Number of PhD Students in Sweden to Continue Dropping, New Forecast Shows


The number of people studying at a doctoral level in Sweden will continue dropping to the point where Swedish universities and colleges will encounter hurdles to fill in positions for professors and researchers, for which a degree at this level is compulsory.

According to a forecast presented by the University Chancellor’s Office (UKÄ), which is the state supervisory authority for colleges and universities in Sweden, in the next ten to 15 years, the number of doctoral students will decrease as the interest in postgraduate education declines.

At the same time, the number of people with a doctorate degree who will retire in the following years will be high, reports.

During the three five-year periods (2021–2025, 2026–2030, and 2031–2035) covered by the forecast, 5,000, 3,200, and 3,500 PhD graduates will retire, respectively. In total, during the forecast period, there are 11,700 postgraduates, of which 10,700 are doctoral graduates,” the report reads.

The findings also reveal that the highest number of doctorate degree holders retiring in Sweden will be marked in the fields of medicine and health sciences, as well as social sciences, followed by natural sciences and technology.

The difficulty in filling in positions for which a doctoral degree is required will be mostly noticed as the number of 20-year-olds in the population who are forecasted to attend higher education studies is set to increase.

The report predicts that this will likely affect the number of students applying for higher education and, thus also, the future need for teachers and researchers.

Commenting on the report, the chairperson of Sweden’s United Student Unions’ Doctoral Committee (SFS), Linnéa Carlsson, has welcomed the initiative to map the need for research students for future academia.

An important question will be how Sweden can continue to meet the academy’s, as well as Sweden’s, needs for research graduates in the next 10–15 years,” she notes, adding that the forecast contains several points that are important for how Sweden can continue to profile itself as a nation of knowledge in terms of doctoral education.

The report by UKÄ points out that in 2018, there were around 37,700 individuals employed as researchers and teaching staff in the university, 24,500 of which had some form of postgraduate education. Amongst the latter, 21,000 had a doctorate.

This means that 56 percent of the research and teaching staff have a doctorate,” the report notes.

According to chairperson Linnéa Carlsson, foreign doctoral students account for around 40 percent of all doctoral students in Sweden.

The report also looks into international student mobility, highlighting that due to the Coronavirus pandemic, in the 2020/2021 academic year, Sweden experienced a 16 percent year-on-year decrease in the number of international students.

Yet, in the 2021 autumn semester, international student mobility was almost back to the same level as prior to the pandemic. This increase amongst women was higher than amongst men.

At the same time, while the number of new exchange students coming to Sweden fell by half in the 2020/21 academic year, the trend reversed in the 2021 autumn semester.

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