George Leech is part a new trend of British graduates going abroad for their master’s degrees.

For years, British students had a well-earned reputation for being the ‘stay-at-home’ types, rarely moving outside the country for their higher education in sharp contrast to the hundreds of thousands of foreign nationals attending UK universities.

Now a combination of factors, including the rising cost of home university tuition fees and an amazing increase in the number and range of master’s degrees taught wholly in English in many European countries is attracting the attention of more and more British students. There are 700 in Sweden alone!

No tuition fees

George Leech

With increased marketing by European universities – and no tuition fees at all for British and other European Union citizens in the Nordic countries like Norway and Sweden – it is hardly surprising that hard-pressed UK students are weighing up their options.

Take 22-year-old George, from Lancaster. He had already spent a year at Reims in France as part of a European Erasmus exchange while studying History at Leicester University and enjoyed living and studying in another country.

Now, he’s on the move again and has just completed the first semester of a two-year master’s degree in International and European Relations at Linköping University (LiU) in Sweden.

Still a minority

But he’s still part of a tiny minority. For while international students make up 12% of the total studying at UK universities, only 1% of British students venture abroad for their degrees. Recent figures from UNESCO for 2010 show that while 23,039 UK students were studying full-time abroad, 389,558 foreign students were studying in the UK.

So what motivates people like George? Are they simply trying to escape tuition fees?

It wouldn’t be surprising if they were! The cost of a British master’s degree is rising following the huge hike in undergraduate fees this year. And, while first degree students can take advantage of low-interest loans and deferred payment, postgraduates must pay as they study fuelling fears that many will abandon plans to do a master’s altogether.


George admits fees was part of the reason he picked Linköping for his master’s.

“In Sweden all university education is free for all European Union citizens – and that includes us British!

“But there were other factors. I wanted to study international relations and when I ‘googled’ it – up came Linköping University.

“I preferred to go abroad if possible and narrowed down my choices to LiU and Wroclaw University in Poland and visited them both.

“I picked Linköping as it was the only one that offered a European theme and the people in the international office were very positive. I also liked the town and thought I could easily settle in”, said George.


In Sweden he is enjoying being the only Brit in a class full of international students. “We’ve got a good mix, with students from Iran, Germany, France, Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Turkey and Latvia as well as Sweden. Everything is in English – all the lectures and reading, so my advice to anyone British students worried about going to a country like Sweden is don’t worry. You’ll actually be at an advantage being a native English-speaker.”

Fitting in well

Eva Lena T. Rodreguez, marketing manager for international master’s programmes at Linköping University, is delighted that more UK students are selecting LiU and says they fit in very well.

Linköping is about 90 kilometers south of Stockholm and is ranked on a par with English universities such as Surrey, Plymouth and Keele in the 2012 Times Higher Education ‘Top 100 universities in the world under 50 years old’.

The Swedish system is based on a single application to up to four universities which you rank in preference – a bit like the UK’s UCAS system for undergraduate applications.

Applications rising

Linköping had 49 applicants from the UK by August 2011 and made offers to 17 students with six showing up. The Swedish academic year starts at the end of August, a bit earlier than the UK’s.

This year, the number of UK applications rose to 66 by August (2012), with 23 students offered a place and 12 acceptances – a big increase on the conversion rate.

Eva Lena is hopeful that from a small beginning the number of British students on Linköping’s 24 English-taught international master’s courses will go on rising.

January 15

The key deadline for the first round of applications is 15 January 2013, and although late applications can be made after that date if there are vacancies it is best to hit that deadline.

“We always expect a bit of a rush just after the Christmas holidays, but we’ve already got 53 applications from the UK for programmes starting in August 2013. The most popular of our two-year master’s courses with British students are in Engineering, Natural Sciences, International Relations and Business Administration. The distance learning master’s in Adult Learning and Global Change is also popular.”

+ A number of Swedish universities saw a big rise in overall overseas applications by the last main January deadline for international (English-taught) master’s courses.

Linköping was up by 34.7%, while Stockholm University wasn’t far behind (up 30%) and Lund saw a 23% rise. The Karolinska Institute had a 50% rise, but that is a specialist research-based medical institution and so is a little different from the rest.

Recruitment efforts

Niklas Tranæus, marketing manager of Study in Sweden at the Swedish Institute, said: “It is clear that international recruitment efforts have had an effect. Up until recently Swedish higher education institutions have spent very little resources on international marketing and recruitment.

“Increasing one’s visibility in the global education market takes time and Sweden is far from a well-known study destination, so the effect should be even more notable in a few years time.”

He said approximately 1,700 applications were received to study on master’s programmes at Swedish universities from the UK last year, compared with 1,100 the previous year. “Out of these 375 were admitted for 2012 compared to 300 for 2011.”

Swedish master’s degrees usually take two years and give international students time to study in greater depth and benefit from the cultural experience. Tuition is free for UK and other EU citizens.

Good luck!


And here’s an earlier story I did for Linköping University’s magazine.

June 2012

International student mobility is a hot topic in higher education circles, but what’s it like to be a British student abroad? Here we talk to Matthew Burton, from Essex, who studied International and European Relations at Linköping University in Sweden. 

Matt Burton (UK), front, with Anna-Lena (Germany), Vitor Teixeira (Portugal), Lauri Hellström (Sweden) and Dhana Irsara (from Italy)

Matt Burton (UK), front, with Anna-Lena (Germany), Vitor Teixeira (Portugal), Lauri Hellström (Sweden) and Dhana Irsara (from Italy)

BEING the only British student on a course in a foreign university might put some people off, but not Matthew Burton who found himself at the heart of a United Nations on his two-year master’s degree.

The 24-year-old Southampton University philosophy graduate liked adventure – and after a year out working to save for his postgraduate tuition fees, he decided against returning to his family home in Colchester for a master’s at nearby Essex University in favour of venturing further afield.

With no foreign language to speak of, he focused on the growing number of postgraduate courses taught in English at northern European universities. At most he discovered EU students could study either for free or for tiny fees compared with the UK.

“I narrowed it down to Norway, Denmark and Sweden and put Linköping at the top of my list because I liked the look of the syllabus and the town on the website.

“The Swedish application system is a lot easier to deal with than the others. You just send all your documents to one place and they send them on to the universities you’ve applied to”, he said.

And he wasn’t disappointed, despite finding himself the only Englishman on the course after being accepted on to the MA at Linköping.

For what better way to study European relations than share a flat with an Albanian and a German on your first year, and a Swede and an Italian student on the second.

Being a native English-speaker had its pros and cons, he admits. “It was an advantage on the course, as I could probably understand what the lecturers were getting at easier and write essays quicker, but because everyone in Sweden speaks such good English – and with English being the common language among all the students – there was no pressure for me to learn Swedish. I did go on a course, but my Swedish is still pretty basic.”

Among the big surprises was discovering that Linköping was as easy to reach as his South coast university of Southampton from Essex.  “I live near Stansted Airport, and can fly to Stockholm’s Skavsta Airport for £20 and then take the coach for about an hour-and-a-half. It is actually easier, and costs about the same as getting to Southampton for me.”

So what about the change from his three years studying and partying through his undergraduate days in England?

“It is different and I’m glad I did my undergraduate degree in the UK, but I like the more academically focused environment of the Swedish university and would definitely recommend going abroad for your master’s to other British students.

“It won’t work, if all you want is a MA within a year. But if you want to widen your experience and take some time to absorb other cultures it is the thing to do.”

As for the Swedish way of life, Matthews reckons it has more similarities to the British than you might imagine.

“The Swedes are very polite and the pace of life is similar apart from the British drinking culture.”

That could be because alcohol is more expensive, but Matthew says he enjoys the healthier life-style and has lost weight by cycling everywhere, like nearly everyone else on campus.

As for living costs, Matthew reckons the £6,000 he has saved on not paying for his British master’s degree covered his two years in Sweden. “My rent is a lot less than Southampton, and food prices are on a par with those in southern England.

“So although I’ve studied here for two years as against a one-year master’s in the UK, the cost has been about the same.”

But cost should not be the only motive, he insists: “From my perspective, I prefer the two-year master’s degree. You’ve got more time to get to grips with the subject, and I liked the approach on my particular course where we studied each subject in depth and then took exams before moving on to something new.”

So, if you want a good quality master’s degree to set yourself up for a good career in the global economy, or prepare yourself for a PhD, Linköping in Eastern Sweden could be just the place, he says.

That’s especially if you want to break the nest and make yourself to stand out from the crowd in an ever-increasingly difficult job market for graduates.

“I’ve had several interviews already and it certainly gives you plenty to talk about”, says Matthew, who is finishing off his master’s with a thesis of ‘The role of the European Central Bank in the current Euro crisis’ under the supervision of German Professor Prof. Dr.  Jörg Winterberg, President of SRH University Heidelberg, a world-renown expert on the economics of industrial relations. You can’t get much more European than that!