The Swedish Higher Education Authority’s Pandemic Assignment - Interim Report 3

Even in 2021, operations at higher education institutions (HEIs) were greatly impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. This is the third interim report for the government assignment to follow up the consequences to higher education of decisions and initiatives taken because of the novel coronavirus. The material consists of four reports produced since the most recent reporting occasion in December 2021.

In each case, this involved repeating studies conducted in one of the previous interim reports, but where new data have allowed the examination of effects during the later stages of the coronavirus pandemic. A first report looked at how HEIs returned to teaching and working on campus. UKÄ has tracked activity at seven campuses during the entire corona pandemic to gain a picture of the transition to distance teaching and remote working at HEIs. Data are now available for the period through February 2022.

These data show a rapid increase in activity on campus during the first part of the spring semester. After increasing spread of infection during the winter, most of the Government’s and the Public Health Agency of Sweden’s restrictions for the corona pandemic were concluded from 9 February 2022. At the end of February 2022, activity was 72 per cent of the equivalent week prior to the pandemic. This can be compared with the latter part of the autumn semester 2021, when activity was 60 per cent of the equivalent period two years earlier.

The transition to distance learning has placed great demands on both students and teachers. The overall picture, however, is that no major effects can be detected from the coronavirus pandemic on student completion rates. At the beginning of the pandemic, the immediate performance level (a faster follow-up than the normal measurement method) fell somewhat. This was primarily because more students took freestanding courses, where the average performance level is significantly lower than academic programmes.

After this initial period, during 2021 there was a recovery and overall student performance levels have increased somewhat during the pandemic. This applies to all forms of study, both academic programmes and freestanding courses. Younger students, in particular, have improved their immediate performance levels during the pandemic. However, it is not possible to identify any changes to the immediate dropouts during the pandemic.

A clear impact of the pandemic was a significant increase in disciplinary cases during 2020. This increase continued over the last year. In 2021, the number of disciplinary cases increased by 24 per cent from the previous year. Compared with before the pandemic, the number of disciplinary cases has doubled.

Plagiarism remains the most common cause of a student facing a disciplinary case, but, above all, unauthorised collaboration has increased significantly during the pandemic. About half of the HEIs report seeing in the last year a continued increase in disciplinary cases that they judge resulted from the pandemic. Among the reasons noted in 2021, just as in the previous year, is the transition to distance teaching and difficulties with adapting to digital examinations. Some HEIs also point to better controls facilitating discovery of more cases of suspected cheating.

In the last two years, the labour market has been marked by the coronavirus pandemic. Data for 2021 show that the labour market for graduates of HEIs has improved somewhat in the last year, but the percentage that have a good opportunity to make a living six months after graduation is somewhat lower than prior to the pandemic.

There are still clear differences between different programmes. For graduates of master of science in engineering programmes, the labour market worsened at the beginning of the pandemic, but it has now recovered. The same does not apply to graduates of university engineering programmes and architecture programmes. They continue to have a worse position on the labour market compared with prior to the pandemic. The labour market for graduates of health and medical programmes, however, has not been impacted notably.

Gender segregation is reflected in the differences between women and men in their position on the labour market. Men have seen a greater impact on the labour market, since men more commonly choose programmes that lead to work in the private sector, which has been more adversely affected. At the same time, women often choose programmes that lead to work in the public sector, which the pandemic has not impacted in the same way.