Gender equality in higher education

In Sweden there are more women than men among the stu­dents in higher education.

In 2016, 48 per cent of the women in Sweden (25-64) had at least two years of tertiary education. The corresponding level for men was 35 per cent

The proportion of women has gradually grown since the 1977 higher education reform, incorporating pro­grammes in which women predominated, for instance in education and health scienc­es, into the higher education sector. In Sweden, women had already surpassed men in educational attainment in 2006 and since then the gender gap has widened.

The gender ratio among those applying for higher education has been more or less the same for a long time: 60 per cent women and 40 per cent men.

More women than men begin studies in higher education

In the academic year 2016/17 there was a total of 86, 000 new entrants in higher education in Sweden. Of these, 57 per cent were women and 43 per cent men.

In 2016, 13 per cent of 19-year-olds (born in 1997) and 44 per cent of 24-year-olds (born in 1992) had begun to study in courses and programmes in higher education. 

Number of students registered in first- and second-cycle courses and programmes each autumn semester 1977–2017:

Number of students registered in first- and second-cycle courses and programmes each autumn semester 1977-2016

Interest in programmes differs between men and women

Health care and nursing continued to be the most female-dominated subject area with 84 per cent women, while engineering continued to be the most male-dominated area with 66 per cent men. The gender distribution is most even within the natural sciences, 45 per cent women and 55 per cent men.

Swedish students studying abroad

Students who leave Sweden to study abroad are divided into different categories: free movers, exchange students and a few students on language courses.

There were more women than men studying outside Sweden in the academic year of 2016/17. The gender distribution was about the same for free-mover students and for exchange students.

Fewer graduates

The number of graduates decreased in the 2016/17 academic year compared with the previous academic year. A total of 63,400 students graduated from first and second-cycle programmes in the academic year of 2016/17, of whom 40,700 were women and 22,700 men.

Third-cycle students and programmes

During the last ten-year period the gender ratio among third-cycle students has been more or less in balance and this was also the case in autumn 2017, when 48 per cent were women and 52 per cent men. 

More men than women were studying full time in autumn 2017, 60 per cent compared with 53 per cent women.

Student completion rates

Student completion rates in third cycle programmes indicate the extent to which new entrants complete their studies and graduate , and also how quickly they do so.

A larger proportion of men had been awarded degrees within five years (50 per cent) than women (44 per cent).

Teachers and researchers

The gender ratio among research and teaching staff has grown more even during the past years, generally speaking. In 2007 41 per cent were women, a proportion that had risen to 46 per cent in 2017 (FTEs).

There are differences in the proportions of women in different employment categories but they all lie within the 40–60 per cent range, except for professors. Among professors, the proportion of women was 28 per cent in 2017, an increase of one percentage compared with the previous year.

To encourage a rise in the proportion of female professors the Government has set new recruitment targets for the period 2017–2019. These targets were determined for each institution on the basis of the recruitment base (senior lecturers, postdoctoral research fellows, and associate senior lecturers) in different fields of research. The targets include promotions to professorships and visiting professors but not adjunct professors. There have been targets of this kind since 1997, except for an intermission between 2009 and 2011.

The proportion of women among senior lecturers has risen from 38 to 46 per cent since 2007. As senior lecturers constitute a relatively large group, this has had an overall impact on the gender ratio among teachers and researchers. Senior lectureships often precede appointments to professorships and there are therefore grounds for believing that the growth of the proportion of women professors will continue.