Governance of higher education

The mission of the HEIs is to provide education based on scholarly or artistic practice and on proven experience.

HEIs are also to carry out scholarly and artistic research, and development work. They are also to collaborate with the surrounding society, inform about their activities and ensure that benefit is derived from their research results.

In Sweden, public-sector HEIs have considerable autonomy within a system of management by objectives. Overall responsibility for higher education and research rests with the Swedish Parliament (Riksdag) and the Government. These decide on the regulations that apply to the higher education sector, primarily the Higher Education Act and the Higher Education Ordinance (see fact box). They also allocate resources to the HEIs.

Within the framework of this legislation, HEIs take most decisions themselves. These decisions cover such areas as organisation; internal allocation of resources; educational offerings; educational content and design; how many students are admitted and what research they conduct.

HEIs have significant freedom in determining their staffing. There are, however, three forms of employment regulated through legislation and regulations: professors, senior lecturers and assistant professors. Beyond these, there are many other forms of employment for researching and teaching staff. Doctoral students are generally employed and contribute both research and teaching to the HEIs.

The operations of independent education providers are regulated through a specific law and in some cases through contracts with the Government. For education, however, the same rules primarily apply as for public-sector HEIs.

Regulation of the higher education sector

Higher education in Sweden is governed by the Higher Education Act (SFS 1992:1434) and the Higher Education Ordinance (SFS 1993:100).

The Higher Education Act is enacted by the Swedish Parliament and regulates the HEIs’ operations. The Act contains basic regulations about education offered by HEIs. For instance, it sets out what should characterise courses and programmes at different levels and stipulates freedom of research. It provides a framework for the organisation and governance of the HEIs, and states that every HEI must have a board of governors and a vice-chancellor. It also contains regulations about the duties of teachers as well as provisions about student influence. In addition, HEIs must foster equality of opportunity and broaden recruitment.

Further provisions are specified in the Higher Education Ordinance, issued by the Government. For instance, the Ordinance states that students must be given the opportunity to influence their studies. The Ordinance contains regulations on entrance qualifications and selection for courses and programmes, as well as the appointment of teachers and doctoral students. It also includes regulations on course and programme syllabuses, grades and qualifications. Annex 2 of the Ordinance contains a System of Qualifications, which includes descriptions of and goals for all degrees.

HEIs also are governed by the Government’s annual public service agreements with each HEI. The public service agreement specifies that educational offerings are to correspond to demand from students and the needs of the labour market, the size of the state funding for first- and second-cycle education and for research and third-cycle education, and for specific assignments given to HEIs.

Allocation of resources to higher education institutions

The state has a significant commitment for financing HEIs. Higher education is for the most part free-of-charge and the State allocates significant resources for research conducted by the HEIs.

The Riksdag determines the allocation of resources for education and research for each HEI, which receives separate allocations for education and for research. Funding for first- and second-cycle education is based in part on the number of enrolled students (converted to full-time equivalents (FTE)) within the different disciplinary domains and, in part, on credits earned by students (converted to annual performance equivalents (APE)). The allocation of resources is thus fully based on performance. The funding per FTE and APE varies for different disciplinary domains. Technology and engineering, for example, receive more than social science. Every year the Government caps the funding of courses and programmes of each HEI by setting a maximum amount, called the funding cap.

This funding for research and third-cycle education that HEIs receive directly from the Government are in the form of a base grant that may be used freely within different fields of research. Only a small part of the funding is performance based. This part is based on scholarly production, external funding and collaboration with the surrounding society. Beyond the direct government funding, significant state funds are allocated through research funding agencies, which are governed by various ministries and which are applied for in competition with other applicants. Research and third-cycle education are also funded to a considerable extent by other research funding bodies, such as private foundations or the EU.

This page was published 5 January 2023