Higher education institutions in Sweden - 2020 status report

With Higher Education Institutions in Sweden – 2020 status report, the Swedish Higher Education Authority (UKÄ) wants to provide a summary reference work for everyone looking for facts in English about Swedish higher education institutions (HEIs).

Swedish higher education institutions spent nearly SEK 77 billion in 2019 (about EUR 8 billion), of which 80 per cent came from state funding. With over 410,000 enrolled students and 67,900 employees, the sector encompasses a large number of people – nearly 5 per cent of the population.

Map of Sweden with higher education institutions

The Swedish system for higher education and research

Compared to the higher education systems of many other countries, the Swedish higher education system is relatively flexible. Educational offerings are largely course-based and most higher education institutions (HEIs) offer freestanding courses and programmes as distance courses, some of which can be completely online. This offers excellent opportunities for lifelong learning. Traditionally, Swedish higher education does not just involve educating youth after completing secondary education. It also includes continuing development for professionals, and it is common to return to higher education after previous studies.

HEIs also provide third-cycle education and conduct most of the publicly funded research in Sweden. This means that Swedish higher education is relatively heavily focused on research. Measured in terms of monetary value, more than half of the activities at HEIs consists of research and third-cycle education.

Read more: Facts about higher education in Sweden

Below follows short excerpts from Higher Education Institutions in Sweden – 2020 status report. The entire report can be downloaded from the link at the top of this page.

First- and second-cycle education

Interest in attending higher education is considerable in Sweden, but relatively few people begin immediately after upper-secondary school. Many wait a year or more before beginning their higher education (HE). This is why HE entrants in Sweden are older than in many other countries.

Most higher education institutions (HEIs) have long offered first- and second-cycle education through distance education. In the two most recent academic years, the number of distance students has increased by 20 per cent, and in academic year 2018/19 every fifth student studied solely through distance education.

International student mobility

In Sweden, incoming students from countries outside of the EU/EEA pay fees for first- and second-cycle studies. In an international perspective, the tuition fees are relatively high. Even so, the number of paying students is continually increasing, even in the most recent academic year. The number of incoming students taking part in exchange programmes, however, has been declining for several years. Slightly more women than men choose to
study in Sweden.

Third-cycle education

After completing a first- and second-cycle degree, about 4 per cent of graduates continue to third-cycle education. Swedish third-cycle education also recruits many doctoral students from other countries, and for many years the percentage of foreign doctoral new entrants has been around 40 per cent, a high percentage internationally. Those accepted to thirdcycle
education at a Swedish higher education institution (HEI) are to have a secure financial situation, and in 2019 over 90 per cent of doctoral new entrants had some form of employment.

Education and the labour market

Access to skills has become a major issue for society. Labour shortages are an issue in both the public and private sectors, and the fact that the term labour shortage is being used about more and more areas of the labour market indicates the scale of the problem. The higher education institutions (HEIs) have an important role in ensuring access to skills, and they determine which programmes to include in their offerings. They should base these decisions on demand from students and the needs of the labour market, but these criteria do not always match well. There are major differences in establishment rates among different programmes.

Research and the teaching staff

Research and teaching staff increased by just over 3 per cent between 2018 and 2019. Senior lecturers were the largest employment category, and they have also increased the most in number during the last decade. The majority of research and teaching staff worked in social science, medicine and health sciences, and natural sciences. The percentage of women has increased in recent years in basically all employment categories and fields of research.

HE finance and funding

In 2019, Swedish higher education institutions (HEIs) reported a deficit for the first time in 15 years. In their annual reports, several HEIs note that they have implemented initiatives with equity from government grants within both education and research.

Within first- and second-cycle education, there was a certain degree of unused allocated funds that could have been used to educate more students. At the same time, the Government wants the higher education (HE) system to accept more students as part of its response to the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic, and therefore raised educational allocations for 2020 and 2021. Together with previously approved expansions, this means that HE’s educational capacity is expected to increase in the coming years.

Research at HEIs

Sweden is ambitious in its investments in research and development (R&D) and is among the leading countries in investing in R&D as measured as a percentage of GDP. In 2018, Sweden invested 3.3 per cent of GDP on R&D, which was higher than our Nordic neighbours Norway, Finland and Denmark. Sweden is one of the few EU countries that fulfils EU’s goal for investments in R&D.