Sweden is a monarchy and the present King, Carl XVI Gustaf, is Head of State. The Head of State is the foremost representative of the Kingdom. The Head of State does not participate in government meetings, but is kept informed on issues of national importance. In accordance with Sweden's representative and parliamentary democracy, the parliament enacts the laws and makes the decisions, which the government and its agencies implement.
Sweden is a representative democracy, which means that all political parties receiving more than four per cent of votes cast in the general election are allocated seats in the parliament. Only Swedish citizens are permitted to vote in the national parliamentary elections. Swedish residents holding a foreign citizenship are permitted to vote in local elections after having lived in Sweden for a certain period of time.
The Swedish parliament (riksdagen) consists of 349 representatives who are elected for a four-year mandate period. The parliament has a determining influence when a new government is to be formed. The task of the speaker, as the foremost representative of the parliament, is to propose a candidate as Prime Minister. The speaker confers with the leaders of the political parties in the parliament and determines who has the best chance of forming a government i.e. the strongest support in the parliament. There are eight political parties represented in the parliament.
The parliament enacts laws and decides on the levels and allocation of the income and expenditure of the state. The government first submits proposals to the parliament in the form of governmental bills. Then the government decides on the rules needed for putting into effect the decisions made by the parliament. In addition, the government in its budget – approved by the parliament earmarks funds for various purposes. It also makes agreements with other states, steers state activities in addition to leading the activities of the administrative authorities, and in certain cases hears appeals against decisions made by the authorities. An important task for the parliament is to ensure that the government and the authorities carry out its decisions.
The government (regeringen) consists of the Prime Minister and appointed ministers. The members of the government and the Prime Minister work to realise a common political programme. Usually, the ministers have been elected to the parliament. If members of the parliament are appointed as ministers, they are substituted for their parliamentary work.
The government has at its disposal a staff of civil servants known as the Government Offices. The staff consists of approximately 5 000 people (the year 2022), including those stationed abroad at embassies, consulates and international organisations, assigned to different ministries. Some 200 people are politicians who form the leadership and the political advisors at each ministry, while the rest of the employees are civil servants. The number of ministries and the focus of their activities change from time to time, mainly as a result of changes in political priorities.
The ministries involved in educational matters are the Ministry of Education and Research, the Ministry of Employment and the Ministry of Enterprise and Innovation. The ministries are in international terms comparatively small. They co-operate to a large extent as preparatory bodies for the government, while the practical implementation of decisions is delegated to the central administrative authorities. In the field of education, there are authorities such as the Swedish National Agency for Education, The Swedish Schools Inspectorate, The National Agency for Special Needs Education and Schools, The Swedish Council for Higher Education and the Swedish Higher Education Authority. One exception, however, is the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which functions both as a part of the Government Office and as the central supervisory authority for Swedish embassies and consulates abroad. For information on ministers involved in education, see section on 2.6 - Administration and Governance at Central and/or Regional Level.
Some of the issue handled by the government are more complicated than others. Some matters may affect the whole of Swedish society for a long time to come, while others may be one of a complex, technical nature. Before certain decisions are taken, the government may choose to appoint a commission of inquiry to examine a particular issue in accordance with guidelines, terms of reference, set out by the government. These commissions are made up of experts, public officials and politicians who are familiar with the matter concerned.
A commission may consist of experts or representatives of different organisations; it may be made up of members of the parliament or a single commissioner with specialist knowledge within the area, and works intensively over a limited period in order to make proposals on how to solve problems in important areas. The government issues directives for the work of each commission. The commission carries out its task and then submits its proposals to the government. Usually, approximately 200 commissions are active at the same time, most of them working within a time frame of up to two years. Each year the government submits to the parliament a report on these commissions stating which are in process and how their work is progressing.
On completion of their work, the committees publish their findings in a final report, sometimes preceded by an interim report. These reports are published in the Swedish Government Official Report series. A committee proposal is first circulated for comment before it is drafted as a government Bill. This gives stakeholders such as government agencies, interest groups and the general public an opportunity to express their views on the matter.
General Responsibility for Education at National Level
The government and parliament have overall responsibility for education in Sweden. Nearly all education come under the auspices of the Ministry of Education and Research, including:
- Preschool (förskola)
- The preschool class (förskoleklass)
- The compulsory school (grundskola)
- The Sami school (sameskola)
- Compulsory school for pupils with learning disabilities (grundsärskola)
- The special school (specialskola)
- The upper secondary school (gymnasieskola)
- Upper secondary school for pupils with learning disabilities (gymnasiesärskola)
- Municipal adult education (kommunal vuxenutbildning, Komvux)
- Special education for adults (särskild utbildning för vuxna, särvux)
- Swedish tuition for immigrants (svenskundervisning för invandrare, sfi)
- Higher education and research (högskolan)
The Swedish University of Agricultural Science comes under the Ministry of Agriculture. Labour market training comes under the Ministry of Employment. The Ministry of Defense is responsible for training of officers and the Ministry of Justice for training for the police force.
Central Administrative Authorities
The practical implementation of decisions by the government and the parliament is delegated to the central administrative agencies, which are independent of the ministries but funded by them. These agencies make their own decisions in accordance with the yearly guidelines laid down by the government. These guidelines come as general instructions to the authority, in the annual government budget appropriation document, and as special tasks. The school system is goal-based with a high degree of local responsibility. The main responsibility for education lies with the municipalities and the authorities responsible for grant-aided independent schools. Main agencies involved in educational matters are:
The Swedish National Agency for Education (Skolverket) is the central administrative authority for the Swedish public school system for children, young people and adults, as well as for pre-school and school-age childcare. It is the task of the agency to work actively for the achievement of the goals that are drawn up at different levels within the school system, that is, in the school curriculum, course syllabus, etc. The agency steers, supports, follows up and evaluates the work and the result of municipalities and schools, with the purpose of improving quality ensuring that all pupils have access to equal education. The Swedish National Agency for Education is also responsible for distributing and evaluating government grants for the achievement of goal fulfillment, and for guaranteeing quality in the different activities. The agency support preschools and schools in their development, and the support provided shall be given national priority.
The Swedish Schools Inspectorate (Skolinspektionen) ensures that local authorities and independent schools follow existing laws and regulations. It is the central agency responsible for preschool, the welfare of schoolchildren, schools management and adult education. The aim of the agency is to ensure the equal right of all children to a good education, in a safe environment. The Swedish Schools Inspectorate conducts regular supervision of all schools. It is also responsible for granting licenses to new independent schools. Furthermore, it decides on applications for entitlement to subsidies and also monitors national supervision of upper secondary schools.
The Swedish Council for Higher Education (Universitets- och högskolerådet) is a Swedish government agency with many different tasks in the education sector, including:
- Coordinating admissions to higher education.
- Managing the Swedish Scholastic Aptitude Test.
- Providing support and information to everyone who wants to study in higher education.
- Widening participation and preventing discrimination in higher education.
- Promotion, support and analysis within the higher education sector.
- Producing regulations.
- Recognising foreign qualifications.
- Facilitating international exchange and training across the entire educational spectrum.
- Managing and developing IT systems and electronic services for the education sector.
The Swedish Higher Education Authority (Universitetskanslersämbetet) is a government agency that evaluates the programmes offered by higher education institutions to monitor their quality. The authority assess all programmes that lead to the award of a general or professional qualification as well as third-cycle programmes. The work also includes the review of the degree-awarding powers of the higher education institutions. The authority also appraises applications for entitlement to award qualifications by assessing whether or not programmes meet the quality requirements. The Swedish Higher Education Authority has three main areas of responsibility:
- Quality assurance of higher education and appraisal of the degree-awarding powers of public-sector higher education institutions.
- Legal supervision of higher education.
- Monitoring efficiency, follow-up and horizon scanning as well as responsibility for statistics in the higher education sector.
There are three kinds of courts in Sweden: the general courts, which comprise district courts, courts of appeal and the Supreme Court; the general administrative courts, that is, administartive courts, administrative courts of appeal and the Supreme Administrative Court; and also the special courts, for example the Labour Court and the Market Court. The courts have an independent status within the Swedish constitution. Neither the parliament nor any other authority may decide how a court should adjudicate in a particular case. For more information see The Swedish Courts.
Sweden is divided into counties (län). The tasks of the county councils (landsting) are to manage issues of common concern in areas such as health and health care, education, social care as well as agriculture and industrial development. County council councilors are elected in a general election every fourth year according to the same principles that apply to municipal elections. The municipalities and county councils levy taxes on the inhabitants to fulfill their commitments. The highest decision making bodies on the regional level are the boards of the county councils.
Sweden consists of 290 municipalities (kommuner). Each municipality is a geographically limited administrative unit or region. The highest decision making bodies on the local level are the local municipal councils. Municipal self-determination is an important part of the Swedish democratic system and is regulated under the Municipal Act. The main responsibilities locally in the educational area are pre-school (förskola) activities, provision of child care for school age children, pre school class (förskoleklass), compulsory school (grundskola), compulsory school for pupils with learning disabilities (grundsärskola), upper secondary school (gymnasieskola), upper secondary school for pupils with learning disabilities (gymnasiesärskola), municipal adult education (kommunal vuxenutbildning, Komvux), special education for adults (särskild utbildning för vuxna, särvux) and Swedish tuition for immigrants (svenskundervisning för invandrare, sfi). Municipalities are also resonsible for social services (health care for children and young persons, social assistance, care and support of the elderly etc.), environmental and health protection, equipment and maintenance of streets, roads, parks, town planning and construction, as well as culture and sports. Elections to local municipal councils are held every fourth year, at the same time as the general election. Entitled to vote are the residents of a municipality, including foreign citizens after residency for three consecutive years. Citizens of EU member countries, as well as those of Iceland and Norway, are also entitled to vote providing they are registered in Sweden. The local municipal council chooses a municipal board as well as other decision-making bodies, which together are responsible for the administration and implementation of decisions made by the municipal council. The municipal board leads and co-ordinates the administrative work, whilst the different bodies and boards are responsible for their own areas of activity.