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Universities aiming for innovation

Sweden strives to be one of the world’s most innovative and research-intensive nations. The government invests heavily in education and around 3.3 per cent of Sweden’s GDP goes towards research and development.

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Lindholmen Science Park, Gothenburg.

Photo: Sofia Sabel/imagebank.sweden.se

Universities aiming for innovation

Sweden strives to be one of the world’s most innovative and research-intensive nations. The government invests heavily in education and around 3.3 per cent of Sweden’s GDP goes towards research and development.

Higher education and innovation

Sweden is globally recognised as one of most innovative countries in the world. The teaching model at Swedish universities and university colleges fosters creativity and critical thinking, and lays the foundation for innovation. Government investment in education also contributes. In fact, Sweden’s long-term focus on education and research has a major impact on the country’s capacity for innovation.


In Sweden, the parliament and government have overall responsibility for higher education and research, which means that they make decisions about targets, guidelines and the allocation of resources.

The Swedish Higher Education Authority (Universitetskanslersämbetet) and the Swedish Council for Higher Education (Universitets- och högskolerådet) are the central government agencies responsible for matters relating to higher education. However, universities and university colleges remain separate state entities and make their own decisions about the content of courses, admissions, grades and other related issues.


The aims of higher education are governed largely by the Swedish Higher Education Act and the Higher Education Ordinance. These laws specify that all education at universities and university colleges should be based on scientific principles. Education should provide the following:

  • knowledge and skills in the relevant areas
  • an ability to make independent critical assessments
  • an ability to identify, formulate and solve problems
  • preparedness for changes in the student’s professional life.

Universities and university colleges must ensure that students with disabilities have the same opportunities for study as other students.

Students from Sweden, the EU/EEA area and Switzerland don’t have to pay any tuition fees in Sweden – the fees are fully subsidised. Students from outside these areas pay tuition fees, but there are several scholarship programmes available.

Photo: Simon Paulin/imagebank.sweden.se

Shared goals across Europe

The Swedish system of higher education has changed significantly in recent years as a result of what is known as the Bologna Process. The aim is to create an integrated European Higher Education Area (EHEA).

The Bologna Declaration from 1999 aims to make it easier for students and job-seeking university graduates to move across borders within Europe. Its three goals are to:

  • promote mobility
  • promote employability
  • promote Europe’s competitiveness as an education continent.

In Sweden’s case, the Bologna Process has led the parliament to ratify the Lisbon Convention, which entails reciprocal recognition of degrees in other countries. Also, everyone who earns a university degree receives a diploma supplement that makes it easier to use the degree abroad for further studies or employment.

Facilitating mobility

Since 2007 Swedish higher education has followed a structure compatible with the European Credit Transfer System (ECTS), which helps the recognition of a student’s studies between different institutions and countries.

Swedish higher education programmes are divided into bachelor’s, masters and doctoral levels, or cycles. As a student progresses through these cycles, each year of full-time study corresponds to the ECTS standard of 60 credits, facilitating transfer and equal recognition throughout Europe.

Mostly public funding

More than 80 per cent of funding for Sweden’s universities and university colleges comes from public sources – directly from the government, from research-funding agencies and from other public sources of funding. The remaining funding comes from private sources and financial revenue. The total cost for universities and university colleges in 2018 was SEK 73.6 billion.

Lund University is ranked as one of the top-100 universities in the world.

Photo: Folio/imagebank.sweden.se

The need for research

The challenges we are facing today are complex and global. They demand action, but the prerequisites for sustainable development, growth and prosperity are changing. It’s clear that research and innovation are important factors for tackling societal issues. We need knowledge to find the right solutions. And we need to ensure we have the correct tools to implement them.

Sustainability is at the top of the Swedish government’s agenda and Sweden aims to be a leader in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda. When it comes to research and development (R&D), Sweden aims to be one of the most R&D-intensive countries in the world, with both broad and specialised research.

Major investments in R&D

As a rule, Sweden invests about 3.3 per cent of the country’s GDP in R&D. The business sector contributes: around 70 per cent of Sweden’s research is financed by private companies.

Research at universities also plays an important role in fostering innovation. Which, in turn, contributes to economic growth. Public funding of research generally amounts to around 0.8 per cent of GDP. This is one of the highest rates in the world.

Government funding for research and third-cycle education is allocated in a number of ways: through direct government funding; through external funding bodies, such as government agencies and research councils; as well as through municipalities, county councils and public research foundations.

Sweden invests about 3.3 per cent of its GDP in research and development.

Photo: Ulf Lundin/imagebank.sweden.se

Research-funding agencies

For research at universities and university colleges, the government is the largest source of funding, primarily through these four government bodies:

  • The Swedish Research Council (Vetenskapsrådet) – allocates almost SEK 7 billion per year for research in the natural sciences, technology, medicine and health, humanities and social sciences, among other fields
  • Formas, the Swedish Research Council for Environment, Agricultural Sciences and Spatial Planning – allocates around SEK 1.5 billion per year for research in environment matters, agricultural sciences and spatial planning
  • Forte, the Swedish Research Council for Health, Working Life and Welfare – allocates around SEK 650 million per year for research in labour market issues, work organisation, work and health, public health, welfare, social services and social relations.
  • Vinnova, the Swedish Agency for Innovation Systems – allocates around 3 billion per year , primarily for research in technology, transportation, communication and working life.


There are five state-funded foundations that allocate funding for research in Sweden, thus offering an important complement to direct government funding:

Riksbankens Jubileumsfond, an independent foundation financed by the Swedish Central Bank, is another major source of funding.

Private organisations such as the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation also make significant contributions to research funding.

Last updated: 10 February 2020