Governance of higher education

Overall responsibility for higher education and research rests with the Riksdag and the Government.

They decide on the regulations that apply to the higher education sector, primarily the Higher Education Act and the Higher Education Ordinance. They also allocate resources to the HEIs. The Government determines what qualifications may be offered and requirements for qualifications in the form of scope, qualitative targets, and learning outcomes.

Public-sector HEIs are public authorities, answering directly to the Government. Within the Government, the Ministry of Education and Research is responsible for most matters relating to the HEIs, higher education and research.

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. Individual education providers also receive their allocations and any special assignments through an annual public service agreement.

The mission and independence of higher education

The mission of the HEIs is to provide education based on scholarship or artistic practice and on proven experience. HEIs are also to carry out scholarly and artistic research and development work. The Swedish Higher Education Act specifies that the general principle for higher education is to promote and protect academic freedom.

Public-sector HEIs have considerable autonomy within a system of management by objectives. Within the overall legal framework, HEIs take most decisions themselves. These decisions cover such areas as organisation; internal allocation of resources; educational offerings; educational content and design and how many students are admitted. There is thus no nationally planned volume of higher education or nationally regulated course content. The HEIs determine independently what research to conduct.

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

There is to be a close relationship between research and education in HEIs’ operations. The HEIs’ mission also includes mutual exchanges with the surrounding community, as well as ensuring that the knowledge and expertise found at the higher education institution should bring benefit to society.

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 Riksdag 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 academic freedom and freedom of research. It provides a framework for the organisation and governance of the HEIs, and it states that every HEI must have a board of governors and a vice-chancellor. It also contains regulations about the duties of teachers and provisions about student influence. In addition, the Act specifies that HEIs must promote equality of opportunity, widened recruitment and lifelong learning. The Act now also specifies that the collective international activities of each HEI are to both enhance the quality of its research and education, and make a national and global contribution to sustainable development.

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, the selection for courses and programmes and the appointment of teachers and doctoral students. It also includes regulations on requirements in course and programme syllabuses, on grades and on qualifications. Annex 2 of the Ordinance contains a System of Qualifications, which includes descriptions of scope and learning outcomes for all degrees.

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

Since the public-sector HEIs are public authorities, they are also governed by other regulations, such as the Administrative Procedures Act, the Annual Reports and Budget Documentation Ordinance and the Environmental Management Ordinance. Naturally, the Discrimination Act also applies 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 through the annual budget bill. The HEIs receive separate allocations for education and for research and third-cycle education.

Funding for first- and second-cycle education is based partly 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.

Each year, the Government determines the highest reimbursement for FTEs and APEs that a HEI can receive in total for a budget year, known as the funding cap. The funding cap is defined in the HEI’s public service agreement.

The funding for research and third-cycle education that HEIs receive directly from the Government is in the form of a base grant that may be used freely within different fields of research. The base grant is defined in the HEI’s public service agreement. 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 European Union.

This page was last updated 15 November 2023