An Overview of Swedish Higher Education and Research 2021

With An Overview of Swedish Higher Education and Research 2021, the Swedish Higher Education Authority (UKÄ) wants to provide a summary reference work for everyone looking for facts in English about Swedish higher education and research. The annual status report is based on data reported by higher education institutions to Statistics Sweden and to UKÄ. The focus in the report is on the past year, but developments are often described from a longer perspective. In this particular annual report you can also read about the impact of the coronavirus pandemic’s first year on higher education and research.

Below follows short summaries and descriptions of the different chapters in An Overview of Swedish Higher Education and Research 2021.

Effects of the coronavirus pandemic on higher education and research in 2020

2020 was an unusual year for society at large and for Swedish higher education and research. The coronavirus pandemic presented significant challenges for students, teachers, researchers and other staff at higher education institutions when teaching shifted to remote and learning and research could not be conducted as planned.The UKÄ is following developments as part of a government assignment. The reports starts with a chapter about the impact of the pandemic’s first year on higher education and research.

Read more: Chapter Effects of the coronavirus pandemic on higher education and research in 2020

Facts about higher education and research in Sweden

This chapter describes the Swedish system for higher eductionon and research, including governance, funding, degree structure and quality assurance. At the end you find a list of government agencies in the higher education sector and a list of higher education institutions. 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 offer freestanding courses and programmes as distance courses, some of which can be completely online. This offers excellent opportunities for lifelong learning. Higher education institutions also provide third-cycle education and conduct most of the publicly funded research in Sweden.

Read more: Chapter Facts about higher education and research in Sweden

First- and second-cycle education

The level of education among the Swedish population continues to increase. In 2020, the Government earmarked extra funding for higher education institutions to increase the number of students that can be admitted. Interest for higher education was also at a record level as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. There were nearly 460,000 applicants to programmes and courses at higher education institutions in the autumn 2020. A record number of students (nearly 400,000) were enrolled in first- and second-cycle programmes and courses in the 2020 autumn semester.

Read more: Chapter First- and second-cycle education

Figures: First-and second-cycle education Excel, 485.7 kB.

International student mobility

About 40,000 students chose to travel to Sweden for studies in the 2019/20 academic year. Of these, a third came as exchange students and two-thirds as so called freemover students. Most incoming students from countries outside of the EU/EEA and Switzerland pay tuition fees for first- and second-cycle studies. In the 2019/20 academic year, there were just over 22,000 Swedish students studying abroad. Of the first- and second-cycle graduates in 2019/20, only 14 per cent had spent a study or training period of at least three months abroad during the course of their studies. This is short of the goal of 20 per cent that the EU Council of Ministers decided in 2011.

Read more: Chapter International student mobility

Figures: International student mobility Excel, 49.6 kB.

Third-cycle education

In 2020, there were 3,100 doctoral new entrants, which is a small decrease compared with the previous year. The social imbalance in recruitment is less, but still obvious. Among all doctoral students 37 per cent were foreign. Neither the number of foreign doctoral new entrants nor the number of foreign doctoral students has decreased so far because of the coronavirus pandemic. The majority of doctoral students (69 per cent) had a doctoral studentship in autumn 2020. The number of doctoral degrees fell for the fourth year in a row in 2020.

Read more: Chapter Third-cycle education

Figures: Third-cycle education Excel, 77.6 kB.

Education and the labour market

Forecasts show that highly educated graduates are in great demand on the labour market. Many areas risk shortages of university-trained graduates by 2035. This is particularly true for programmes in education science and teacher training as well as most programmes specialising in health and welfare. Most graduates in the 2017/18 academic year were established 1–1.5 years after graduation. The coronavirus pandemic does not seem to have significantly impacted the labour market for recent graduates.

Read more: Chapter Education and the labour market

Figures: Education and the labour market Excel, 48.9 kB.

Staff at higher education institutions

The number of higher education institution staff continues to increase. In 2020 higher education institutions had nearly 67,700 employees. That is equivalent to 54,000 full-time equivalents, an increase of just over 2 per cent compared with 2019. Of the staff, 60 per cent were research and teaching staff, while 40 per cent belonged to staff with duties other than research and teaching. Research and teaching staff increased more in number and percentage than staff with other duties. The percentage of women has increased in recent years in basically all employment categories and fields of research.

Read more: Chapter Staff at higher education institutions

Figures: Staff at higher education institutions Excel, 55.5 kB.

Finance and research funding

In 2020, Swedish higher education institutions spent SEK 78 billion. This corresponds to 1.57 per cent of Sweden’s GDP, which is at the same level as the previous year. Close to 80 per cent of operations were financed by state funding. Swedish higher education institutions had a financial surplus in 2020. The surplus is primarily the result of increased appropriations and reduced operational expenses – two important effects of the coronavirus pandemic on higher education institution finances. Income increased for first- and second-cycle education and for research and third-cycle education. Costs on the other hand did not increase to the same extent, particularly not within research operations.

Read more: Chapter Finance and research funding

Figures: Finance and research funding Excel, 57.4 kB.

Research at higher education institutions

In 2019, higher education institution funding for research and third-cycle education totalled SEK 45 billion. Funding varied significantly between fields of research. Medicine and the health sciences had the most funding for research and third-cycle education at SEK 14.7 billion. Sweden is among the leading countries in investing in Research and Development (R&D) as measured as a percentage of GDP. In 2019, Sweden invested 3.4 per cent of GDP on R&D. Sweden is one of the few EU countries that fulfills EU’s goal for investments in R&D.

Read more: Chapter Research at higher education institutions

Figures: Research at higher education institutions Excel, 40.1 kB.

Key figures for higher education and research

Swedish higher education institutions vary in both size and specialisation. The status report concludes with a set of tables that show quantative data for students, doctoral students, staff and funding per higher education institution. Additional tables, including educational profiles for each HEI, are available (below) on this website.

Read more: Chapter Key figures for higher education and research

Figures: Key figures for higher education and research Excel, 87.3 kB.