Photo: Cecilia Larsson Lantz

Higher education in Sweden: the basics

The basic structure of Swedish higher education.

The Swedish higher education system is similar to that of other European countries. Here are the basics!

Degree programmes in Sweden

Swedish universities offer degree programmes according to the European standard. This includes bachelor’s, master’s and PhD programmes.

Bachelor’s programmes, also known as undergraduate programmes, take place after upper secondary school (high school) and are usually three years long (180 ECTS credits).

Master’s programmes, also known as graduate programmes, build upon the knowledge developed during bachelor’s-level studies and can be one or two years long (60 or 120 ECTS credits).

PhD programmes, also known as doctoral programmes, are research degrees involving several years of work toward a dissertation. The duration and setup of PhD programmes in Sweden vary between universities; see PhD programmes for more details.

Programmes and courses: what’s the difference?

A degree programme at a Swedish university is made up of a number of courses in a particular field of study leading to a specific degree. Courses, sometimes known as modules in other countries, are the building blocks of each programme. Each semester, programme students follow one large course or several smaller courses.

Instead of applying for a full degree programme, it’s also possible to apply for admission to some courses directly. When you apply for and enrol on a course rather than a programme, you are only registered for that specific course. When you apply for and enrol on a programme, you will then register for many courses over the duration of your programme.

Examples:

  • You enrol on a two-year master’s programme made up of four semesters of study. During each semester, you take four courses for 7.5 ECTS credits each, for a total of 120 ECTS credits for the programme.
  • You enrol on a one-year master’s programme made up of two semesters of study. During each semester, you take one course for 30 ECTS credits, for a total of 60 ECTS credits for the programme.
  • You enrol on a 30-credit course in a subject you’re interested in. You take only that specific course and must turn in a new application if you wish to take additional courses.

Degree programmes usually contain a mix of compulsory, recommended and optional courses.

Academic calendar

The Swedish academic year is divided into two semesters:

  • Autumn semester begins at the end of August and lasts until mid-January, usually with a short break at the end of December.
  • Spring semester runs from mid-January to the beginning of June.

Tina Stafren/imagebank.sweden.se

Course structure

Full-time studies in Sweden correspond approximately to a 40-hour week, though you may only have a few hours of lectures or seminars each week. The rest of your time is spent reading and working on group projects and other assignments.

You’ll often take only one course at a time for a period of several weeks, after which an examination is given directly. After the examination, a new course begins. For instance, during a 20-week semester, you might take four courses in a row for five weeks each. In some programmes, you might instead take several courses at the same time, with an examination at the end of the semester.

The structure of individual courses varies with the subject area. Technical programmes often include a high proportion of classroom and lab hours, whilst courses in the social sciences may involve fewer classroom hours and more independent and group work.

Lectures and examinations

Courses usually include various types of meetings, including lectures, seminars and laboratory sessions with varying group sizes. Seminar groups can be as small as a few students whilst lectures can be up to a few hundred. The aim is to develop critical thinking and collaborative skills, and students are expected to be active participants in all forms of meetings. Required reading and independent work is usually extensive, regardless of your field of study, and students are expected to come well-prepared to class.

Examinations usually take the form of written or oral tests, laboratory work, group work or special projects. Most programmes conclude with a degree thesis or project.

University or university college?

Two slightly different terms are used in Sweden to describe institutions of higher education: university (universitet) and university college (högskola). The main difference is that universities have the right to award PhD degrees while many university colleges don’t. However, some university colleges do offer PhDs.

There is no difference in the bachelor’s or master’s degrees offered by universities and university colleges, and many university colleges are called ‘university’ in English. As an international student, your experience will be similar regardless of whether you choose to study at a university or university college.

 

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