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Second-cycle programmes


7.Higher education

7.3 Second-cycle programmes

Last update: 30 January 2024

Branches of Study

Legislation for a three cycle structure of higher education applies since 2007. The former degree system has been reformed and structured to fit the three cycle structure, which is now the only structure for all higher education institutions. 

All higher education is pursued in courses and programmes. The courses can be taken independently or as part of a study program to form degrees. The scale of a course or study programme is measured in 'higher education credits'. Full-time studies during one term, equals 30 higher education credits equal to 60 ECTS. HEI:s decide about the organisation of their courses.

The degree descriptions are decided upon by the Government in line with the overarching Qualifications Framework of the European higher education Area (QF-EHEA). A description of the different degrees, their scope and the learning outcomes expected are found in the Higher Education Ordinance (Högskoleförordningen, SFS 1993:100)(inofficial English translation), in the ordinance for The Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (inofficial English translation), and in the ordinance for the Swedish National Defence University (inofficial English translation).

Admission Requirements

For programmes not intended for new entrants to higher education – such as second level education - , the institutes themselves determine what selection criteria should be used. For admittance to second level studies, the applicant must have completed a first degree of at least 180 higher education credits, or have equivalent qualifications. Applicants to professional programmes covering the first and second cycle must fulfill the entry requirements for new entrants to higher education.

The Swedish Council for Higher Education (Universitets- och högskolerådet)  


There is no common minimum curriculum for HE courses or programmes. In the System of Qualifications (in the Annex 2 to the Higher Education Ordinance) the Government has laid down which degrees may be awarded and their objectives. It is up to each institution to decide how to reach the goals. The organisation of teaching is determined locally within the institution. Day and evening classes can be offered, the later generally for part-time studies.

For courses in first and second cycle 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 or 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 have special status.

Swedish Higher Education Authority (Universitetskanslersämbetet)

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. 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.

Instruction is also provided in alternative ways for example through problem-based learning problembaserad inlärning (pbl) where groups of students from different programmes e.g. medicine, health sciences and physiotherapy solve complex tasks together.

Progression of Students

Regulations regarding retaking of courses are determined locally at every HEI. A student who has failed a course is entitled to retake it at least five times according to the Higher Education Ordinance. There is no maximum time in which the students have to finish their courses; however student aid and grades 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.

The higher education ordinance (Högskoleförordningen SFS 1993:100)


According to the Higher Education Ordinance, students must have access to course counselors and careers guidance. HEI:smust ensure that prospective students are able to obtain the information they need about the HEI. Information on admission, rules for application, eligibility and selection must be available. At the larger HEI:s there are normally special units to deal with student questions as well as study counselors, whilst at smaller university colleges there is usually one specific person responsibley for study and guidance counseling.

The HEI:s 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. Often these involve cooperation between student organisations and the institution’s unit for student questions and counseling. Here the students describe their education and companies present themselves. The education at HEI:s is linked to working life and given an external perspective through lectures by visiting professors and consulting teachers. These visits provide possibilities to integrate an external perspective into the teaching of both vocational and theoretical programmes.

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

The higher education ordinance (Högskoleförordningen SFS 1993:100)

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 dissertation corresponding to one term or half term’s studies, that is to be carried out individually or in a small group. A specially appointed examiner determines dissertation 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, I), pass (godkänd, G) or pass with distinction (väl godkänd, VG), or a scale from one to five where five is the highest grade. However, a higher education institution may decide its own grading system and 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 HEI:s in the Bologna process.


Students who fulfill the requirements for a degree receive the relevant certificate by the HEI. A certificate may also be obtained for a single passed course.

  • A one-year Master's degree in the arts, sciences, social sciences or artistic fields may, on completion, be awarded for 60 higher education credits, including 30 credits for advanced study in the main field, and an independent project equivalent to 15 credits.
  • A two-year Master's degree in the arts, sciences, social sciences or artistic fields may, on completion be awarded fo 120 higher education credits, including 60 credits for advanced study in the main field, and an independent project equivalent to 30 credits, or two 15-credit projects.
  • A professional Master's degree may be awarded on completion of between 240 and 330 higher education credits depending on the professional area, including an independent project equivalent to 30 credits, or two 15-credit projects.
  • A professional graduate diploma may be awarded on completion of between 60 and 90 higher education credits, including an independent project.
  • First level or second level qualifications: Degree of Bachelor/Master of Education (Lärarexamen)
  • The Master's degree is the equivalent of two years full-time studies and closely related to education at third level.
  • Third level (120-240 higher education credits).

Swedish Higher Education Authority (Universitetskanslersämbetet)

The Swedish University of Agricultural Science (Sveriges Lantbruksuniversitet)

The Swedish Defence University (Försvarshögskolan)

The higher education ordinance (Högskoleförordningen SFS 1993:100)