Umeå may not win many prizes for its somewhat inhospitable climate, but it is nevertheless one of the best places in the world to study, according to a recently published report.
The city’s university scored higher than all the others in the country, ranking first in the main categories of living and support, second for arrival, and third for learning, in the International Student Satisfaction survey carried out by the International Student Barometer.
The questionnaire was conducted at a total of 208 universities throughout the world, including 13 in Sweden.
In total, 209,422 exchange and other international students participated during October to December 2011 and Umeå scored highly in almost every category, coming out on top as the most popular university in Sweden.
The university apparently has the most satisfied students in Sweden in 16 specific areas including internet access, graduate school, sports facilities, course organisation, social activities, international office and physical library.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, many of the best scores came in the categories of accommodation and internet access, where Umeå achieved satisfaction ratings of 98 percent and 93 percent respectively.
This put it at number one in both Sweden and global categories. Elsewhere it scored first in Sweden in social activities, sports facilities, graduate school and nine other areas.
For foreign students in particular, first impressions are of huge importance. A lot of effort is made to make the students feel comfortable in every way on arrival, and this is reflected in the survey.
“The facilities are great and it really makes studying easy. There are plenty of cafeterias and relax areas that allow students to have a break and work in teams,” says Iñigo Lizarza, from San Sebastian, Spain, who is studying business Management.
“It really gives meaning to the “university-life” cliché, since there are days where I spend 10 to 12 hours here.”
Min Shan from Beijing, is currently studying a Master’s Programme in IT Management. She was equally impressed with Umeå University.
“My first impression was that the study environment is very cozy and clean here. Maybe it’s because I am from China, which is very crowded, that I feel pretty comfortable here,” she says.
“I can go to the library to study anytime and there are always empty spaces there. The teachers and staff are very friendly and have helped me solve lots of problems.”
Experiencing a stark contrast to his home environment was foremost in Iñigo’s decision-making process.
“It is radically different from my home university and the country is really exotic too,” he says. Like many others, he was impressed with the welcome and the living facilities, which in turn, help to create a good social life for all the students.
“I live in what could be classified as a student ghetto but in a good way,” he adds. “We all live close to each other and there is always something to do. The process of securing accommodation was fairly easy and the prices are good too. I cannot complain at all.
“Thanks to buddy groups and IKSU (the on-campus sport and fitness centre), we always manage to get out and enjoy ourselves. I really did not expect there to be so much nightlife in a small city like this, but the big student community makes every weekend great,” says Iñigo.
Academic excellence is naturally first and foremost in the minds of students coming from abroad. Once again Umeå University scores highly in the survey. Here too, the difference from what he was used to, attracted Iñigo.
“The methods are completely different, much more theoretical than in Spain,” he says. “It’s not better or worse, just different. Students have much more autonomy to organise their study time and this makes the student more responsible.”
In Min Shan’s case, the method of teaching was also an eye-opener.
“I like most of my courses here,” she says. “Basically, the teachers arrange the courses following some basic rules. Within the course, teachers give us more space to think, learn and present in our own way.
“They say ‘we are not looking for right or wrong answers’ and I like this a lot. In every course, we have chancs to practice the knowledge we have learnt through real cases,” she says.
Umeå was far from the only Swedish university to receive high marks in the survey. Although studying in this country will be more costly than it used to be, Sweden scored highly in relation to other major international cities, most notably in areas like quality, safety and friendliness and Umeå seems to be especially appreciated for its multicultural environment.
According to the survey, Sweden is a safe and secure country to live in, where educational and research quality is high, where the people are friendly.
In times of maximum competition to attract the most talented students, surveys such as the ISB prove the country’s efforts to build its popularity are already paying off.