Education in Sweden
|Ministry of Education and Research|
|Minister for Education||Anna Ekström|
|National education budget (2017)|
|Budget||71.6 billion SEK|
|Secondary diploma||83% of adults (OECD 2017)|
|Post-secondary diploma||41.9% of adults (OECD 2017)|
Education in Sweden is mandatory for children between ages 6 and 17. 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.
Preschool is free for low-income families and subsidized with a price ceiling for all families. The year children turn six they start the compulsory preschool class (förskoleklass), which act as a transition phase between preschool and comprehensive schools. Children between ages 6 and 17 attend comprehensive school where a wide range of subjects are studied. All students study the same subjects, with exception for different language choices. The majority of schools are run municipally, but there are also privately owned schools, known as independent schools.
Almost all students continue studying in 3 year long upper secondary schools where most students choose one out of 18 national programmes some of which are vocational and some preparatory. For students not fulfilling the requirements for the national programmes, introductory programmes are available where students work to satisfy the requirements for the national programmes. In 2018, 16% of students finishing year 9 of comprehensive school were not eligible for national programmes.
The higher education system is compatible with the rest of Europe through the Bologna Process where degrees are divided into 3 cycles, basic level, advanced level and doctoral level. There are two degrees available in each cycle of different lengths. Universities have no tuition fees for Swedish citizens (as well for citizens of European Economic Area сountries), and student aid is available from the government.
|Type of education||School||Designation||Age|
|Research entitled university college
(Högskola med forskningstillstånd)
|4th year||Ages vary|
|Master's level education||University
|2nd year||Ages vary|
|Bachelor's level education||University
|3rd year||Ages vary|
|Upper secondary education||Gymnasium/High School
|Tredje ring||3rd grade||18–19|
|Andra ring||2nd grade||17–18|
|Första ring||1st grade||16–17|
|Primary and lower secondary education||Comprehensive school
|Preschool class education||Preschool class
According to Lars Petterson, the number of students grew slowly, 1900–1947, then shot up rapidly in the 1950s, and declined after 1962. The pattern of birth rates was a major factor. In addition Petterson points to the opening up of the gymnasium from a limited upper social base to the general population based on talent. In addition he points to the role of central economic planning, the widespread emphasis on education as a producer of economic growth and the expansion of white collar jobs.
In 1842, the Swedish parliament introduced a four-year primary school for children in Sweden, "folkskola". 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. In 1962 the first version of the current compulsory school was introduced with Swedish children having 9 mandatory years in school – from August the year the child turns 7 to June the year the child turns 16.
The 1962 curriculum included two different study paths vocational and preparatory, this was however abolished in the 1969 revision. In 1980 came another major revision increasing the emphasis on the theoretical subjects. In 1994 the grading system was changed and in the latest revision from 2011 the grading system was changed yet again this time also introducing grades from year 6.
In 1905 realskolan was introduced for students wanting to continue studying after folkskolan it had varying length between 3 and 6 years.
In 1968 gymnasieskolan was introduced with a similar structure to the current version. 22 different programmes some of which were vocational and some preparatory. These programmes lasted from between 2 and 4 years, something that was changed in 1991 making all programmes 3 years long.
Preschool is offered to all children whose parents are working, studying, unemployed or on parental leave from the age of one. From the age of 3, all children are eligible for at least 3 hours of preschool education every day for free. Fees for children being at preschool for more than 3 hours a day or under 3 years of age are based on family income and number of children. Prices range from free to a maximum of 1 425 SEK (€135 or US$150) per month As of July 2019[update] with exact rates set by the municipality.
It is intended to free up parents to work, establishing a foundation for children going into the comprehensive school and promote fundamental values such as the equal value of all people. This is achieved through pedagogical activities prepared by preschool teachers often involving things such as play, singing and drawing. The preschool teachers should incorporate multiple educational moments each day.
The educational system in Sweden is based on a nine-year long comprehensive school (Grundskola), with mandatory attendance between 6/7 and 15/16 years of age.
In the Swedish compulsory school each student take 16 compulsory subjects which are, sorted by time allocated: Swedish, Mathematics, Physical Education, English, Handicrafts, Music, Visual arts, Technology, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, History, Social Studies, Religion, Geography and Home Economics. All of these subjects are taken in all three school stages, lower stage (grades 1–3), middle stage (grade 4–6), and upper stage (grades 7–9).
In sixth grade students can also choose a non-compulsory foreign language course. Over 85% of grade 9 students studied a third language in 2017. All schools have to offer 3 of the languages Spanish, French, and German. Many schools also offer additional help in the core subjects English and Swedish instead of the language course. Taking the language course can improve the students final grade score significantly and for some more competitive Upper Secondary Schools be required.
There is also a compulsory, non-graded Student's Choice subject (Elevens Val) where the student can choose from various activities facilitated by the school. Student's Choice has been criticized for potentially being a bad use of the students and teachers time.
In Sweden students start receiving grades from year 6 with proposals of changing it to year 4. Before grade 6 students receive an Individual Development Plan (Individuell Utvecklingsplan (IUP)) containing the teachers assessment of the students knowledge. Students have regular development talks with their teachers discussing how to improve based on their IUP and grades.
The grading system in compulsory school uses the grades 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. A dash is not considered a grade. If a student is on the verge of receiving an F in a certain subject/course, the teacher responsible for that subject will notify the student and the student's parents. If a student is given an F, they will receive a written review of how to improve themselves.
The pupil's total score, which is used for application to upper secondary schools, is calculated by taking the pupil's subject grades and numerically adding them together, with the following letter to number conversion: E = 10, D = 12.5, C = 15, B = 17.5, and A = 20. This yields a maximum possible score of 340 for students taking 17 subjects. Pupils can have either 16 or 17 grades depending on if they take an additional language course on top of the 16 compulsory subjects. Pupils who don't study any foreign language or instead study extra Swedish or English will only have 16 grades and cannot receive a score higher than 320.
The sixteen 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 introduction program (introduktionsprogram), either to gain competence in the core subjects and start a secondary school programme or gain skills to enter employment.
In grades 3, 6 and 9 national tests are administered to all students in the Swedish grundskola. The primary aim of these tests are to ensure all students are assessed equivalently. The test results should be given special consideration by teachers when setting the students final grade.
In grade 3 the tests are framed around a story involving two children encountering Mathematics and Swedish in everyday situations to make the test situation less intimidating. Only Swedish and Mathematics have national tests in year 3. The results from the tests are not used for grading, as students do not receive grades before year 6.
In grade 6 and 9 there are tests for all three core subjects Swedish, Mathematics and English. These tests consist of both oral and written components. In grade 9 one science subject (Physics, Biology or Chemistry) and one social science subject (Civics, Religion, Geography or History) are tested as well.
Skolverket also provide tests similar to the national tests for the purpose of assisting teachers with assessing students. These are sometimes confused for national tests however these tests are not mandatory and available for a greater variety of year levels and subjects.
The tests and mark schemes have several times been spread on the internet before the test date resulting in wide spread cheating. In these cases substitute tests are to be used, however these tests have been accused for not giving results consistent with the non substitute tests by the Swedish Teachers' Union and can not be used in Statistics Sweden's reports. The Swedish National Audit Office published a report regarding "The unauthorised dissemination of national tests" in 2018. The audit found the Swedish National Agency for Education's new guidelines for handling the national tests satisfactory, but implemented too late. The report recommended the Swedish School Inspectorate to monitor individual schools compliance with these new guidelines.
In 2014, the National Agency for Education published guidelines to staff on how to act during incidents of armed violence. In the 2012–2017 period, the number of reports of physical violence in schools increased 129% and reports of threats increased with 46% in the same period according to the Swedish Work Environment Authority. The latter reports include all reported physical violence and threats, not only armed violence.
Other types of primary education
There are various types of primary education including the Sami-schools, with special accommodations for the indigenous Sámi people, special needs schools for students with intellectual disabilities, and special schools for students with other disabilities such as deafness.
There is also komvux, adult education at primary or secondary level, and introductory programmes for students who failed compulsory education. Homeschooling is only permitted for students who for some reason, usually severe sickness, can't participate in normal classroom education.
Upper Secondary education
Upper Secondary school, called gymnasieskola, usually lasts for three years. It's elective, but with a 99% enrollment rate (OECD 2018). It is divided into 18 different national programmes with different educational focus. The system is course based with the same courses being used for multiple programmes. There are also introductory programmes for students who don't satisfy the requirements for the national programmes. A significant number of these students are immigrants learning Swedish.
The national programmes are divided into two categories: preparatory and vocational. All national programmes give basic qualification to attend university, but preparatory programs typically also satisfy the additional requirements needed to study university courses in specific subject areas.
In 2018 approximately one third of students studying a national programme were studying a vocational programme while two thirds were studying a preparatory programme.
|English name||Swedish name||Type||Number of students||Percent of students|
|Social Science Programme||Samhällsvetenskapsprogrammet||Preparatory||55 438||19.2%|
|Natural Science Programme||Naturvetenskapsprogrammet||Preparatory||43 028||14.9%|
|Business Management and Economics Programme||Ekonomiprogrammet||Preparatory||41 436||14.3%|
|Technology Programme||Teknikprogrammet||Preparatory||28 111||9.7%|
|Arts Programme||Estetiska programmet||Preparatory||20 325||7.0%|
|Electricity and Energy Programme||El- och energiprogrammet||Vocational||14 076||4.9%|
|Building and Construction Programme||Bygg- och anläggningsprogrammet||Vocational||12 534||4.3%|
|Vehicle and Transport Programme||Fordons- och transportprogrammet||Vocational||10 368||3.6%|
|Health and Social Care Programme||Vård- och omsorgsprogrammet||Vocational||9 735||3.4%|
|Child and Recreation Programme||Barn- och fritidsprogrammet||Vocational||8 588||3.0%|
|Business and Administration Programme||Handels- och administrationsprogrammet||Vocational||8 489||2.9%|
|Natural Resource Use Programme||Naturbruksprogrammet||Vocational||8 414||2.9%|
|Handicraft Programme||Hantverksprogrammet||Vocational||6 375||2.2%|
|Restaurant Management and Food Programme||Restaurang- och livsmedelsprogrammet||Vocational||4 861||1.7%|
|Industrial Technology Programme||Industritekniska programmet||Vocational||4 144||1.4%|
|HVAC and Property Maintenance Programme||VVS- och fastighetsprogrammet||Vocational||3 322||1.2%|
|Hotel and Tourism Programme||Hotell- och turismprogrammet||Vocational||2 963||1.0%|
|Humanities Programme||Humanistiska programmet||Preparatory||2 319||0.8%|
All students take at least 2500 points worth of courses. Some of these courses are universal for students in all programmes. These courses are the first course in each of the following subjects: English, Swedish, Mathematics, Religion, Civics, Natural Science and Physical Education. In preparatory programmes additional English, Swedish and Mathematics is also included as core courses.
There are also programme specific and orientation specific courses. Orientation specific courses are the courses that a student elects to take by selecting an orientation inside of their programme. Finally, individually selected courses are courses that the student freely selects for herself/himself.
In all programs in the upper secondary school, all students are required to do a diploma project. The diploma project is a project where the students are required to plan, execute and reflect on a bigger project related to something they have been studying. This project have two grading options, which is receiving an E (pass) or F (fail). The diploma project is not included in the students merit value that is used towards further education.
To be eligible for upper secondary education the pupil need to pass 8 out of 16 subjects for the vocational programmes and 12 out of 16 for preparatory programmes. The pupil also need to pass the three core subjects Mathematics, Swedish and English.
In 2018, 15.6% of pupils who left compulsory education did not qualify to proceed to upper secondary education. This is a significant increase from 2011, the first year with the current syllabus, where 12.3% of pupils did not qualify. The group not mastering compulsory education are predominantly boys and pupils with foreign origin.
Pupils who did not qualify for upper secondary education can still proceed to an introductory programme (Introduktionsprogram) which help students gain eligibility for the national programmes.
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) at certain schools, the student applies for both the program and the orientation. Some programmes, generally the arts programmes and certain more specialized programmes/orientations, have some form of entrance exam in addition to the elementary school grades.
For students who did not qualify for the national programmes, most often by failing Swedish, English or Mathematics. There are different types of introductory programmes the most common of which being language introduction for immigrants learning Swedish and individual alternative, a highly individualized programme intended to help students who did not satisfy the eligibility requirements for the national programmes to gain eligibility for them.
After upper secondary school, students can apply to university in order to receive 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 also provides a number of professional degrees at a bachelor's or master's level in fields such as engineering, law and medicine. Independently from the Bologna Process-compatible university system there is a system of higher vocational education where subject areas such as, Business Finance and Administration, IT, and Hospitality and Tourism are being taught.
Types of degrees
Swedish degrees are incorporated in the Bologna Process, the European higher education framework. In this system degrees are divided into three cycles, corresponding to bachelor's level, master's level and doctoral level. In Sweden, there are two general qualifications for each cycle of different lengths and various professional degrees and various professional degrees at bachelor's or master's level.
|Type of education||Level||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
|Higher Education Diploma
120 higher education credits
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:
- Higher Education Diploma (högskoleexamen), 2 years, 120 higher education credits
- 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 three-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) 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 four 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 associate professor (docent) and professor.
The grading system used vary between different universities and university colleges. There are currently five different systems in use all of which are criteria-referenced. The three most common systems are the seven-grade scale (A–F, Fx), the three-grade scale VG, G, U which is very similar to the pre-2011 compulsory and upper secondary grade system and the pass or fail system G/U. The grades from all systems can be converted to the European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (ECTS) for grade comparison with other universities across Europe.
Before being accepted to a higher education programme in Sweden, all applicants must demonstrate a minimum proficiency in Swedish and English. For international applicants, the Test in Swedish for University Studies is used to test Swedish language proficiency and Test of English as a Foreign Language or the Cambridge First Certificate in English exam may be used for English.
The Swedish Scholastic Aptitude Test (Högskoleprovet) is a standardised test used as one of the means to gain admission to higher education in Sweden. The test itself is divided into a mathematical part and a verbal part, which both contain 4 subdivisions, in total 160 multiple-choice questions. Apart from the English language reading comprehension test, all sections are taken in Swedish. To gain admittance to courses or programmes using the SweSAT students need to independently fulfill the eligibility requirements.
Swedish students receives help from the National Board of Student Aid (CSN) while studying. CSN is a Swedish Government authority that is sending out financial aid for studies. This includes loans and grants for students that is studying in Sweden or abroad in another country.
Anti discrimination work
All universities are required to have guidelines how to handle cases of discrimination. They are also required to work together with the Equality Ombudsman to ensure admission, tuition and examinations are fair.
Higher vocational education
Post-secondary vocational education usually consist of many 1–2 year long subject specific programmes consisting of roughly three quarters theoretical and one quarter workplace experience. Higher vocational schools cooperate with various employers to improve employment prospects of the students. The system is independent from the other types of higher education in that it is not Bologna compatible, does not award a bachelor's or master's degree (while professional degrees do) and is not taught by universities or university colleges.
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 "independent schools" (friskolor), and in 2008 there were around 900 of them.
The "independent 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.
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 "independent school" chains. In 2008, more than 10% of Swedish pupils were enrolled independent schools.
The independent school system has divided public opinion in Sweden, especially regarding religious schools and for-profit schools. During the 2018 election several parties, including the Moderate party and Socialdemocratic party, suggested some kind of limit to profits, while the Liberals and Centre party opposed such a limit. A ban on religious independent schools has also been suggested with support from the Left party and Socialdemocratic party, while the Moderates, Green party, Christiandemocrats and Centre party are satisfied with the current system banning religious elements in the classroom, but allowing it during breaks or before lessons start.
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 summarized 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 by a former political advisor to the Swedish Ministry of Education, Karin Svanborg-Sjövall, on the independent school system: "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". However, in June 2015, another article by the education correspondent from The Guardian quoted then Education Minister, Gustav Fridolin, as saying that the system was "a political failure" and stated that standards in learning had dropped dramatically over the years and were in a state of "crisis".
PISA and PIRLS results
Sweden came in first in the United Nations Children's Fund 2008 ranking of early childhood education.
Swedish results in the Programme for International Student Assessment were in 2015 close to the OECD average. The Swedish scores were declining between 2006 and 2012, which was heavily reported and adopted as an important talking point for many political parties, including the Alliance and the Social Democratic Party.
In the 2015 PISA report, the Swedish scores increased for the first time since the programme started in 2006. Both the Moderate Party and the Social Democratic Party have suggested actions to improve education and increase PISA scores in the future.
The influx of immigrants to Swedish schools has been reported as a major contributor to why Sweden's score dropped more than any other European country by a National Agency of Education report.
However, this does not account for the entirety of the drop in results. In the spring of 2021, the nationwide newspaper Expressen published a series of articles describing major flaws in the testing carried out by the National Agency for Education. A comparatively large number and range of students had, in violation of the intention of the tests, been exempted from testing, generating a result showing a positive trend. An investigation into how this could have happened despite several officials at the Ministry for Education having raised questions concerning the testing methods is taking place. Some MPs have called for the resignation of the Minister for Education, who in turn has directed the liability of the testing towards the school authority.
- Education in Stockholm
- List of universities in Sweden
- Student loans in Sweden
- Swedish National Union of Students
- Open access in Sweden
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