Swedish HEIs 1900-2000

Swedish higher education evolved at a rapid pace during the 20th century, and the 1977 university reform was crucial for the entire university system. With its implementation, widening participation became imperative.

At the beginning of the 20th century, there were six higher education institutions in Sweden: Uppsala and Lund universities, Karolinska Institutet, the Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm University College and Gothenburg University College. The latter two had been founded as alternatives to the traditional universities, with a focus on the public benefit and adult education. Enrolment in higher education still was not for everyone. There were only 6,500 university students in the country in the 1920s.

Student influence

Students began to have more influence with the formation of the Swedish National Union of Students (SFS) in 1921. It was composed of the university student unions, which students were required to join. Students now had a way of expressing their views to politicians, government agencies and university representatives. Students were often at the front line of reform efforts, with concrete proposals for change and improvement.

Expansion begins

After World War II, science and technology were emphasised heavily around the world, and this led to universities being given a new and more prominent role in society. Education and research were also seen as important elements in building a modern society, and societies invested heavily in technology, science and the social sciences. In 1945, 14,000 students were enrolled at Swedish universities. Women made up 20 per cent of students and 6 per cent of doctoral students.

1977 higher education reform

In the 1960s, Sweden introduced a general student financial aid system to give more young people the opportunity to study. University colleges were established in new locations, and many specialised higher education institutions were incorporated into the university system: teacher training, social sciences, journalism and nursing. Art academies also became a part of the university system. Sweden had the world’s most extensive higher education.

Higher education also became more regulated and utilitarian. This became most evident in that all programmes were organised into five professional training sectors and ‘majorless studies’ disappeared.

Students flocked to higher education and expansion continued at such a pace that it became clear that the entire higher education sector had to be reorganised to cope with the onslaught. This was done through the 1977 higher education reform, which became the century’s biggest reform of Sweden’s higher education.

The 1968 political upheavals influenced these reforms and had already led to increased influence by students. This was subsequently expanded and today is enshrined in the Swedish Higher Education Act. An important aim of the 1977 higher education reform was to provide a much larger proportion of the population access to higher academic studies.

Widening participation

Widening participation became a new feature of the higher education system. Thanks to the reform, the number of students in Sweden increased from 100,000 to 150,000. Since this time, women have been in majority.

The next major reform was carried out in 1993. This led to increased freedom for higher education institutions regarding organisation of studies, courses and programmes offered, admission of students and the use of resources, among other things.