Education in Sweden

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Education in Sweden
Ministry of Education and Research
Minister for EducationGustav Fridolin
General details
Primary languagesSwedish
System typeNational

Education in Sweden is mandatory for all children between age 6 and age 16.[2] 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.[3]

From the age of one, children can be admitted to pre-school (förskola). Pre-schools help provide an environment that stimulates children's development and learning and enable parents to combine parenthood with work or studies.[4] 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. But from a new law, taking place autumn 2018, all children are required to begin in a pre-school class at the age of 6.[5] Immersion methods amongst children aged four to seven is highly emphasized in compulsory school.[6][7] 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 "independent schools". The education in independent schools has many objectives in common with the municipal school, but it can have an orientation that differs from that of the municipal schools.[8][9] 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 three years, and 22% post-secondary education of three years or more. Women are more educated than men (26% of women vs. 19% of men have post-secondary education of three years or more).[10] The level of education is highest among those aged 25–34, and it decreases with age.[11] Both upper secondary school and university studies are financed by taxes. Some Swedes start working immediately 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.[12] Swedish fifteen year old pupils have the 22nd highest average score in the PISA assessments, being neither significantly higher nor lower than the OECD average.[13]

In 2014, the National Agency for Education published guidelines to staff on how to act during incidents of armed violence.[14][15] In the 2012-2017 period, the number of reports of violence in schools increased 129% and reports of threats increased with 46% in the same period according to the Swedish Work Environment Authority.[16]


Education in Sweden[17][18][19][20][21][22]
Type of education School Designation
Postgraduate programmes
(doctoral level)
Högskola som har

University college entitled to conduct
research in a particular discipline
4:e året
3:e året
2:a året
1:a året
Grundläggande högskoleutbildning
(grundnivå & avancerad nivå)
Higher education
(undergraduate & graduate/master's level)
2–5 years
University college
2–5 years
5:an Årskurs 5
4:an Årskurs 4
3:an Årskurs 3
2:an Årskurs 2
1:an Årskurs 1
Upper secondary school
(upper secondary)
Upper secondary school
Ages 16–19
3:an Tredje ring
2:an Andra ring
1:an Första ring
Compulsory school
(primary + lower secondary)
Compulsory school
Ages 7–16
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
Preschool class
Preschool class
Age 6
Årskurs F
Preschool activities
Ages 1–5


Förskola (literally "preschool"), colloquially daghem or dagis, is the kindergarten.

Grundskola is the 1-9 grade primary school, In 2005, year 1-6 of primary school was classified as ISCED level 1 and year 7-10 as ISCED level 2.[23] Individuals at this or lower level of education are in Sweden classed as having low education (sv: lågutbildade) by Statistics Sweden.[24]

Gymnasieskola (literally "gymnasium school") is the three-year secondary school. In 2005, the secondary school was classified as ISCED level 3.[23]

Högskola 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. In 2005, the tertiary school was classified as ISCED level 5 and above.[23] Individuals with 3 years or more tertiary level education are classed as having high education (sv: högutbildade) by Statistics Sweden.[24]

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 cannot usually make any decisions about their education until the fall term of the sixth grade, where students can choose a foreign language (most often Spanish, French, German, and sometimes other languages such as Russian, or extra English or Swedish) and which handicraft course the student wants 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.[citation needed] Critics[who?] claim it has lowered results significantly among talented students without raising them within other groups.[citation needed]

All students between 12–15 years old take mathematics, English, Swedish, a foreign language, "Naturorientering" science (physics, chemistry, biology, technology), "Samhällsorientering" social science (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[25][26] 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 which books to read and how to balance practice with theory depending on which the individual student finds most enjoyable to learn from.[27]


Homeschooling is largely nonexistent and heavily regulated.[3]

Primary and secondary school[edit]

The educational system in Sweden is based on a nine-year primary school, or "Grundskola", with mandatory attendance.[28] 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.


Pupils do not start receiving official grades until the 6th grade. But from year 1-5 , students do receive written reviews instead of getting letter grades. The written reviews includes the knowledge that the student have and also the knowledge that is required for the specific subject. The written reviews describes the lowest acceptable level of knowledge that a student have in year 3, and states the level that a student need for grades A,C and E in grade 6-9.[29] 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)).[28] The grades were usually referred to by their abbreviation. Note that a failing grade did not exist as a formal grade. If the student failed to pass a course, this was reported as ***, referring to a footnote explaining that the pupil "lacks foundation for a grade". Many people, however, considered 'failed' (Icke godkänd (IG)) to be an actual grade and often referred to *** as such. Compared to course grades, failed tests were often actually marked with IG. This was, however, dependent on the preferences of the teacher and did not make any difference.

However, from the autumn of 2011, a new grading scale has been introduced into the Swedish school system: A, B, C, D, and E as passing grades and F as failing.[30] 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.[31] 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 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 gymnasium, the secondary schools, is calculated by taking the pupil's subjects and numerically adding them together, with E = 10, D = 12.5, C = 15, B = 17.5, and A = 20, yielding a maximum possible score of 340. It is normal for a pupil to have 17 grades, as most study a third language – traditionally German or French, but in recent years Spanish has become the most widely studied.[32] If a pupil doesn't study a foreign language he or she instead studies extra Swedish and English. He or she will then only receive 16 grades and cannot reach a higher score 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 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).

Secondary school[edit]

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", i.e. different types of choices of educational focus. The two most common "programs" are "social science" (samhällsvetenskap) 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. From the autumn term of 2011, there became eighteen national programs, six college preparatory programs, and twelve vocational programs.[citation needed]

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.[citation needed]

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.[33]

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, which 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; specific slots have been set aside in the curriculum and the schedule for these.[citation needed]

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 demonstrate everything they have learned during their 3 years in school. This project have two grading options, which is receiving an E (pass) or F (not pass). The diploma project is not included in the students merit value that is used towards further education.[34]


In 2012, 12% of pupils who left primary education did not qualify to proceed to secondary education. In the autumn of 2017, 17.5% of pupils did not qualify to secondary education. The group not mastering primary education are predominantly boys and pupils with foreign origin.[35]


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 the program and the 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.

International schools[edit]

As of January 2015, the International Schools Consultancy (ISC)[36] listed Sweden as having 107 international schools.[37] ISC defines an 'international school' in the following terms, "ISC includes an international school if the school delivers a curriculum to any combination of pre-school, primary or secondary students, wholly or partly in English outside an English-speaking country, or if a school in a country where English is one of the official languages, offers an English-medium curriculum other than the country’s national curriculum and is international in its orientation."[37] This definition is used by publications including The Economist.[38]

Independent schools[edit]

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.[39]

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, by as much as SEK 50,000 (around US$7,700 or £4,700).[40]

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 in "independent schools".[41]


The "independent school" system has divided public opinion in Sweden. During the 2010 election neither political block suggested abandoning the program. 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[41][42] 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".[43]

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 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",[44] 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".[45] 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".[46]

Tertiary education[edit]

Post-secondary Education
Qualified Vocational Education KY2
KomVux PS
Secondary School (Vocational)
Ages 16–19

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). Training programs such as these are popular. 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.

Higher education[edit]

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.

As of autumn semester 2011, higher education is free of charge only for Swedish, EU/EEA, and Swiss citizens.[47] [48]

On 1 July 2007, a new higher education system came into effect in Sweden.[19][20] 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.

Higher Education from 1 July 2007[19][20]
Type of education Level Designation Degree Designation
Doctoral level
Degree of Doctor (PhD)
240 higher education credits
4:e året
3:e året
Degree of Licentiate
120 higher education credits
2:a året
1:a året

Avancerad nivå
Advanced level
2:an Årskurs 2     Masterexamen
Degree of Master (Two years)
120 higher education credits
Professional Degrees
(3–5 years long)
5:an Årskurs 5
1:an Årskurs 1   Magisterexamen
Degree of Master (One year)
60 higher education credits
4:an Årskurs 4
Basic level
3:an Årskurs 3   Kandidatexamen
Degree of Bachelor
180 higher education credits
3:an Årskurs 3
2:an Årskurs 2   Högskoleexamen
University Diploma
120 higher education credits
2:an Årskurs 2
1:an Årskurs 1 1:an Årskurs 1

Basic level (grundnivå)[edit]

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)[edit]

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), masterexam, is a new degree that is intended to be closely linked to continuing education at the graduate level.

Doctoral level (forskarnivå)[edit]

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).

Language requirements[edit]

Before being accepted to a higher education programme in Sweden, all applicants must demonstrate a minimum proficiency in Swedish and English.[49] For international applicants, the Test in Swedish for University Studies (TISUS) is used to test Swedish language proficiency and TOEFL or the Cambridge First Certificate in English exam may be used for English.[50]

Student aid[edit]

Swedish students receives help from the Swedish 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.[51]

Student democracy[edit]


Swedish legislation about student democracy is made by:

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 Higher Education Authority (Universitetskanslerämbetet) . Even if there is no fine, universities usually follow the agency's decisions.

Core issues[edit]

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[edit]

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, and/or 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[edit]

Primary school[edit]

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 child's best interest.

In the autumn term of 1949, some Swedish school districts 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. By 1972, the grundskola had been introduced in all parts in Sweden, replacing the folkskola and högre allmänna läroverket. 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 six-year-olds). Förskoleklass, which officially became the name from the 1998-1999 school year, is not mandatory.

Secondary school[edit]

Class of 15- and 16-year-olds celebrates a successfully completed Realexamen in a Stockholm suburb in 1965.

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".


The influx of immigrants to Swedish schools has been blamed by some as part of the reason why Sweden has dropped more than any other European country in the international PISA rankings.[52][53][54][55]

See also[edit]


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