In Sweden, overall responsibility for higher education and research rests with the parliament and the government. They decide on the regulations that apply to the higher-education area. The Swedish Government is responsible for:
- Granting university status
- Enacting legislation regulating the higher education sector
- Funding higher education courses and study programmes
- Funding a high proportion of research
- Appointing vice-chancellors of higher education institutions
- Regulating the agencies involved in the higher education sector
Higher Education Institutions
Higher Education Institutions or HEIs such as universities(universitet) and university colleges (högskola) are responsible for the quality of its own activities. The Higher Education Act (Högskolelagen) states that quality development is a joint responsibility for staff and students. Students are given the opportunity to take responsibility for their education, both in terms of content and organisation. Students, teachers, researchers and others in the academic world should be involved in the development and renewal of subject knowledge, pedagogical approaches, educational programmes and courses and important support functions (library, premises, and equipment). HEIs enjoy a great deal of freedom within the framework of the statutes, ordinances and regulations laid down by the government. HEIs can make decisions about the following:
- Organisation of the higher education institution into units and decision-making bodies
- Allocation of government funding within the organisation
- Quality assurance procedures
- Content and design of courses and study programmes
- Number of available places on courses and study programmes
- Admission and enrolment procedures
- New professorships
- Research focus
- Contract education
The self-governing and independent higher education institutions have greater freedom with regard to the governance and management of their affairs.
The Swedish Higher Education Authority and the Swedish Council for Higher Education
From January 1, 2013, the Swedish National Agency for Higher Education (Högskoleverket) ceased to exist as did The Swedish Agency for Higher Education Services (Verket för högskoleservice) and the International Programme Office for Education and Training (Internationella programkontoret). Their operations have been transferred to two new public authorities: the Swedish Higher Education Authority (Universitetskanslersämbetet) and the Swedish Council for Higher Education (Universitets- och högskolerådet). This is the distribution of responsibilities across the new authorities:
The Swedish council for higher education (Universitets- och högskolerådet)
- Providing information about higher education
- Administering admission to study programmes on behalf of higher education institutions
- Recognising qualifications from abroad
- Promoting participation in international collaboration (e.g., national agency for Erasmus+)
The Swedish Higher Education Authority (Universitetskanslersämbetet)
- Reviewing the quality of higher education
- Granting degree awarding powers
- Ensuring higher education institutions comply with relevant legislation and regulations
- Monitoring how efficiently the higher education institutions operate
- Responsibility for official statistics on higher education in Sweden
- Monitoring trends and developments in higher education
- Encouraging the professional development of administrators in higher education
The Swedish Higher Education Authority is accountable to the Ministry of Education and Research(Utbildningsdepartementet), and exercises supervision of the higher education institutions, which means ensuring their compliance with the statutes and regulations that apply to higher education. The authority also reviews the quality of higher education and the efficiency and effectiveness of the use of resources and public funding at the Higher education institutions. The objectives of the Swedish Higher Education Authority (Universitetskanslersämbetet) reviews are partly to assess the performance of the study programmes and partly to contribute to the Higher education institutions work with quality improvements in higher education.
The overall shared responsibility of higher education institutions and the Swedish Higher Education Authority (Universitetskanslersämbetet) has been a core principle of the work with the government assignment to develop a new system for quality assurance in higher education. Focus has been to create a link between the reviews and the quality assurance processes at the Higher education institutions, while also considering how the reviews can contribute to further improving this work.
Approaches and Methods for Quality Assurance
The Swedish Higher Education Authority (Universitetskanslersämbetet) recieved a government assignment to develop and implement a new national system for quality assurance of higher education by October 2016. In autumn 2016, pilot studies began to test both a new methodology for the institutional reviews and the revised methodology for the programme evaluations. After the pilot studies were completed, the methodologies were adjusted. The Swedish Higher Education Authority has formulated a six-year plan that started in January 2017 and includes reviews within four components. The number of reviews conducted within the framework of each component will vary from year to year. All universities and university colleges will have their internal quality assurance work and processes reviewed until 2022.
The new quality assurance system for higher education 2016–2022
The following section describes the approaches and methods for quality assurance in higher education according to the new quality assurance system for higher education 2016–2022.
The quality assurance system consists of the following four components:
Appraisal of applications for degree-awarding powers
Institutional reviews of the higher education Institutions’ quality assurance processes
The model also consists of four aspect areas and three perspectives, which together take into account applicable Swedish laws and ordinances, and the standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance in the European Higher Education Area. The aspect areas and perspectives form a common basis for the reviews within the four components. The relevant aspect areas to be assessed vary between the different components because they have different purposes and the detailed aspects and the assessment criteria may vary in the different components.
The four aspect areas are:
Governance and organisation
Environment, resources and area
Design, teaching/learning and outcomes
Follow-up, actions and feedback.
The reviews are based on aspects developed in dialogue with representatives from higher education institutions such as teachers, students, employers and the labour market and are defined based on what part of the higher education institutions’ activities they cover.
The three perspectives are:
Student and doctoral student perspective
Working life perspective
Gender equality perspective.
The aspect areas and perspectives form a common basis for reviews within the four components.
Description of the components of the new quality assurance system
Reviews of the higher education institutions’ quality assurance processes include all aspect areas, and the reviews’ focus is on how well the higher education institutions’ quality assurance processes, including monitoring, action and feedback processes, help to develop and ensure the quality of the courses and programmes. Appraisal of degree-awarding powers and programme evaluations include the aspect areas ‘environment, resources and area’, ‘design, teaching/ learning and outcomes’ and ‘follow-up, actions and feedback’. Programme evaluations focus on results and on how the programme is followed up and developed while the appraisal of degree-awarding powers focuses on prerequisites and processes. The focus of the thematic evaluations will vary depending on the theme being evaluated. The reviews are based on peer review. An independent external assessment panel performs the review. The panel normally consists of external experts, student representatives and employer and labour market representatives who play equally valuable roles.
Appraisal of applications for degree-awarding powers
Institutional reviews of the higher education Institutions’ quality assurance processes
1. Appraisal of applications for degree-awarding powers
The focus of the review of degree-awarding powers is on whether students are provided the necessary conditions to achieve the objectives required for the specific degree. The aspects and assessment criteria have been developed to harmonise with the other components. Since the working life, student and doctoral student, and gender equality perspectives are emphasised in every review, these perspectives are also highlighted within the framework for appraising of degree-awarding power applications. The higher education institutions are asked to describe how they systematically ensure and follow-up that they meet the assessment criteria for the different aspects and perspectives.
The reviews are based on the higher education institutions application and interviews with programme representatives. All assessment material for the review is to be weighed together.
1. Higher education institutions applications. Applications for degree-awarding powers are submitted to the Swedish Higher Education Authority (Universitetskanslersämbetet). Independent higher education providers, the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences and the Swedish Defence University
2. Interviews. In addition to the written application interviews are conducted with programme representatives. Interviews with students are conducted if the programme is already being offered at a closely-related degree level or within a field or subject that can be considered closely related to the degree being applied for.
The assessment panel’s task is to report whether the programme fulfils the assessment criteria for the reviewed aspect areas and perspectives. It does this based on the application, interviews and any supplemental information. In the case of a negative report, the assessment panel must clearly present what is judged to be inadequate. In its report, the panel recommends whether to grant or deny the application. The Swedish Higher Education Authority bases its decision on this report and before the final decision, the report will be sent to the higher education institution for review.
All aspect areas and perspectives must be judged as satisfactory for the application to be granted. In cases of a smaller but well-defined issue, where measures to remedy the issue are deemed within reach the review period can be extended. The deadline to submit additional information is six months.
The Swedish Higher Education Authority makes decisions on degree-awarding authorisation for state higher education institutions, except for the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences and the Swedish Defence University that submit their applications to the Government, which then normally sends the application to The Swedish Higher Education Authority for review and report.
The Swedish Higher Education Authority (Universitetskanslersämbetet) follows up all components of reviews regardless of the results.
2. Institutional reviews of the higher education institutions’ quality assurance processes
The institutional reviews verify that the higher education institutions ensure that the courses and programmes at all levels comply with the Higher Education Act, the Higher Education Ordinance, the System of Qualifications and ESG. The reviews focus on how well the higher education institutions’ quality assurance processes, follow-up, actions and feedback procedures help to systematically enhance and ensure the quality of the courses and programmes and help to enhance the higher education institutions’ quality. The reviews also contribute to improving the higher education institutions’ quality since the assessors provide feedback in their reports on both identified good examples and areas in need of improvement. The Swedish Higher Education Authority (Universitetskanslersämbetet) is also responsible for ensuring that all the courses and programmes are encompassed by these processes. This is done partly by evaluating a selection of programmes and partly by the higher education institutions having responsibility for quality assuring their own courses and programmes and that The Swedish Higher Education Authority monitoring that this has been carried out.
The basis for the review consists of a self-evaluation by the higher education institutions, a student report, interviews, site visits, audit trails and other information. All assessment material for the review is to be weighed together. The Swedish Higher Education Authority decides whether a higher education institutions quality assurance processes are approved or under review. The assessment panel’s judgment on whether the higher education institution meets the assessment criteria for the reviewed aspect areas and perspectives results in a report that serves as the basis for the Swedish Higher Education Authority’s decision. Before the final decision, the panel’s preliminary judgement will be sent to the higher education institution for review.
The overall assessment of the higher education institutions quality assurance work is given on a three-grade scale
- Approved quality assurance work
The higher education institutions quality assurance work is considered to be well described, well-argued and effective in practice. It is systematic and efficient at all levels of the higher education institution, from management level to institutional level. All assessment areas are judged to be satisfactory.
- Approved quality assurance work with reservation
The H higher education institutions quality assurance work is considered to be well described, well argued and effective in practice. The decision will show which assessment areas are unsatisfactory and need to be addressed.
- Contested quality assurance work
The higher education institutions quality assurance work is assessed to show several significant deficiencies as to how it is described, argued and works in practice.
Higher education institutions that receive approved quality assurance work are followed up through dialogue meetings, surveys and conferences. This is done to ensure quality in the long perspective.
Higher education institutions that receive approved quality assurance work with reservation are followed up in the assessment areas that were unsatisfactory. The higher education institution has a year to return with an account of the measures taken.
After two years the higher education institutions that have received contested quality assurance work will have a new full review carried out, following which will assess all areas
3. Programme evaluations
The programme evaluations are based on the requirements in the Higher Education Act, the Higher Education Ordinance, the System of Qualifications and the ESG. Programme evaluations review conditions and results and that the programme meets the requirements in applicable laws and ordinances. The reviews focus on how well the follow-up, actions and feedback processes contribute to ensuring and enhancing quality in the reviewed programmes. The programme evaluations also focus on how the programmes ensure that students are given opportunities to achieve the qualitative targets of the system of Qualifications, and how the higher education institutions ensure that students have achieved the qualification objectives upon graduation.
All programmes will go through a quality review. This is done partly through the higher education institutions having responsibility for the quality assurance of their own programmes and partly by the Swedish Higher Education Authority (Universitetskanslersämbetet) evaluating a selection of study programmes at the first-, second- and third-cycle levels. This selection can either be done by reviewing all programmes at individual institutions or by reviewing the same programmes at all the reviewed higher education institutions to provide a national overview of the quality of a particular programme. The selection of programmes to be included in the reviews is based on several different criteria:
- A selection of the programmes that were not covered by the 2011–2014 evaluation system should be evaluated.
- A national overview of the quality of some professional qualifications is needed. This applies primarily to regulated professional qualifications.
- If an higher education institutions’ quality assurance processes do not meet the criteria in the review, additional programmes may be selected for evaluation.
- The Swedish Higher Education Authority can initiate an evaluation if indications point to a risk that individual programmes are not fulfilling the quality requirements for the programme.
Assessment material consists of the higher education institutions’ self-evaluation with annexes, interviews with students and representatives of the reviewed programme, and other material that the Swedish Higher Education Authority produces. Randomly selected degree projects also serve as data for the programme evaluations at first- and second-cycle levels. The assessment panel presents a report which serves as feedback to the higher education institution on quality, development possibilities and good examples. Before the final decision, the report will be sent to the higher education institution for review and the final report will then be the basis for the Swedish Higher Education Authority’s decision.
The overall rating is given on a two-point scale. On the basis of the assessor panel’s report, the Swedish Higher Education Authority decides if the programme maintains high quality or if the programme is under review. If a programme is under review, this means that the Swedish Higher Education Authority is also questioning the degree-awarding powers of the higher education institution when it comes to the qualification and subject field in question.
Higher education institutions with programmes under review will have one year to address the identified issues and submit an action report to the Swedish Higher Education Authority. To review the HEI’s report of measures taken, a panel of assessors is appointed. Supported by the assessor panel’s report, the Swedish Higher Education Authority decides if the programme maintains high quality or if degree-awarding powers are to be revoked.
4. Thematic evaluations
The purpose of thematic evaluations is to provide a better understanding and national comparisons of how various higher education institutions work and the achieved results in the examined theme. Thematic evaluations are based on tasks of importance for the quality in higher education and is assigned to higher education institutions by legislation and ordinances. Themes that can be evaluated include for example widening participation, internationalisation and gender equality. Other relevant themes for evaluation are the usefulness of courses and programmes and preparation for careers, dimensioning of higher education places and sustainable development. Information obtained through The Swedish Higher Education Authority (Universitetskanslersämbetet) different activities, analyses and assignments can also be used for thematic evaluations.
The methodology applied to the thematic evaluations is developed and adapted to the relevant theme, but it should follow the methods used for the other components whenever possible. The Swedish Higher Education Authority (Universitetskanslersämbetet) notifies higher education institutions about the relevant methodology before beginning a thematic evaluation.
International cooperation on the evaluation of higher education
The Swedish Higher Education Authority (Universitetskanslersämbetet) has during many years played an active role in international cooperation on the evaluation of higher education. Currently cooperation mainly takes place within the framework of ENQA (The European Association for Quality Assurance in Higher Education), the Nordic NOQA network (Nordic Quality Assurance Network in Higher Education) and INQAAHE (International Network for Quality Assurance Agencies in Higher Education). One of the recent projects within the Nordic network NOQA deals with effect studies of quality assurance systems.
With the development and implementation of the new quality assurance system, focus has been to consider applicable laws and ordinances but also the agreements that Sweden has signed with other countries in Europe under the Bologna Process. The Swedish Higher Education Authority (Universitetskanslersämbetet) reviews that are based on the new quality assurance system have international legitimacy and contribute to a greater internationalisation of Swedish higher education. The standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance in the European Higher Education Area (ESG) have been central in the development of the new quality assurance system of higher education. The quality assurance processes of both higher education institutions and the Swedish Higher Education Authority (Universitetskanslersämbetet) builds on ESG as it effects the membership in ENQA (The European Association for Quality Assurance in Higher Education). The former Swedish National Agency for Higher Education (now the The Swedish Higher Education Authority (Universitetskanslersämbetet) ) was previously a member but lost its membership in 2012 when a review showed that the Agency did not meet ESG standards. With the implementation of the new quality assurance system Sweden has initiated the process of working to apply for a new membership in ENQA.
The Swedish Higher Education Authority (Universitetskanslersämbetet)