’.

She says the important thing is the number of applicants putting a university as their first choice. “This has gone up sharply at Linköping – to 79 by the beginning of February compared with 30 last year. Of those 30, 12 actually took up a place. But that was double the number the year before – so things are moving in the right direction.”

At Linköping, the British applications are spread across 17 of the 24 international programmes taught in English, with Engineering, Business Administration and International Relations the most popular along with the distance learning master’s in Adult Learning and Global Change.

Eva Lena says free tuition is just one of the attractions and points out that applications from non-EU students who have studied for their first degree in the UK are also on the rise. “Students are applying to us even if they have to pay which is interesting.”

The deadline for non EU applications was 15 January, but EU students have until 15 April (sometimes a month later if there are vacancies) to apply to Swedish universities. Their application system for master’s programmes is a bit like our UCAS one for undergrads where students list their preferences and fill in just form.

COMMENT: To me, as someone who set up my consultancy, De la Cour Communications, to help European universities encourage more outbound British student mobility, I’m delighted by the encouraging noises from Sweden and that more British students want to widen their horizons by studying abroad. It might even make us better Europeans. Although, some Dutch universities are focusing on the undergrad market because of the English fees hike, I see real potential growth in European master’s degrees taught in English in countries like Sweden and Germany. Tuition is usually free, or a tiny fraction of what is being charged at home. The quality of higher education is good. And, particularly at universities like Linköping, the approach to learning is similar to a British university. So, you get the best of both worlds.