Gender equality in higher education

In Sweden there are more women than men among the stu­dents in higher education.

In 2014, 54 per cent of the women in Sweden had tertiary education. The corresponding level for men was 39 per cent. 

The proportion of women has grown gradually since the 1977 higher education reform, which incorporated pro­grammes in which women predominated, for instance in education and health scienc­es, into the higher education sector.

Gender ratio for applicants

The gender ratio among those applying for higher education has been more or less the same for a long time: 60 per cent women and 40 per cent men. In the autumn of 2015 women accounted for 62 per cent of the total number of applicants and men accounted for 38 per cent.

Among applicants with no previous studies in higher education, 59 per cent were women and 41 per cent men.

More women than men begin studies in higher education

In 2014 14.6 per cent of 19-year-olds (born in 1995) and 43.7 per cent of 24-year-olds (born in 1990) had begun to study in courses and programmes in higher education. 

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

Number of students registered infirst and second-cycle courses and programmeseach autumn semester 1977–2015

Interest in programmes differs between men and women

in 2015, more than three-quarters of the women who were qualified first choice applicants applied for degree programmes that focus on education and teaching qualifications or on health science, nursing or social care. At the same time about two-thirds of the applicants for degree programmes in technology and manufacturing or in the natural sciences, mathematics or computer science were men.

There was a gender imbalance among applicants for 12 of the 16 programmes leading to the award of professional qualifications that attracted at least 1,000 qualified first choice applicants. In only four of them was there a relatively even (40–60) gender balance: Master’s programmes in engineering, upper-secondary education, medicine and architecture.

Numbers of qualified first choice applicants to programmes leading to the award of professional qualifications with at least 1,000 applications, divided by gender, autumn semester 2015:

Numbers of qualified first choice applicants to programmes leading to the award of professional qualifications with at least 1,000 applications, divided by gender, autumn semester 2015.

Students leaving Sweden to study

There were more women than men studying outside Sweden in the academic year of 2014/15. The gender difference was somewhat smaller among the 7,180 exchange students (of whom 57 per cent were women) than among the 19,250 free-movers (59 per cent women). Women accounted for 61 per cent of the students on language courses.

Numbers of graduates and qualifications increasing

A total of 67,900 students graduated from first and second-cycle programmes in the academic year of 2014/15, of whom 43,000 were women and 24,900 men.

In all, 41,400 graduated at first-cycle level (67 per cent women and 33 per cent men) and 29,000 at second-cycle level (57 per cent women and 43 per cent men).

Third-cycle students and programmes

During the last ten-year period the gender ratio among active third-cycle students has been more or less in balance and this was also the case in 2015, when there were 47 per cent men and 53 per cent women.

More men than women were studying full time, 63 per cent compared with 55 per cent of the women. Women were more likely than men to have degrees of activity between 41 and 79 per cent.

Number of third-cycle students per autumn semester 2005–2015, totals and women and men:

Number of third-cycle students per autumn semester 2005–2015, totals and women and men:

Student completion rates

A larger proportion of men had been awarded degrees within five years (53 per cent) than women (45 per cent) but after eight years graduation rates were as high for women as for men (76 per cent in both cases).

Research and teaching staff

The gender ratio among research and teaching staff has evened out, generally speaking. In 2005 40 per cent were women, a proportion that had risen to 44 per cent in 2015 (FTEs).

There are differences in the proportions of women in different employment categories but they all lie within the 40–60 per cent range, except for professors, where women account for 26 per cent.

To encourage a rise in the proportion of women professors the Government set targets for their recruitment at 34 HEIs for the period 2012–2015. These targets were determined on the basis of the recruitment base (senior lecturers and postdoctoral research fellows) in different fields of research. The targets include promotions to professorships and visiting professors but not adjunct professors. There have been targets of this kind since 1997, except for an intermission between 2009 and 2011. The targets apply to the proportion of women recruited during a four-year period, irrespective of whether they stay on at the HEI or not.

The proportion of women among senior lecturers has risen from 35 to 46 per cent since 2005. As senior lecturers constitute a relatively large group, this has had an overall impact on the gender ratio among teachers and researchers. Senior lectureships often precede appointments to professorships and there are therefore grounds for believing that the growth of the proportion of women professors will continue.

The proportion of the staff who are women also varies in different subject areas. The smallest proportions of women can be found in the subject areas of engineering, 24 per cent, and the natural sciences, 29 per cent, while the largest proportions of women are in the subject areas of medicine and health science, a total of 58 per cent.