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EACEA National Policies Platform:Eurydice


7.2.First-cycle programmes


Last update: 30 January 2024

Branches of Study

All higher education is pursued in courses and programmes. The courses can be taken independently or as part of a study programme to form degrees. The scale of a course or study programme is measured in higher education credits (högskolepoäng). Full-time studies during one term equals 30 higher education credits, equal to 30 ECTS. Higher education institutions decide about the organisation of their courses.

The degree descriptions are decided upon by the government (regeringen) in line with the overarching Qualifications Framework of the European Higher Education Area and laid down in the Higher Education Ordinance (högskoleförordningen), the Ordinance for the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences and in the Ordinance for the Swedish Defence University. 

The length of study for a Degree of Bachelor is three years and for a Higher Education Diploma it is two years.

Distance Education

Distance education has a long tradition in Sweden, as a sparsely populated but large country. Most higher education institutions offer distance courses of varying scope and orientation. The courses are designed to meet the educational needs of the individual as well as those of society, their purpose is to provide study opportunities regardless of place of residence and work or family circumstances. Thus, distance education is a way to enable studies later in life, promote lifelong learning and also to facilitate all higher education during the pandemic period. Technology for this is creating further scope for distance education and has made this a priority development area.

Admission Requirements

To be admitted to a course or a study programme, the applicant must fulfil the general entry requirements as well as any specific entry requirements prescribed by the higher education institution. Applications to the different courses and programmes are addressed to the Swedish Council for Higher Education (Universitets- och högskolerådet), which handles the admission process for most higher education institutions. For admission to a university or university college that does not have this agreement with the Swedish Council for Higher Education, applications are addressed directly to the university or university college.

Each higher education institution determines the number of study places to be provided in different subjects. Indirectly, the government (regeringen) determines the number of study places by setting a ceiling on the total allocation of state funds based on the number of students. If the ceiling is exceeded, the institution will not receive funds for all their students. The government also determines the goals for the number of degrees in a limited number of programmes.

Higher education institutions shall work actively to broaden student recruitment to include students from under-represented groups. They are urged to draw up local action plans with measurable goals for this.

Advanced courses in mathematics and languages give credit increments when rating merits for admission to higher education. The subjects given credit increments were introduced in the autumn of 2010. The purpose is to encourage upper secondary pupils to take advanced courses in mathematics and languages. The selections groups also changed in 2010 to make it less advantageous to retake upper secondary courses in order to achieve a higher grade and to add courses after a completed upper secondary education in order to fulfil special entry requirements.

Basic Eligibility Requirements

To be eligible for higher education a student must have one of the qualifications below:

  • An upper secondary higher education preparatory diploma (högskoleförberedande examen), obtained in upper secondary education or formal adult education.
  • An upper secondary vocational diploma (yrkesexamen), provided that specific higher education preparatory courses are taken, either as part of the curriculum or as complementary courses.
  • Older upper secondary qualifications fulfilling the general entry requirements pursuant older regulations.
  • Education from Folk high school (folkhögskola) corresponding to the requirements upper secondary education. 

Eligibility for Foreign Students

Applicants from Denmark, Finland, Iceland or Norway who are eligible for higher education in their respective country are eligible for higher education in Sweden. Applicants whose native language is not Swedish, Danish, Faroese, Icelandic or Norwegian need to have an earlier education corresponding to Swedish upper secondary education as well as adequate command of Swedish and English. For applicants who received their final school grades after 31 December 2009 there is an additional mathematics requirement.

Procedure for Students Lacking Formal Qualifications

Higher education institutions are free to admit applicants without formal requirements or standard qualifications, but who are recognised by the institution as having the aptitude to benefit from a higher education course/programme through prior learning in Swedish or foreign education, practical experience or other circumstances. The recognition of non-formal or informal learning for admission to higher education is decided locally by higher education institutions.

In 2022 new regulations concerning general entry requirements will come into effect. According to the new regulations a person meets the general entry requirements if he or she: 

  1. has knowledge in Swedish and English
  2. has a scholarly approach,
  3. has the ability to examine issues from multiple perspectives,
  4. has problem-solving abilities,
  5. has the ability to draw conclusions and motivate them, and
  6. has other competences that are necessary to benefit from such education. 

An applicant is considered as possessing the necessary competences pursuant to items 1-6 if the applicant fulfils the requirements described above.

Specific Eligibility Requirements

Several programmes have field-specific entry requirements (områdesbehörighet). The Swedish Council for Higher Education (Universitets- och högskolerådet) set out field-specific requirements for programmes leading to a professional degree while each institution is able to choose which field-specific requirements to use for programmes not leading to a professional degree. The specific requirements can include courses from national programmes in upper secondary school or equivalent knowledge from one or more courses in higher education or other experiences considered important.

The field specific requirements will cease to apply in 2022 and will be replaced by special entry requirements. The Swedish Council for Higher Education (Universitets- och högskolerådet) sets out specific entry requirements, comprising of upper secondary school courses, for programmes leading to a professional degree as well as upper secondary school courses each institution is able to choose among as specific entry requirements to use for programmes not leading to a professional degree. 

In 2022 a special entry requirement comprising of suitability will apply for programs starting in the first cycle and leading to the award of a qualification as a preschool teacher, primary teacher, secondary or upper-secondary school teacher. Each institution offering these programs can choose to apply this requirement in addition to the special entry requirements the Swedish Higher Education Council has laid out. The demands of suitability must relate to the applicant’s ability to assimilate the programme components that are directly linked to future professional practice as a preschool teacher or teacher.

Selection Procedure

If there are more applicants than places, the following selection procedures are applied:

  • Minimum 1/3 should be admitted on upper-secondary grades
  • Minimum 1/3 should be admitted on the results of the Swedish Scholastic Aptitude Test (Högskoleprovet)
  • Maximum 1/3 should be admitted on other criteria, for instance through interviews or portfolios, decided locally by the higher education institutions


There is no common curriculum for higher education courses or programmes. The Government has laid down which degrees may be awarded and their objectives in Annex 2 to Higher Education Ordinance, the System of Qualifications (Examensordningen). It is up to each institution to decide how to reach the goals.

For the courses in first and second cycles there must be a course syllabus and for a study programme a programme syllabus. The course syllabus must state the title of the course, the number of higher education credits, its level, aims, main content and course literature. In addition, the course syllabus must state the requirements regarding specific previous knowledge and other conditions for admission, the means by which students' performance is assessed, if there is a limitation to the number of times a student may retake a test to achieve a passing grade, and the grades used, as well as any subsections in the course. The programme syllabus states the courses covered by the study programme, the main structure of the programme and any requirements regarding specific previous knowledge.

The teaching language is usually Swedish but in many subjects the course literature is in English and to some extent in other languages. Efforts to make higher education more international has led to increased student exchange and thereby to an increasing number of courses and programmes given in English.

Language programmes are offered in a number of European and non-European languages. Sweden's five minority languages (Finnish, Sami, Romani Chib, Meänkieli and Yiddish) have special status.

Teaching Methods

Teachers decide on methods as well as material. Students normally pay for books and reading material whereas the institution provides laboratory equipment etc. Students are expected to participate actively in group and laboratory work as well as in seminars. Attendance and participation may be monitored. There may be various forms of continual assessment of courses, for example through oral examinations, group presentations or seminars. ICT and computers are important aids in all higher education.

The institutions themselves determine how courses are to be organised. There are courses structured by discipline and courses of an inter-disciplinary nature. Instruction may be provided in alternative ways, for example through problem-based learning (problembaserat lärande, pbl) where groups of students from different programmes (e.g. medicine, health sciences and physiotherapy) solve complex tasks together. In some education programmes (e.g. teacher education and nursing) some of the education takes place at a workplace. A number of institutions of higher education have close co-operation with companies and industries in the region; degree work may be carried out in companies and theoretical studies can be mixed with practice.

The language of instruction is usually Swedish, but a large part of the course literature is in English, and therefore a good knowledge of both Swedish and English is essential, and a basic requirement for eligibility to higher education.

Progression of Students

Regulations regarding retaking of courses are determined locally at every higher education institution. A student who has failed a course is entitled to retake it at least five times according to the Higher Education Ordinance (högskoleförordningen). There is no maximum time in which the students have to finish their courses; however, student aid may be affected if courses are not finished within the stipulated time. On failing a course, progression can be affected in that eligibility for a proceeding course may be based on the course failed.


According to the Higher Education Ordinance (högskoleförordningen), students must have access to course counselling and career guidance. Higher education institutions must ensure that prospective students are able to obtain the information they need about the institution. Information on admission, rules for application, eligibility and selection must be available. At the larger institutions there are normally special units, as well as study counsellors, to deal with student questions whilst at smaller institutions, there is usually one specific person responsible for study and guidance counselling.

The higher education institutions are obliged to plan and dimension the education according to the demands of the labour market.

There is no state-regulated link between higher education institutions and employers, however labour market days are organised by institutions of higher education at least once a year. Here the students describe their education and companies present themselves. The labour market days often involve cooperation between student organisations and the institution’s unit for student questions and counselling.

The education is also linked to working life and given an external perspective through guest lectures by visiting professors and consulting teachers, as well as by representatives from companies and other organisations. These visits provide possibilities to integrate an external perspective into the teaching of both vocational and theoretical programmes.

Many courses include a compulsory period of practical experience at a relevant workplace, e.g. engineering, teaching, public administration and health science programmes.

Student Assessment

There is some form of assessment at the end of every course. This may take the form of a written or oral examination or, for example, a group presentation at a seminar. There may be various forms of continual assessment. Attendance and participation, for example in seminars, may be monitored. All general degrees contain a degree project corresponding to one term or a half term’s studies that is to be carried out individually or in a small group. A specially appointed examiner determines degree project grades. There is no final examination; all grades attained for the different courses are included in the final degree certificate.

The normal categories used in grading are fail (Icke Godkänd, IG), pass (Godkänd, G) or pass with distinction (Väl Godkänd, VG). But many diffent grading scales still exists even within the same institutions. However, an increasing number are adopting the ECTS scale, a seven-tier grading system. The introduction of the new assessment scale is one step in the internationalisation of higher education institutions in the Bologna process.


The Government defines the degrees that may be awarded within the first, second and third cycle in the System of Qualifications (Examensordningen) in the Annex 2 to the Higher Education Ordinance. The provisions state the scope and goals of each degree as well as other requirements for receiving certain degrees. A degree certificate includes results from all courses included in the course of study with numerical and qualitative grades. There is no final examination. The school head of the higher education institution signs the certificate.

A Degree of Bachelor of Arts, Science, Social Sciences and artistic fields may be awarded on completion of 180 higher education credits (3 years full-time studies), including 90 credits in advanced studies in the main field, and an independent project equivalent to 15 credits. There are also professional degrees (2-3 years full-time studies) and the Higher Education Diploma (2 years full-time studies) all including an independent project.