Know-how loss must be discussed more

Last week, a report came out showing that the number of foreign students who would like to study in Stockholm is steadily growing. The number of incoming students is back to the same level as when tuition fees were introduced in 2011. Many of these are choosing KTH. But what happens then?

The fact that Stockholm ranks high on the list of innovation hubs is bound to help here, plus there are many attractive universities. If KTH, KI and SU were to put their wise heads together, or their rankings more like, we could together place in the top ten of the world rankings. KTH’s broad range of technology courses that are in close proximity to internationally competitive research makes these courses attractive.

That students who complete first and second cycle education choose to go back home or try their luck on the global job market, is perhaps no surprise. However, there is a conspicuously big drop in the number of students choosing to take a doctoral degree. In 2016, over one in three doctoral students came from countries outside Sweden, according to a Swedish Higher Education Authority (UKÄ) report published last year. Around 81 percent of women and 86 percent of men respectively had become established three years after completing their PhD within technology. On the other hand, foreign doctoral graduates very largely leave Stockholm and Sweden.

After two years, approximately 80 percent of foreign PhD graduates at KTH had left the city. That is a massive know-how loss, a competence that we naturally ought to utilise on the Swedish job market instead. In recent years, we have noticed falling interest from Swedish students in continuing third cycle education. To devote at least another four years of in-depth study, might appear less appealing if the Swedish job market does not set much store by a doctoral degree. This is something KTH needs to discuss more with society and the enterprise sector, because it may be that the answer to it also coincides with why international students who complete a Swedish PhD also leave Sweden.

Pinpointing a reason is neither meaningful nor straightforward as we are talking about individuals who complete their PhD. Difficulties in obtaining a resident’s permit and somewhere to live, not least in Stockholm, are critical factors and have been discussed and named many times over. If we then add lukewarm interest from the Swedish job market for third cycle graduates, we won’t see more third cycle graduates on the Swedish job market.

KTH is an international university and knowledge exchange and meetings between students and researchers from different countries is one of the linchpins in the basic values of both KTH and academia.