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Higher education and research

Sweden is known for its innovative and progressive outlook on life, and that’s also reflected in the higher education system. Students in Sweden are encouraged to think critically, which lays the foundation for creativity and innovation.

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Photo: Melker Dahlstrand/imagebank.sweden.se

Higher education and research

Sweden is known for its innovative and progressive outlook on life, and that’s also reflected in the higher education system. Students in Sweden are encouraged to think critically, which lays the foundation for creativity and innovation.

Highly ranked universities

Sweden is ranked among the world leaders in higher education. And despite its relatively small population of around 10 million, it’s home to some of the world’s best universities.

There are 14 public universities and 17 public university colleges in Sweden, but there are also a number of independent institutions of higher education, like Stockholm School of Economics, Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg and Jönköping University. Swedish universities regularly place highly in global rankings like the Times Higher Education World University Rankings and the Shanghai Jiao Tong Academic Ranking of World Universities.

Freedom with responsibility

The teaching model applied at Swedish universities and university colleges is based on the motto ‘freedom with responsibility’. This means that students have somewhat less teacher-led time than is usual elsewhere. A large part of the learning process takes place outside of the classroom, with students mainly pursuing their studies on their own or in groups.

Group work is key. It encourages students to learn from others and solve complex issues as a team. Working together in diverse teams allows students to develop decision-making, time management, and interpersonal skills. By simulating the real dynamics of an international work place, students foster skills that will benefit their future global career, where teamwork across cultures is the norm.

Students in Sweden are not spoon-fed their education. Rather, they are expected to take full responsibility for their own learning. To figure things out for themselves. To look beyond their textbooks for answers. This means that students graduate well-prepared for the challenges and demands of working life, where they’ll be required to navigate complex situations where there’s often no easy solution.

Group work is an integral part of Swedish higher education.

Photo: Simon Paulin/imagebank.sweden.se

Critical thinking

The teaching style at Swedish universities and university colleges promotes critical thinking. Students are expected to question what they learn. Or to question beliefs that are often taken for granted. Debating and arguing with peers and lecturers is accepted and welcomed.

And challenging the status quo is not limited to theory or coursework. Student opinions are asked for and listened to in all aspects of university life. They have a right to influence everything related to their education. This could be in terms of the content and structure of their degree programme, or their study environment.

Equality in focus

Sweden is recognised as one of the most equal countries in the world. It comes as no surprise that equal access is a core component of the higher education system. Students of all backgrounds are welcome, regardless of gender, religion, home country or socioeconomic background. There is no upper age limit at Swedish universities or universities colleges, resulting in a lifelong opportunity for higher education.

Swedish society in general is informal and non-hierarchical, and students speak to and are treated by lecturers as equals. Everyone is on a first name basis – no titles required.

Yes, there is summer in Sweden too.

Photo: Simon Paulin/imagebank.sweden.se


Higher education in Sweden is financed largely by tax revenue. Tuition fees are fully subsidised for students from Sweden, the EU/EEA area* and Switzerland. Students from outside the EU/EEA and Switzerland pay tuition fees, but scholarship programmes that cover tuition and living costs are available for a number of non-EU countries.


To enable students who can’t pay tuition fees to study in Sweden, the Swedish government has allocated resources for two scholarship programmes.

The first programme awards grants through the Swedish Institute and totals SEK 100 million a year. This programme is aimed at highly qualified students from development countries and is designed to cover living costs and tuition fees.

The second programme, totalling SEK 60 million a year, is aimed at highly qualified students from outside the EU/EEA area, barring Switzerland. Grants in this programme are intended to cover tuition fees and are awarded through the Swedish Council for Higher Education to universities and university colleges that already extend grants to students.

The Swedish School of Textiles is one of few higher education institutions in the world with a full-scale textile-manufacturing environment.

Photo: Sofia Sabel

Research and innovation

Critical thinking and independent studies combined with the fact that everyone can make their voices heard are key reasons for why Sweden ranks among the world’s most innovative nations. Another is that investment in research is among the highest in the world in relation to GDP.

Leading research areas

An active research policy approach has enabled Sweden to acquire a leading position in several areas. One is environmental technology, another life sciences. Sweden also has a high level of expertise nanotechnology. The Swedish Foundation for Strategic Environmental Research, Mistra, funds research on how nanotechnology can safely help bring about a sustainable society.

The bulk of the research taking place in Sweden – at least 70 per cent – is privately financed. These investments have helped companies such as ABB, Ericsson, Sandvik and the Volvo Group become leaders in their fields. The remaining 30 per cent of the research is publicly financed.

*For a list of EU/EEA countries, please go to universityadmissions.se.

More info?

If you want to read more about Swedish higher education, you might want to check out studyinsweden.se, a comprehensive resource for information, geared to prospective students from outside Sweden.

Last updated: 13 January 2021