The top talents must stay

By Beyondo, 13. Apr 2023

With permission of Frida Wallnor at Dagens Industri, we have been given the permission to translate her piece on Top talents need to Stay

The topic of embracing international candidates and their valuable experience is one of the topics dear to us at Beyondo. There is a skill shortage in Sweden, but the candidates are out there! 

The article starts here:

"More and more international students are applying to our universities and schools. But few are offered a job after graduation, even though a majority want to stay and establish themselves in the Swedish labour market. 

It is self-harming behaviour at a high level for a country with Sweden's skills shortage.

GOLD MINE. Sweden has built up a good reputation as a nation of knowledge and more and more international students are looking to come here. Many want to stay after graduation and should be seen as a goldmine for Swedish employers who today are crying out for highly qualified labour. But few are offered a job. 

During the first ten years of the millennium, a dramatic change took place at Swedish universities and colleges. The number of foreign students quadrupled, from 12,000 to 47,000 between 2000 and 2010. 

Striving for increased internationalization was a designated goal according to the Higher Education Act. But the development was not seen as only positive - especially not after surveys showed why so many foreign students chose Sweden in particular. The fact that education was free was a more important reason than the quality of the education.

Introducing fees for students from non-European countries was therefore a reasonable measure in every way, even if it led to a decrease in students from these countries. A little over ten years later, these have started to find their way back to Swedish universities at levels not seen since the fee reform, and now hopefully for the right reason. 

Of the 40,000 foreign students who studied at our universities and colleges last year, fully 70 percent were "freemovers", who did not choose Sweden as part of an exchange program but on their own initiative. Of these, many also came from "paying" countries such as China, India, Pakistan and the USA. 

It is a good rating for the universities and Swedish authorities' marketing skills.

International students naturally add an important qualitative dimension to the education. But they are also an important export industry. 

According to a report from the consulting company WSP on behalf of the Swedish Institute, international students contribute approximately SEK 4 billion to the Swedish economy annually. This should be compared with music exports, which annually bring in 2.7 billion. 

Students who choose to stay in Sweden after graduation to establish themselves in the labor market are particularly profitable.

But unfortunately, this does not apply to a very large group. Few stay in Sweden after graduation.

It is a problem, and not primarily from a state financial perspective, but rather for Swedish competitiveness. These relatively young, highly educated people are a potential gold mine for Swedish employers who are today clamoring for highly qualified labor - especially considering that the students have already chosen Sweden in fierce competition with other countries. They have already created networks and connections here.

And the problem is not that the students suffer from homesickness. According to a survey by the University Chancellor's Office, UKÄ , as many as 70 percent of newly graduated foreign master's students state that they want to stay and work here. 

But despite this, only 30 percent remain in Sweden one year after graduation. After five years, 20 percent are still here and after seven years, only 10 percent remain. 

For a country with Sweden's challenges, these are very disappointing statistics.


In Finland, which also has problems with the supply of skills, the situation looks different. 50 percent of the foreign master's students stay there after graduation. The goal is for that percentage to increase to 75 percent by 2030.

Finland has a plan, a national strategy. In this area too, our neighboring country is therefore one step ahead. "Talent Boost", which started in 2017, takes a holistic approach to labor immigration with measures to attract international talent to Finland, including students and researchers, and then make them stay. 

Among other things, channels have been set up to channel newly graduated students to companies in need and measures have been taken to simplify permit processes. Today, it only takes five (!) working days to get a work permit in Finland within the shortfall.

We have a lot to learn, to put it mildly. This applies to a large extent to Swedish companies. Today, there are a number of well-established collaborations between universities and companies, for example at the School of Economics in Stockholm. But judging by the statistics, the companies are not keen enough to seize the newly graduated foreign students, for which competing companies in neighboring countries are surely grateful. 

Swedish company management should think about how they value competence. How important is it, for example, to know Swedish today?

There is also a need for force on the part of the government. Sweden also needs a national strategy to strengthen the supply of skills with the help of international labor, where students are an important group and efficient permit processes are the key. 

And the fact is that an investigation on this theme was presented in 2018. It contained proposals for a strategy for the internationalization of Swedish universities and colleges. 

There were also proposals to establish a new type of national scholarship, the "flagship scholarship", to attract top talent, similar to how countries such as the USA, Great Britain and France work.

Admittedly, the proposed strategy was not nearly as broad as Finland's. But the investigation undoubtedly deserved a better fate than being labeled "open" by the Ministry of Education, which is still its status. 


The only concrete measure that the investigation resulted in is the creation of "Plint" , a coordination platform between authorities and universities with the aim of increasing internationalization.

It must be a step in the right direction. But in typical Swedish fashion, it appears to be far too weak in relation to the challenge we face in terms of the supply of skills.

Despite our small size, Sweden has built up a good reputation as a nation of knowledge internationally with a large range of high-quality English-language education at significantly lower costs than in, for example, the United States. That reputation should be used to attract even more top international talent. Establishing a flagship scholarship is an idea worth testing.

But above all, the same energy must be devoted to making these talents stay after completing their studies. They don't just need promises of attractive jobs. They need quick notification of a work permit from the Swedish Migration Agency and a coordination number from the Swedish Tax Agency. Those accompanying them need employment and a family home and access to international schools.

With today's fierce global competition for top competence, Sweden must start showing its best side. And soon."

This is a text from Dagens Industri's editorial board. Dagens Industri is independent.