Swedish Higher Education: Caught between Offering High-Quality Education or Education for the Masses?

Douglas Brommesson Sofia Nordmark Jörgen Ödalen

Swedish Higher Education – Caught between Offering High-Quality Education or Education for the Masses, english summary 41.6 KB PDF

The number of students at Swedish higher education institutions (HEIs) has increased drastically since the mid-1990s. Today, approximately one in three of each cohort goes on to study at an HEI. More students mean greater variety in terms of the backgrounds and abilities of these students, which, in turn, creates challenges for the teaching staff. The question is whether Swedish HEIs are able to maintain a high-quality education. Does the situation differ between universities? Between disciplines? These are some of the issues raised in the report Swedish Higher Education: Caught between Offering High-Quality Education or Education for the Masses?


  • There is significant variation between HEIs in terms of both the amount of teaching a lecturer must perform each year as well as how much time a lecturer is able to devote to research, thus subsequently also the level of research-related teaching that the HEIs are able to offer.
  • It is not possible to see a clear pattern in terms of which types of HEIs offer better or worse conditions for teaching, as there are both older and newer HEIs at both the top and the bottom of the list.
  • Interviews with directors of studies show that strategies used to manage the challenges facing HEIs include revising the content of education and simplifying the ways in which teaching and examinations are carried out. Teachers revise the number of teaching hours, their content and form and/or work in their spare time or the time allocated to research to try to maintain a high-quality education. However, it turns out that teachers feel inadequate as they know what is needed to offer high-quality education but feel that they lack the ability to deliver this.
  • Differences exist between older and newer HEIs in terms of the students’ backgrounds and abilities, as older universities generally exhibit a high proportion of students with high admission scores and whose families have more of an academic background.
  • Joint strategies at the institutional level exist to a limited extent and then in the form of routines and collegial discussions on priorities and solutions to manage changing requirements and less resources. Higher education pedagogical courses and acquiring educational qualifications are more often used as a strategy at younger HEIs compared to older ones.


  • Strengthen the skills of the teachers encountering students who are less familiar with higher education by giving them more time to engage in their own research. Students with non-academic backgrounds receive their education in the least research-intensive teaching environments, while students with more academic backgrounds receive their education in research-intensive environments.
  • Alter the resource allocation system so that the current conditions at HEIs are taken more into account. Currently, HEIs and employees compete solely on the basis of end results measured in terms of production and quality – without any regard to the differing conditions.
  • Allocate a larger share of research funding directly to HEIs instead of through research councils. The report indicates that the teachers teaching students with non-academic backgrounds find it difficult to set aside the time required for a successful research grant application process. This leads to less resources and ultimately that the students receive an education that is less linked to current research.


Douglas Brommesson, professor of political science at Linnaeus University

Sofia Nordmark, assistant professor of social work at Linköping University

Jörgen Ödalen, associate professor of political science at Mälardalen University and Uppsala University