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Third-cycle (PhD) programmes


7.Higher education

7.5 Third-cycle (PhD) programmes

Last update: 27 November 2023

Organisation of Doctoral Studies

Third-cycle education includes courses, private study, research and writing a thesis in close cooperation with a supervisor. Many programmes also have various types of research seminars. The majority of doctoral students have some form of employment at their HEI, which often includes teaching at first and second-cycles (Bachelor’s and Master’s).

Third-cycle education that concludes with a doctoral degree covers 240 credits, the equivalent of four years. A programme that leads to a licentiate degree covers at least 120 credits, equivalent to two years. The actual period of study is the time that is actively spent on third-cycle studies. In 2019, the average actual period of study was 4.2 years for a doctoral degree and 2.8 years for a licentiate degree. The maximum permitted period of study is the total period of study regardless of the level of activity. For those who graduated with a doctoral degree in 2019 it was an average of 10 semesters, equivalent to 5 years. For a licentiate degree it was an average of 8 semesters, or 4 years. The maximum permitted period of study is so much longer because many doctoral students do not study full time. For example, it is common to undertake departmental duties at 20 per cent alongside studying. Study leave due to parental leave, sickness or similar are also reasons for an extended maximum period of study. The median age for a newly-graduated doctor in 2019 was 34.

Admission Requirements

For admittance to third level studies, (degree of Licentiate or degree of Doctor), the requirement is a degree at second level, at least 4 years of studies whereof at least 1 year at second level, corresponding foreign education, or equivalent knowledge. Admission to PhD programmes is handled by each university individually. Universities list PhD positions on their websites, usually along with other academic job vacancies. University websites provide more information about their procedures for applying for PhD studies and to find available positions. Some departments have fixed application dates, while others admit students on an ongoing basis. The general entry requirements for doctoral-level education are:

  1. A completed degree at Master’s (second-cycle) level
  2. At least 240 credits, of which at least 60 are at Master’s level, or
  3. Generally equivalent knowledge acquired by other means, inside or outside Sweden.

In addition to general entry requirements, each HEI may make specific entry requirements. These requirements vary greatly between the subjects and HEIs, and must be necessary for the student to be able to assimilate the knowledge provided. They may demand knowledge gained from higher education or equivalent professional experience, language skills or other demands.

Status of Doctoral Students/Candidates

The doctoral student positions advertised by departments entail an employment. A full employment means a proper salary and full social security if in the case of illness, parental leave or unemployment once the project is finished. 

Supervision Arrangements

Supervision and how the supervisor is appointed can vary greatly between higher education institutions (HEIs) and subjects. According to the Higher Education Ordinance, at least two supervisors must be appointed for each doctoral student, of which one is the principal supervisor. In addition, one or more assistant supervisors may be appointed. There are no rules that stipulate exactly how much supervision a doctoral student is entitled to and some departments have established their own guidelines for the number of supervisory hours. The number of agreed hours should be stated in the individual study plan, so that this can be referred to if the doctoral student feels that he or she is not receiving the agreed help. The supervisor should also:

  • Review the manuscript and other material.
  • Recommend courses and relevant literature.
  • Teach research ethics to the doctoral student.
  • Help to establish contacts with other HEIs in Sweden and abroad.
  • Help the doctoral student to participate in international conferences.
  • Recommend funds from which to apply for grants.

According to the Higher Education Ordinance, a doctoral student has the right to change supervisor. 


According to the Higher Education Ordinance, students must have access to course counseling and careers 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 counselors, to deal with student questions whilst at smaller institutions, there is usually one specific person responsible for study and guidance counseling.

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 counseling.

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.


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). 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 higher education institutions in the Bologna process.

To complete the degree it is necessary to pass all the courses included in the programme and to complete a pass-grade thesis worth at least 120 credits. The thesis must constitute at least half of the credits, 120 credits, but it is up to the department to decide the exact criteria for each PhD programme. The formal requirement for being awarded a doctoral degree is called the public defence of the doctoral thesis. The doctoral student “defends” his or her thesis orally and in public. 


A licentiate degree may be awarded on completion of 120 higher education credits, including a thesis equivalent to a minimum of 60 higher education credits.

A doctorate may be awarded on completion of 240 higher education credits, including a doctoral thesis equivalent to a minimum of 120 higher education credits.

For information on the position of the teaching qualification within the education and degree structure, see 9.1 Initial education for teachers working in early childhood and school education.

The Swedish Higher Education Authority (Universitetskanslersämbetet) manages quality control for higher education and degree authorisation of state universities. It is responsible for the legal oversight of higher education and is responsible for the efficiency review, analysis and statistical monitoring of higher education.

The Swedish Higher Education Authority (Universitetskanslersämbetet

The Swedish University of Agricultural Science (Sveriges Lantbruksuniversitet)

The Swedish National Defence College (Försvarshögskolan)

Organisational Variation

Distance education has a long tradition in Sweden since Sweden is 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 and promote lifelong learning. Technology for this is creating further scope for distance education and has made this a priority development area.