Higher education in Sweden – 2016 status report

The 2016 status report summarises some indicators for Swedish higher education from an international perspective, provides a basic description of the structure of Swedish higher education and outlines developments prior to and including the fiscal year of 2015 for public-sector and independent higher education institutions (HEIs).

Finance and research funding

The total expenditure on education and research at Sweden’s HEIs in 2015 amounted to SEK 66.7 billion. This corresponds to 1.6 per cent of Sweden’s gross domestic product, GDP, which is somewhat lower than in the previous year. The reason for this decline is that Sweden’s GDP grew more rapidly in 2015 than expenditure at the HEIs.

The total expenditure in the higher education sector also includes the costs of student finance and the central government agencies that deal with different aspects of higher education. Expenditure on student finance in higher education in 2015 amounted to SEK 9.7 billion and the direct allocations to the central agencies totalled SEK 0.5 billion. This means that the total expenditure for the higher education sector was SEK 76.9 billion in 2015, which corresponds to 1.85 per cent of Sweden’s GDP.

In terms of their expenditure there are major differences between the HEIs. At the largest HEIs with full university status expenditure can total several billion SEK, the highest amount being at Lund University with SEK 7.8 billion in 2015. The smallest of the publicsector HEIs are those offering programmes in the fine, applied and performing arts as well as the Swedish School of Sport and Health Sciences, whose turnover was between just under SEK 0.1 billion and 0.3 billion in 2015.

Expenditure for the smallest independent education providers amounted to only a few million SEK.

Allocation of expenditure in the higher education sector in Sweden in 2015.

Allocation of expenditure in the higher education sector in Sweden in 2015.

Educational attainment in Sweden

Educational attainment in Sweden is higher than the OECD average. In 2014, 39 per cent of the adult population (25–64) had at least two years of tertiary education, compared to one third in the OECD. Of the older population 30 per cent had tertiary education, whereas the corresponding figure for the younger population is 46 per cent.

Women have benefited to a greater extent than men from the major expansion of higher education in the OECD countries. In 2000 20 per cent of the men and women in the adult population (25-64) had at least two years of tertiary education. Fourteen years later 36 per cent of the adult women had tertiary education while only 31 per cent of the men had attained a corresponding educational level.

In Sweden the gender differences are considerably larger – 45 per cent of women had at least two years of tertiary education in 2014, while among men this figure was only 33 per cent.

Proportion of women and men in the adult population (25–64) with at least two years of tertiary education (ISCED 5–8) in 2000 and 2014.

Proportion of women and men in the adult population (25–64) with at least two years of tertiary education (ISCED 5–8) in 2000 and 2014.

Three-quarters of all HE entrants are under 25

In the academic year of 2014/15 just over 78 per cent of HE entrants were 24 years old or younger. Although this is a decline of just under one percentage point since the previous academic year, the proportion of young HE entrants is still large in a historical perspective.

The proportion of young HE entrants (24 or less) rose from 64 per cent in the academic year of 2002/03 to 79 per cent in the academic year of 2013/14. This rise was mainly due to an increase in the proportion who were 19 or younger and at the same time a decline in the proportion aged 30 or more. The reduction
in the most recent academic year is a result of the decline in the proportion of HE entrants who were 19 or younger.

Proportions of Swedish HE entrants of different ages during the last 20 academic years.

Proportions of Swedish HE entrants of different ages during the last 20 academic years.

The total student population in higher education

HE entrants form only part of the total student population. Altogether there were 343,300 individuals (registered students) taking first or second-cycle courses and programmes at some time during the autumn semester of 2015. Of this number just over 27,200 were incoming students, which corresponds to almost eight per cent of the entire student population.

During the most recent autumn semesters the total numbers of students have declined from a maximum of 365,000 in that autumn of 2010 to 343,300 in the autumn of 2015, a drop of just under six per cent. 

Number of students registered in first and second-cycle courses and programmes each autumn semester 1977–2015.

Number of students registered in first and second-cycle courses and programmes each autumn semester 1977–2015.

Numbers of places measured in terms of FTEs

FTEs are calculated by dividing the total number of credits for which all students have been registered by 60 (60 HE credits corresponds to full-time study for one academic year). As not all students enrol for full-time study for an entire year, the number of FTEs is lower than the number of registered students.

In 2015 the number of FTEs in first and second-cycle courses and programmes totalled 294,400, which is a drop of almost 1,100 FTEs or 0.4 per cent compared to 2014. The number of FTEs has declined every year since it peaked in 2010.

Two factors in particular affect the number of places offered. One is student demand, the other the amount of direct government funding. The impact of direct government funding on the number of places offered also depends on the structure of courses and programmes and the ensuing grant per FTE. The more it costs to offer courses and programmes, the fewer that can be financed by direct government funding. For example the per capita funding for the humanities and social science has been raised, financed to some extent within existing funding parameters. In addition the Government has given priority to the expansion of programmes in health care and education where costs are higher than average so there are fewer FTEs overall.

After a few years when demand for higher education was low, the trend shifted in 2008. A number of temporary expansions of higher education for a few years after 2010 (because of the major economic downturn) enabled the HEIs to admit more students and provide more courses and programmes than ever before. As economic conditions have altered, the HEIs have adjusted the numbers of places offered and this has led to a reduction in the number of FTEs since 2010.

Viewed from a longer perspective, however, there has been a considerable rise in the number of FTEs. In the early 1990s there were approximately 150,000 FTEs. In the early years of this century this figure had more than doubled and totalled 300,000.

Number of FTEs 1989/90–2015.

Figure above: Number of FTEs 1989/90–2015.

Social bias in recruitment no longer affects children arriving in Sweden before starting school

The Swedish population includes individuals with both Swedish and international backgrounds. Students with Swedish backgrounds are those born in Sweden who have at least one parent also born here. Those with international backgrounds are therefore those who were either born abroad themselves or born in Sweden but with two parents who were born abroad. Incoming students come to Sweden in order to study and are not included in the Swedish population: they are not, therefore, included in the categories of students with
Swedish or international backgrounds. Nor are newly arrived immigrants included in this description, as they have not yet been given residence permits.

Of those born in 1989, 44 per cent of those with Swedish backgrounds and 42 per cent of those with international backgrounds had begun to study in higher education by the age of 25, i.e. by 2014. About the same proportions of these two groups therefore go on to higher education and there is no social bias in recruitment.

The picture changes if we also take into account whether students with international backgrounds were born in Sweden or not and at what age they arrived in Sweden. Only 33 per cent of those born in 1989 who arrived between 7 and 18 years of age, in other words after the start of compulsory education in Sweden, had begun to study in higher education by the age of 25 . The proportions of those continuing to higher education in the two other groups with international backgrounds were in fact somewhat larger than for those with Swedish backgrounds. For those born abroad who had arrived in Sweden before the age of seven this figure was 47 per cent, and for those born in Sweden who had two parents who were born abroad it was 46 per cent.

Analysis of all ten cohorts born during the 1980s reveals that during the first years of the decade all three groups with international backgrounds were underrepresented in higher education. For instance 46 per cent of the students with Swedish backgrounds in the cohort born in 1980 had begun higher education. The figures for the three groups with international backgrounds show that 34 per cent of those who arrived between the ages of 7–18, 35 per cent of those born in Sweden with two parents born abroad, and 38 per cent of those who arrived in Sweden before the age of 7 had begun to study in higher education by the age of 25. The social bias in recruitment in relation to those with Swedish backgrounds has therefore disappeared for two of the groups with international backgrounds during the last decade.

Proportions who have begun higher education in Sweden by the age of 25 among individuals born 1980–1989 with Swedish or international backgrounds (three different categories are shown).

Proportions who have begun higher education in Sweden by the age of 25 among individuals born 1980–1989 with Swedish or international backgrounds (three different categories are shown).

Research and teaching staff: Continued decline in the number of lecturers

No PhD is required for appointment to a lectureship and the number of lecturers has declined continuously since 2005, when they constituted the single largest category of employees among staff with research and teaching duties. In 2015 the number of lecturers totalled 4,920 FTEs, 160 fewer than the year before and 1,400 fewer than in 2005. On average the number of lecturers has declined by about 140 FTEs each year since 2005.

This drop in recent years in the number of lecturers can to some extent be viewed as a result of the endeavours by the HEIs to employ mainly teachers with PhDs as part of their aim to enhance links with research and research expertise in first and second-cycle courses and programmes.

Research and teaching staff:

Research and teaching staff