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MaRIHE Master thesis reader e-book 2015

A study on local employment of the international graduates in Sweden

Qi Sun


Sweden faces international student crash since they introduced tuition fee to non-EU/EEA students. With the increasing concerns of attracting international graduates, Swedish government begins to aware of the importance of the employability of international graduates.  Since last year on, Swedish government launched a post-study residence permit to the non-EU/EEA students. According to the information updated on the homepage of Swedish migration board, non-EU/EEA graduates are permitted to extend their post-graduation stay to half a year.  During this period, the international graduates from non-EU/EEA countries could find a job or start their own business in Sweden. Without the doubt, this new policy is a considerable way to recover the attraction of Swedish higher education institutions to non-EU/EEA students (Bennet, Johansson, et.al, 2015). However, the employability at a state level is not only a matter of the Visa policy. There are other countries, such as Denmark, German, and Netherland, providing the same policies to keep their international student markets. The results of the policy are not in the similar kind. The previous studies aiming at the Nordic labor market for international students is rare, let alone a study that focus on finding out the relations between international graduates and local labor market in a certain country. Besides, the international graduates invest huge budget on education in the host countries; needless to say, they naturally will care about how much they will get back after graduation. Employment is an important indicator to measure the investment on human capital.  Thus, studying employability is always an important part of the management of higher education. To this extent, the study of employability of international graduates in Sweden is necessary. 
The main purpose of this paper is discussing the factors that influence the international graduates transiting from the host education to the host workplace.  To make the research deeper, I will further focus on how the condition of the Swedish international labor market is and what makes the Swedish international labor market differs. The research question is:  What are factors that influence international graduates to get access to the local labor market in Sweden?  
The theoretical frameworks contain employability, the human capital and labor economic.          In Yorke (2004) and Yorke & Kight(2004)'s  work, we could found out that they do not merely definite employability as the employment. Instead, they would rather definite employability as those achievements or academic skills that could help the graduates succeed in transferring to the labor market and keeping their career prospect last long.  Hillage and Pollard (1998) defined the employability as the ability graduates gained in their education process that may smooth them to acquire, maintain and obtain the employment. Knight and Yorke (2004) developed the five measurable meanings of the employability, they are:  a graduate job, a consequence of ‘having' key skills, a likely effect of having had good work experience, a product of skillful career planning and interview technique , and a mix of cognitive and non-cognitive achievements and representations (Knight & Yorke, 2004, p3). Accordingly, the employability should be defined as the potential for the graduates to gain mixed employable factors, through which the graduates will be easy to access to the labor market and maintain the employment.
 “Human capital is defined by the OECD as the knowledge, skills,    competencies and attributes embodied in individuals that facilitate the creation of personal, social and economic well-being (OECD,2007,pp.29)”. In the modern study, the study in terms of human capital gradually became significance with the increasing emphasis on education. Education, as a kind of investment, is a key factor in improving the human capital. As indicated in OCED's definition, knowledge and skills are both ranking as an elements of human capital, it is clear that education is the channel for one person to gain knowledge and skills.
To this extent, the person who enrolled in the university and graduates from higher tertiary education institutions seems destining to gain a better source to acquire knowledge and skills. Thus, education is a necessary channel for a person to gain human capital. Schooling, which is one of the forms of education, is the one that cost more investment during the process of acquiring human capital. In the human capital, the subjects, the quality and level of the education all affects the results of acquiring of human capital. What makes the situation difficulties for most middle-class students are the increasing tuition fees
The macroeconomics proposed the theory model to explain the migration and labor flow between different regions. This model is also based on the supply-demand relations in the labor market, which is also assumed by Keynesian and its followers. In general, labor market equilibrium creates matrix to balance the supply –demand chains in the labor market.

Figure1.  Equilibrium in a competitive labor market


(Source: Borjas, 2012)

As shown in Figure 1, the horizon shows the employment level, the vertical column shows the wage level in a labor market.  E* equals to employment equilibrium; EL refers to employment low, and EH refers to employment high. When demand is larger supply in the labor market, the labor market displays the productive surplus, as shown in the gray triangle), the labor market has a low employment. In opposite, as shown in the blue triangle, the labor market has a worker surplus, and then the labor market shows a high employment. However, when demand is equal to the supply, the labor market will reach the black dot in the middle, which is the labor market equilibrium.
Generally, the labor market equilibrium is quite close to what Keynesian economics are pursuing, that is the full employment in the economic system. In a situation, the labor market equilibrium and the productive surplus keeps, the wage levels will be high, and the competition in the labor market will be low. Accordingly, when a labor market keeps the productive surplus, their labor market is large enough to accept the labor migration. In opposite, the openness of the labor market to labor migration will face challenges. However, according to the macroeconomic theory, regulating the market by the nature of economic has its nature defects; the government needs to use intervention to guide the market to run on the right track when it is necessary.
To summarized, this paper will study on the international graduates’ employability of the local employment in Sweden through analyzing the different potential influential factors. Those factors will extract from the previous studies and the theoretical framework. By doing so, I hope that would provide some findings on employability studies aiming at international graduates.


Due to the nature of the paper, this paper is conducted by qualitative research. Accordingly, in my paper, the research is planned to design in a way that the narrative strategies are the main methods. The narratives would collect the main data with different individuals. The analysis will be developed based on combined information gained through these narrative materials. The expected outcomes are going to test three hypothesis based on previous studies on international employability as well as the theories with respect to employment. The instrument of my research is an interview that mainly conducted with the interviewees who have experiences in finding a job in Sweden as international graduates.
My personal view is that open-ended interview might suit my design of research. Thus, I conducted the open-ended interview based on previous studies and theoretical frameworks. The interviews based on two main perspectives: the individual competences influencing employability of international graduates and the social barriers that might block the access of international graduates to the host workplace.

The selection of the participants in this research follows two standards: the various ranges and ensuring the participants have stories to tell.  Besides, in order to abide by the principle of human right, some personal information is automatically considered as confidential.

Key Findings

Based on the data analysis, there are several findings concluded:

1. Language barrier is one of the major factors influencing the international graduates on local employment

As stated above, Swedish is the most important essence of the result of international graduates on local employment. The influences of language barriers embodied in several perspectives, including the social network integration, the information channel, the access to the labor market and their possibility to survive in Sweden working environment. This finding reflected and indicated that the importance of the language acquirement for international students again. The practical usage and the professional level of native language of the host workplace would challenge their future career in host countries.

2. Visa policy is crucial for international graduates

The visa policy is crucial for international graduates. Some of the international graduates lose their opportunity to work in Sweden before the new post-study residence permit launched. They don’t have enough time to search jobs or apply jobs. The more time the graduates have, the more opportunity for them to find information, especially when the regions of their host university cannot provide enough information channels.  To this extent, the other nations which are also going to charge tuition from the non-EU/EEA students should pay special attention on the relevant policy on Visa for international graduates.

3. Certain employability factors that could help international graduates overcoming the social obstacle or language barriers have more value for international graduates

Due to the complexity of the Swedish employment for international students, the first concerns for the graduates are how to find useful information and how to break the barriers made by the language. Besides, as most of the information channel is not transparent, the importance to obtain information from local human networks becomes important. As remarked by the data, the employability factors, such as communication skills, the working experiences, and other factors would embody their potential abilities to integrate in the local society will make the international graduates seems more suitable and sound.
Especially, all participants marked the academic reputation least useful for them to find a job. It is possible that the international graduates need to train employability aiming at exploring more network, breakthrough their integration in the local and drawing attention from the employers than emphasizing the academic reputation of the school.

4. The economy influences the openness of labor market

The economic environment would lead to the distribution of labors variation in regions and the openness of the migration labors. Thus, the economy in the host country is also a crucial factor influencing the international graduates.
As the labor economic indicated, the demand-supply chain in one labor market determined the openness of certain labor market to the migration labor. International graduates as a part of migration labor are inevitable to face the impact of the economy. 
It is general accepted that when the economic is prosperous enough to provide more demand than supply in the labor market, there will be more positions left for the migration labors. In an opposite way, even the local counter partners would face the challenge of the employment, let alone the market for migration labors. It indicated in the data that even different regions in a national follow this rule when the entire nation has a better economy; the first line cities have more opportunities for international graduates than those small towns. 
In general, if international students have the intention to find a job in the host country when they decide to study abroad, they may need to evaluate the location of the university.

5. Regarding international graduates, the social factor is more influential than employability competences

In general, the factors influencing the employability concern many perspectives. In this paper, I focus on mainly on employability competence and the social factors. It is clear show in the data that the social factors have more influences for international graduates to survive in the local labor market than the competences, such as soft skills, interview skills or the academic reputation.
It is understandable, prior to showing their competitive abilities to handle the work tasks, the international graduates peruse first to find a breakthrough to access to the labor market. Comparably, their local counter partners have no worries with respect to this issue.
In the stage of data analysis, I strongly felt that the social factors or social barriers international graduates facing is the biggest factor. According to the results on the interview research, prior to showing their competence abilities, it is more important for the international graduates to create a road connecting to the local labor market in their host countries. The international graduates (especially those who have an intention to find a job in their host countries) have a different situation with their local count partners. Thus, I recommend the future study on employability could make a category of the graduates group.
Besides, Finland has a plan to charge tuition to non-EU/EEA students. It is notable that if Finland does not pay attention on their relevant policies, such as Visa policy. It is possible that they will face the same embarrassed situation like Sweden did.


First, My sincere appreciation to Prof. Zhao Shangwu from Stockholm University, Prof. Attila Pautis and MaRIHE Consortium.
Special thanks to my parents, my friend Ruichang Ding at Beijing Normal University and Meijia Lu from MaRIHE. And Special highest respect to Jiaxian Deng. This is not a perfect paper but I still want to present it to him.


Borjas, G.J. (2012). Labor Economics (6th  ed), Harvard University, Cambridge;

Hillage, J. & Pollard, E., (1998). Employability: Developing a Framework for Policy Analysis. Research Report No. 85. Suffolk, the United Kingdom: Department for Education and Employment, London;

Knight, P. & Yorke,M.,(2004), Employability: judging and communicating achievements. Learning & Employability (Series One), Higher Education Academy/ESECT, U.K.
OECD, (2007), Human Capital: How what you know shapes your life. OECD, Paris. ISBN: 9789264029088;

Yorke,M.& Knight,P.,(2004), Embedding employability into the curriculum. Learning & Employability (Series One), Higher Education Academy/ESECT, U.K;

Yorke,M., (2004), Employability in Higher Education: what it is - what it is not. Learning & Employability (Series One), Higher Education Academy/ESECT, U.K;

Bennet,C., Johansson,L.,  Lundstedt, M., Fredman,P.& Gudmundson,P. (2015): Sweden needs more international students, The Local, http://www.thelocal.se/20140115/sweden-needs-more-international-students;


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