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 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.

Higher education

Higher education is defined by, among other things, its placement in the education system (post-secondary) and by the requirement that the education be based on scholarly or artistic practice.

All courses, programmes and qualifications are placed in one of three cycles: first, second or third. There is progression, that is to say, each cycle is based on the one before. The formal requirements that distinguish these cycles are specified in the Higher Education Act. Swedish higher education’s division into cycles is part of the adaption to the Bologna Process, which aims to make higher education more comparable to those countries participating in the process.

All first- and second-cycle education consist of courses that may be combined to form programmes. In addition to programmes that lead to the award of qualifications, higher education in Sweden offers a wide range of freestanding courses, many of them offered through distance learning. Students may select their own combination of these courses and many students take courses without the intention to graduate.

The scope of a programme is expressed as higher education credits. One academic year is typically two semesters and normally 40 weeks, which corresponds with 60 higher education credits with full-time study. Higher education credits in the Swedish educational system can be compared to the European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System Credits (ECTS credits), in which 60 credits is the equivalent of one year of full-time study.

Qualifications

There are three categories of qualifications which all have the same academic status:

1. general qualifications

2. qualifications in the fine, applied and performing arts

3. professional qualifications.

Both general qualifications and qualifications in the fine, applied and performing arts are awarded within the first, second or third cycles. Professional qualifications are awarded within the first and second cycles and mainly in the regulated professions. There are about 50 different programmes leading to a professional qualification, of which two-thirds lead to a qualification at the master’s level or second cycle. A majority of professional qualifications awarded in the second cycle do not require a previous first-cycle qualification and the programmes leading to their award cover both cycles. Swedish higher education differs from higher education in many other countries in this respect.

Structure of Swedish higher education qualifications

First-cycle qualifications

General qualifications:

Higher Education Diploma, 120 HE credits
Degree of Bachelor, 180 HE credits

Qualifications in the fine, applied and performing arts:

Higher Education Diploma, 120 HE credits
Degree of Bachelor in Fine Arts, 180 HE credits

Professional qualifications: 120–195 HE credits

Second-cycle qualifications

General qualifications:

Degree of Master, 60 HE credits
Degree of Master, 120 HE credits

Qualifications in the fine, applied and performing arts:

Degree of Master in Fine Arts, 60 HE credits
Degree of Master in Fine Arts, 120 HE credits

Professional qualifications: 240–360 HE credits

Third-cycle qualifications

General qualifications:

Degree of Licentiate, 120 HE credits
Degree of Doctor, 240 HE credits

Qualifications in the fine, applied and performing arts:

Degree of Licentiate in Fine Arts, 120 HE credits
Degree of Doctor in Fine Arts, 240 HE credits