Education in Sweden
|Ministry of Education and Research|
|Minister for Education||Jan Björklund|
|Life in Sweden|
Education in Sweden is mandatory for all children between age 7 and the year of the child’s 16th birthday. The school year in Sweden runs from mid/late August to early/mid June. The Christmas holiday from mid December to early January divides the Swedish school year into two terms. Homeschooling is closely supervised by the government and very limited.
From the age of one, children can be admitted to pre-school (förskola). Pre-schools both help provide an environment that stimulates children's development and learning, and enable parents to combine parenthood with work or studies. During the year before children start compulsory school, all children are offered a place in a pre-school class (förskoleklass), which combines the pedagogical methods of the pre-school with those of compulsory school. Between ages 6/7 and 15/16, children attend compulsory comprehensive school (grundskola), divided in three stages. The vast majority of schools in Sweden are municipally run, but there are also autonomous and publicly funded schools, known as "free schools". The education in free schools has many objectives in common with the municipal school, but it can have an orientation that differs from that of the municipal schools. A handful of boarding schools, known as "private schools", are funded by privately paid tuition.
In 2008, statistics showed that of all Swedes aged 25–64, 15% have completed only compulsory education (as the highest level of attainment), 46% only upper secondary education, 14% only post-secondary education of less than 3 years, and 22% post-secondary education of 3 years or more. Women are more educated than men (26% of women vs 19% of men have post-secondary education of 3 years or more). The level of education is highest among those aged 25–34, and it decreases with age. Both upper secondary school and university studies are financed by taxes. Some Swedes go straight to work after secondary school. Along with several other European countries, the government used to subsidize tuition of non-EU/EEA students pursuing a degree at Swedish institutions, but in 2010 they started charging non-EU/EEA students 80,000-100,000 SEK per year . Swedish 15-years-old pupils have the 22nd highest average score in the PISA assessments, being neither significantly higher nor lower than the OECD average.
|Type of education||School||Designation|
|Högskola som har
University college entitled to conduct
research in a particular discipline
(grundnivå & avancerad nivå)
(undergraduate & graduate/master's level)
Upper secondary school
Upper secondary school
|9:an||Skolår 9||Årskurs 9|
|8:an||Skolår 8||Årskurs 8|
|7:an||Skolår 7||Årskurs 7|
|6:an||Skolår 6||Årskurs 6|
|5:an||Skolår 5||Årskurs 5|
|4:an||Skolår 4||Årskurs 4|
|3:an||Skolår 3||Årskurs 3|
|2:an||Skolår 2||Årskurs 2|
|1:an||Skolår 1||Årskurs 1|
Förskola (literally "preschool"), colloquially daghem or dagis, is the kindergarten. Grundskola is the 1-9 grade primary school. Gymnasieskola (literally "gymnasium school") is the three-year secondary school. Högskola (literally "high school") is a tertiary school (formally translated to university college, less formally to university) and universitet (always translated to university) is a tertiary school with postgraduate education.
Historical terms include småskola ("small school") and folkskola ("people's school") for primary school and läroverk ("learning institute") for secondary school. Formerly, högskola usually meant a one-faculty school – usually professionally oriented – while universitet contained many faculties.
Students in Swedish primary schools have very limited choice regarding their curriculum. Students can not usually make any decisions about their education until the fall term of the seventh grade, where students can choose a foreign language (Spanish, French, German, Mandarin Chinese or extra English or Swedish) and which handicraft course the student want to take, where carpentry or sewing is offered. A similar situation applies to most other subjects. This is the result of a concerted effort to streamline curricula, in the hope that this will favor students from families with lower levels of educational attainment. Critics claim it has lowered results significantly among talented students without raising them within other groups.
All students between 12–15 years old take math, English, Swedish, foreign language, NO (physics, chemistry, biology, technology), SO (social studies, history, religion, geography), physical education, art, music, carpentry or sewing and a course in home economics. In many schools the course "Elevens Val" (The Student's Choice) is offered, which can include for instance drama, an extra foreign language or help in different subjects.
The Swedish School Plan also highly encourages an individualistic education in which each student has their specific needs met. The students are also encouraged not only to participate in student councils, but also to actually form the education they desire together with their teachers, choosing what books to read and how to balance practice with theory depending on which the individual students find most enjoyable to learn from.
Primary and Secondary School
The educational system in Sweden is based on a nine-year primary school, or "Grundskola" with mandatory attendance. Following this comes an elective three-year secondary school, or "Gymnasieskola" which is divided in two instances where you either prepare for higher education or receive vocational education. The preparatory instance allows for specialization in either natural sciences or social sciences.
Three grades were until recently used in elementary school: Pass (godkänd (G)), Pass with distinction (Väl godkänd (VG)) and Pass with special distinction (Mycket väl godkänd (MVG)). The grades are usually referred to by their abbreviation. Note that failed does not exist as an informal grade, but should the student fail to pass a course this is reported as ***, referring to a footnote explaining that the pupil "lacks foundation for a grade", however, many people do consider failed (Icke godkänd (IG)) to be an actual grade and often refer to *** as such. Pupils do not start receiving official grades until the 8th grade, although it's not uncommon that tests are marked with grades prior to that. Compared to course grades, failed tests are often actually marked with IG. This is, however, dependent on the preferences of the teacher and does not make any difference.
The pupil's total score, which is used for application to gymnasium, the secondary schools, is calculated by taking the pupil's 16 best subjects and numerically adding them together, with G = 10, VG = 15 and MVG = 20, yielding a maximum possible score of 320. It is normal for a pupil to have 17 or more grades, as most study a third language - traditionally German or French, but in recent years Spanish has increased in popularity.
The 16 subjects used to calculate the total must include the three core subjects - English, Swedish and Mathematics. If the pupil fails any of the core subjects, she or he lacks qualification to attend secondary school. However, the student can still attend the secondary school individual program (individuellt program (IV)), either to gain competence in the core subjects and start a secondary school program or to complete the individual program and satisfy the requirements for a student degree (see below).
However, from the autumn of 2011, a new grading system has been introduced into the Swedish school system: A, B, C, D, and E as passing grades and F as Failing. B and D work as filling grades, for when a student hasn't reached all objectives for C or A, but has reached most of them. If the student can't be graded, e.g. extensive truancy, the student will receive a dash instead of an F. If a student is given an F they will receive a written review of how to improve themselves.
Secondary school, called gymnasieskola, lasts for three years (however some students study for four or more years for various reasons) and is formally elective, although most attend it and there are very few prospects for those who do not attend. Secondary school is divided into so called "programs", e.g. different types of choices of educational focus. The two most common "programs" are "social science" (samhällskunskap) and "natural sciences" (naturvetenskap). The "programs" are further divided into orientations. There are currently seventeen different national programs – centrally defined program curricula – with between two and four centrally defined orientations. In addition there are local programs and orientations, but most schools use the national programs. As of the autumn of 2011, there will be eighteen national programs, six college preparatory programs and twelve vocational programs.
The programs are divided into two general categories: preparatory and vocational. All programs give basic qualification to attend university, but preparatory programs typically satisfy more of the various special qualifications that are required to attend some university courses and programs.
Just over half of upper secondary students follow one of the thirteen vocationally oriented programs. These programs must include at least fifteen weeks of workplace training over the three-year program.
The courses that a student takes depending on program and orientation can be divided into four levels: Core subjects, program-specific subjects, orientation subjects and individually selected courses. Core courses are courses that everyone, regardless of program, must study to satisfy the requirements for a student degree. Program-specific courses are the additional courses that a student is required to take to fulfill the program requirements. If a student for some reason does not fulfill the requirements, for example by electing to replace a program-specific course with another course, the student is considered to have attended a specially designed program – this has no bearing except for what's printed on the school leaving certificate. Orientation subjects are the courses that a student elects to take by selecting an orientation. Normally these courses take place in the second and third year, although in a few cases the courses start earlier. Finally, individually selected courses are courses that the student freely selects for herself/himself in the second and third year; for these specific slots have been set aside in the curriculum and the schedule.
To attend secondary school, the prospective student applies to attend a certain program at a certain school, competing for entrance based upon his/her elementary school grades. In a few cases, such as the Arts Program (Estetiska programmet (ES)) at certain schools, the student applies for both program and orientation. Some programs, generally the Arts Program and certain local programs/orientations, have some form of entrance exam in addition to the elementary school grades.
Prior to the 1990s, there were only a handful of private schools in Sweden, mostly tuition-funded boarding schools, whereof Sigtunaskolan and Lundsbergs skola are the most well known. A major education reform in 1992 allowed privately run schools offering primary or secondary education to receive public funding for each student, at a level similar to what public schools receive. These are called "free schools" (friskolor), and in 2008 there were around 900 of them.
The "free schools", similar to charter schools in the United States or academies in the United Kingdom, are funded with public money (skolpeng) from the local municipality, based on the number of pupils they have enrolled, in the same way Swedish public schools are. Consequently, they are not allowed to discriminate or require admission examinations, nor are they allowed to charge the students any additional fees. They are, however, allowed to accept private donations. Regional economic differences directly affect how much money each municipality can provide per pupil, by as much as SEK 50,000 (around USD 7,700 or GBP 4,700).
Anyone can start an independent for-profit school, or a chain of such schools, in Sweden. Many of them offer an alternate pedagogy (such as Montessori), or a foreign/international, religious or special needs (such as hearing-impaired) profile. There are also several secondary schools with an elite sports profile. Internationella Engelska Skolan and Kunskapsskolan are the two largest "free school" chains. In 2008, more than 10% of Swedish pupils were enrolled in "free schools".
The "free school" system has divided public opinion in Sweden. During the 2010 election neither political block suggested abandoning the programme. A poll conducted in 2011 by Synovate found that Swedes who want to ban companies from operating schools for profit outnumbered those that don't. The Swedish model has been put forward as a possible model for similar solutions in both the United Kingdom and the United States, where Per Unckel, County Governor of Stockholm and former Conservative Minister of Education, in 2009 summarised the advantages of the Swedish system in an opinion piece produced by the Libertarian think tank Pacific Research Institute: "Education is so important that you can’t just leave it to one producer. Because we know from monopoly systems that they do not fulfill all wishes".
In February 2013 The Guardian published an article on free school system in Sweden - "Sweden proves that private profit improves services and influences policy - Even education unions came on board when private provision was introduced into Swedish schools", citing the paper on average educational performance made by research institute under the Swedish Ministry of Employment, IFAU, which found "that an increase in the share of independent-school students improves average performance at the end of compulsory school as well as long-run educational outcomes".
|Qualified Vocational Education||KY2|
|Secondary School (Vocational)
Completing secondary school on a vocational program with full classes on a three-year curriculum does provide a basic qualification for further studies. However many times tertiary education is required before being admitted at university or university college. Post-secondary education is provided by Municipal "KomVux" schools (short for KOMmunal VUXenutbildning, lit. "Municipal Adult Education"), and independent boarding schools named Folkhögskolor (or People's High Schools in English).
Instead of opting for higher education, a student from a vocational program in secondary school is able to apply for what is called Qualified Vocational Education or "Kvalificerad Yrkesutbildning" (KY). This form combines education and practical experience from business or industry in the chosen field. The level of education is essentially post-secondary but can also contain courses that meet the requirements of tertiary education.
For post-secondary education, the KomVux and the Qualified Vocational Education in some ways correspond to what is offered by community colleges in the United States.
After gymnasieskola, students can apply to a university in order to receive a tertiary education. General academic degrees are offered by public universities and university colleges that tend to attract students on a regional basis. Besides general academic degrees, the higher education system in Sweden also provides a number of professional and vocational degrees in fields such as engineering, law and medicine.
On 1 July 2007, a new higher education system came into effect in Sweden. Higher education became divided into three levels: basic level (grundnivå), advanced level (avancerad nivå), and doctoral level (forskarnivå). The new changes also included removing several professional / vocational degrees (yrkesexamina) as well as redefining other pre-existing degrees.
|Type of education||Level||Designation||Degree||Designation|
Degree of Doctor (PhD)
240 higher education credits
Degree of Licentiate
120 higher education credits
Degree of Master (Two years)
120 higher education credits
(3–5 years long)
Degree of Master (One year)
60 higher education credits
Degree of Bachelor
180 higher education credits
|2:an||Årskurs 2|| Högskoleexamen
120 higher education credits
|1:an||Årskurs 1||1:an||Årskurs 1|
Basic level (grundnivå)
To be admitted to a programme at the basic level, a student must complete an education at the gymnasieskola level or its equivalent. The degrees that can be obtained at the basic level are:
- University Diploma (högskoleexamen), 2 years, 120 higher education credits (högskolepoäng)
- Degree of Bachelor (kandidatexamen), 3 years, 180 higher education credits
Advanced level (avancerad nivå)
To be admitted to a programme at the advanced level, a student must have obtained a 3-year Swedish degree at the basic level or a corresponding degree from another country or some corresponding qualification. The degrees that can be obtained at the advanced level are:
- Degree of Master (One year) (magisterexamen), 1 year, 60 higher education credits
- Degree of Master (Two years) (masterexamen), 2 years, 120 higher education credits
Both degrees require completing a thesis.
The Degree of Master (Two years), masterexamen, is a new degree that is intended to be closely linked to continuing education at the graduate level.
Doctoral level (forskarnivå)
To be admitted to a programme at the doctoral level, a student must have obtained a Swedish degree at the advanced level or completed at least 4 years of full-time study with at least one year at the advanced level or a corresponding degree from another country or equivalent knowledge. The degrees that can be obtained at the doctoral level are:
- Degree of Licentiate (licentiatexamen), 2 years, 120 higher education credits
- Degree of Doctor (PhD, doktorsexamen), 4 years, 240 higher education credits
Postgraduate academic titles are docent (associate professor) and professor (professor). Each department has an administrative officer, the prefekt, who often is a docent.
Three sets of grades exist in Swedish universities and university colleges. Some universities have introduced a seven-grade scale (A-F, Fx), that similar to the ECTS scale, but with a criterion-referenced grading instead of relative grading. The most common scale is a three-grade scale that consists of U (Underkänd in Swedish, fail), G (Godkänd, pass) and VG (Väl godkänd, pass with distinction). In this set VG is the highest. The other grade set consists of (U, 3, 4, 5) where 5 is the highest. This grade set is normally given in courses within technical professional degrees. Finally there are some courses, within two systems of grading, in which you can only get G (pass) or U (fail). For instance, for a one semester thesis (specialized level) in Computer Science for a Master's degree at some institutions one can only get the grade G (pass) or fail, while for an equivalent thesis at other institutions one can also receive the grade VG.
Before being accepted to a higher education programme in Sweden, all applicants must demonstrate a minimum proficiency in Swedish and English by either taking 2 years of Swedish and English or passing Swedish B and English A. For international applicants, the Test in Swedish for University Studies (TISUS), is an international exam that can be taken to demonstrate proficiency in Swedish. For those whose native language is not English, international applicants can demonstrate proficiency in English by obtaining a minimum score of 173 points on the TOEFL or a minimum grade of B on the Cambridge First Certificate in English exam. Exchange students may have different language requirements.
Swedish students receive economic help from the Swedish National Board of Student Aid (CSN) for studying. Every student is entitled to 12 semesters of allowances and loans, totaling 2,230 SEK per week (September 2012: 261 EUR, 339 USD, 209 GBP) for full-time studies (after 1 July 2006). Allowances are usually 699 SEK per week (September 2012: 82 EUR; 106 USD; 65 GBP) with loans covering the rest. The limits for loans and allowances may be substantially increased under certain circumstances.
Swedish legislation about student democracy is made by:
- the Higher Education Act (issued by the Parliament)
- the Higher Education Ordinance (issued by the government and frequently revised)
Such legal basis form regulations for all Swedish public universities. They principally state that:
- the state provides institutions for higher education
- higher education should be based on research
- higher education institutions should cooperate with the surrounding local communities
- quality efforts on all things are a joint matter for staff and students
- students should take an active part in the work, with further development of the education
- there must be student representatives in all drafting and decision-making bodies
Complaints about the implementation of legislation on student democracy can be sent to the Swedish National Agency for Higher Education. Even if there is no fine, universities usually follow the agency's decisions.
The main issues about student democracy in Sweden are:
- Granting a low threshold in entering universities, by:
- no fees, for Swedish, EU/EEA, and Swiss citizens
- simple rules of admission (no entrance test)
- Widening participation, introducing new groups into higher educations (ethnic minorities, low-income citizens); it is worthy noting that affirmative actions are not allowed by Swedish legislation, as a form of positive discrimination.
- Securing gender equality for staff, students and perspectives of education
- Strengthening the international perspective in all education, in order to help in creating understanding of the international society
The Equal Treatment Act
In 2001, the Act for Equal Treatment of Students in Higher Education was issued, stating that:
- Equal treatment should be granted regardless of sex, ethnic origin, religion, sexual orientation, disabilities.
- Harassment (from staff or students) and discrimination are to be prevented.
- An annual plan has to be issued by each university to actively promote equal treatment.
- Weak spots are to be found in cooperation with students.
- In case of reported harassment or discrimination (based on the student's feelings), there's an obligation to investigate and take measures.
History of education in Sweden
In 1842, the Swedish parliament introduced a four-year primary school for children in Sweden, "Folkskola". In 1858 grade 1 and 2 became "Småskola" and children started school at the age of seven. In 1882 two grades were added to "folkskola", grade 5 and 6. Some "folkskola" also had grade 7 and 8, called "Fortsättningsskola". Schooling in Sweden became mandatory for 7 years in the 1930s and for 8 years in the 1950s. Since 1972, Swedish children have 9 mandatory years in school - from August the year the child turns 7 to June the year the child turns 16. Parents in some cases also have the option of delaying starting school until age 8 if deemed to be in the childs best interest.
After three years in "folkskola", children who enjoyed school and had good grades could choose to switch to a secondary school called "Högre allmänna läroverket". Högre allmänna läroverket was not free, so most students came from well-off families. However, some children with good grades got free education at "högre allmänna läroverket" because their parents could not afford to pay for it. In 1905, "högre allmänna läroverket" was divided into a lower level, 6-year school called "realskola" and a higher level, 4-year school called "gymnasium". In 1971, fackskola merged with gymnasium and yrkesskola to become "gymnasieskola".
In the autumn term of 1949, some Swedish schools introduced an experiment with a nine-year school called enhetsskola. The enhetsskola had three stages. The first 3 years were lågstadium (lower stage), the next three years were mellanstadium (middle stage) and the last three years were högstadium (upper stage). In those school districts, småskola became lågstadium, folkskola became mellanstadium and realskola became högstadium. On 26 May 1950 the Swedish parliament decided to introduce the enhetsskola in Sweden. In 1958 the enhetsskola became försöksskola, which in 1962 changed name to grundskola. In 1972, the grundskola was introduced in all parts in Sweden, and the folkskola and högre allmänna läroverket were abolished. From the autumn term of 1994, the official division in three different stages was abolished. In the early 1990s, Sweden also introduced förskoleklass for the children aged 6, a one-year-long grade which first was called årskurs 0 (Grade 0) or 6-årsgrupp (group for the 6-year-olds). Förskoleklass is not mandatory.
Comparison with the American educational system
The Swedish educational system has its own distinctions and, as such, is not directly comparable to the educational system in the United States. There is, however, a need to compare degrees and the educational or academic levels attained through a completed education. Swedish Education is not easy to compare.
While the Swedish educational system is regulated by the Government of Sweden, the American educational system is regulated at the state level. Furthermore, the definition and duration of primary and secondary school in the US and the names they are called (e.g., elementary school, grade school, middle school, junior high school, high school, senior high school) can vary within a state making comparisons with other countries difficult. To simplify, a typical mainstream American educational system is compared with the mainstream Swedish educational system, where special education is not included in mainstream education.
In the US, children are typically required to attend primary school and secondary school from age 6 to 16. After completing high school, many Americans enroll in higher education in a community college, college, or university. In comparison, Swedish children are required to attend grundskola, compulsory school, from age 7 to 16, where grundskola is a combination of primary and secondary school. After grundskola, many Swedes attend the elective gymnasieskolan, upper secondary school, choosing either a university-preparatory program or a vocational program. Students who choose a vocational program normally terminate their education after gymnasieskolan while students who complete a university-preparatory program normally enroll in higher education at a university or university college. Students who complete a vocational program can enroll in higher education, but may need to take additional courses before being eligible to apply.
In Sweden, grundskola students are required to learn how to swim as a part of their physical education. Since 1 September 2007, students in årskurs 5 must be able to swim 200 meters, with 50 meters on their back.
In the US, many high-school students take a Driver's Education course at their high school, which is often subsidized by the government. Thus, by the age of 18, many Americans have a driving permit or a driver's license. In contrast, Swedes typically learn how to drive by paying for a course at a private driving school (trafikskola). Since driving school can be quite expensive, many Swedes obtain their driver's license when they are older than 18. The minimum age of obtaining a drivers license in Sweden is 18.
Before 1 July 2007, Sweden had several degrees of undergraduate education, such as candidate of philosophy (fil. kand.) or civilingenjör (m. sc. eng.). Since 1 July 2007, undergraduate education in Sweden consists of all higher education degrees that are normally obtained in the first 5 years (Master, Bachelor, University Diploma and all professional degrees). In the US, undergraduate education is considered higher education degrees that are normally obtained in the first 4 years (Bachelor and Associate degrees).
Graduate education in the US consists of the Doctorate and Master degrees. Postgraduate education is additional training after being awarded a Doctorate degree. In contrast, postgraduate programmes in Sweden are at the graduate level and consist of the Doctorate and Licentiate degrees. (The Master degree is a part of undergraduate education.)
|Typical Age||Sweden||United States|
Upper secondary school
|17||2:an||Årskurs 2||High School
|16||1:an||Årskurs 1||Grade 11||Junior|
|9:an||Årskurs 9||Grade 10||Sophomore|
|14||8:an||Årskurs 8||Grade 9||Freshman|
|13||7:an||Årskurs 7||Middle School
|12||6:an||Årskurs 6||Grade 7|
|11||5:an||Årskurs 5||Grade 6|
|10||4:an||Årskurs 4||Elementary School
|9||3:an||Årskurs 3||Grade 4|
|8||2:an||Årskurs 2||Grade 3|
|7||1:an||Årskurs 1||Grade 2|
Sometimes called 0:an
Ages < 5
- Education in Stockholm
- Swedish Scholastic Aptitude Test
- List of universities in Sweden
- National Agency for Education
- National Agency for Higher Education
- Swedish National Union of Students
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- Independent schools and long-run educational outcomes, Swedish Ministry of Employment
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