Sweden is one of the countries in the world investing the most resources, measured as percentage of GDP, on research and higher education. It is important that this system is properly managed, organized and funded to ensure a high quality and good utilization of resources.

How are universities and colleges to respond to the labor market’s growing demand for increasingly advanced skills in the future? What is the role of higher education when it comes to organizing lifelong learning? What should the interplay between research and higher education look like? And how to create good conditions for research and utilizing research results that contribute to the development of society? These are some of the issues highlighted by SNS in the project “Higher education and research.” The project timeframe is 2022–2024.


Research director: Jonas Klarin, jonas.klarin@sns.se, 0722-51 57 98

Project manager: Julia Nederberg, julia.nederberg@sns.se, 0790-98 13 33

Mikael Witterblad, head of the research program, mikael.witterblad@sns.se

High and partially new demands facing higher education

In recent decades, the higher education sector has rapidly expanded to meet the increased demands of the labor market voiced in previous periods but also due to a political ambition to enable everyone to engage in higher education. Today, nearly 400,000 people attend a university or college each year.

Increased international competition and rapid technological developments result in the labor market gradually increasing its skill requirements. The number of highly qualified jobs continues to grow, whereas simpler jobs are being automated to a great extent. Large groups of individuals already working are also expected to return to higher education several times during their professional life.

At the same time, digitalization creates new opportunities for increasing the level of flexibility and distance learning in future course offerings.

Conditions for research and development

Higher education and research serve as vessels for communication. The universities train researchers who, in turn, teach students about new discoveries in their respective fields of research. The quality of the research thus affects the quality of teaching, which, in turn, affects the skills and expertise of future researchers.

A well-designed research infrastructure is a key factor for carrying out high-quality research. The current research infrastructure landscape is complex and includes a multitude of actors. Investments in infrastructure require long planning horizons, collaborations between HEIs and industry actors as well as political consensus regarding research policy.

A major change in Swedish research policy over the last few decades is moving toward more resources being transferred to the state-run research councils. They offer research funding in a competitive process to researchers working at state-run HEIs, companies and private research institutes, mainly in accordance with the subject areas decided by the government and parliament.

Since the end of the 1990s, universities are legally obligated to seek to interact with society at large in order to make their research beneficial. One way of making research beneficial is that it leads to innovations being created in society.

Upcoming seminars

Completed seminars

2022.05.02 How should Sweden secure the supply of Ph.D. educated?

2022.03.25 The role of higher education in lifelong learning

Ongoing studies

The development of professions in higher education institutions

A general view seems to be that there has been a sharp increase in the administration of higher education and that researchers and teachers currently spend too much time on such tasks. This paper studies how the 20 most common professions in Swedish HEIs have developed between 2001 and 2018 to see whether there has been any change in the proportion and composition of administrative staff.

Author: Anders Kärnä, researcher at the Institute of Industrial Economics (IFN).

To be published: fall 2022.

Which students are the most likely to manage distance learning?

This paper analyzes how distance learning during the Corona pandemic has affected the grades and mental health of university students. The report compares two groups of second-year students in engineering, where one group was instructed online, while the other was partially instructed at the university premises. The paper analyzes who is more likely to manage distance learning – men or women? Students from low-income or high-income families?

Author: Adrian Mehic, PhD student in economics at Lund University.

To be published: fall 2022.

Is attending adult high school to become eligible for university studies worth the effort?

This paper examines whether it is worth the effort for people who are not eligible for university studies to attend adult high school to become eligible and then go on to study at an HEI. The author analyzes a rich data material consisting of administrative data between the years 1990 and 2015.

Author: Linn Karlsson, analyst at the Swedish Agency for Economic and Regional Growth.

To be published: fall 2022.

Swedish research funding: governance and quality

Swedish public research funding has undergone considerable changes in recent decades. First, an increasing portion of the governmental R&D budget goes to state-run research councils and agencies, which then in a competitive process award these funds to HEIs, private research institutes, public research laboratories and companies. Second, the government has steered research into specific research areas.

This report will analyze and study how the organization and governance of public research funding affect quality and results in the academic research community. A key area of interest concerns whether independent research is threatened by increased government control toward specific research areas or other forms of governance through research councils/agencies.

Author: Roger Svensson, associate professor of economics at the Institute of Industrial Economics (IFN).

To be published: spring 2023.

Research resources and the production of science

What is the significance of resources for researchers and how does this affect the production of science? Working in Swedish higher education entails vastly different conditions depending on, for instance, discipline, position, gender and contacts with the business community, but they also depend on the rights of individual HEI to engage in research and education. A clear distinction is here made between “colleges” and “universities.”

We intend to study how the allocation of resources has developed and how this covaries with the production of science. Our experimental approach is based on evaluating a reform where an increased allocation of resources is assumed to have been decided by external actors. We use the change in university status from college to university as an experiment that increases the allocation of resources – how did the reforms affect the rate of publication at the HEIs in question?

Authors: Olof Ejermo, professor of economic history at Lund University, and Yotam Sofer, PhD student in business administration at Copenhagen Business School.

To be published: spring 2023.

Change everything?! Swedish universities face transformative expectations

In which ways have Swedish universities undergone a transformation in modern times – the expansion in the 1950s, the sectorization in the 1970s and the marketization in the 1990s? How can the lessons from these transformations be used in our current transformative contexts and expectations? How have other countries managed transformations over the years? Which changes have occurred in terms of governance, funding, management and the role of universities in the public debate? What can Sweden learn from other countries and systems?

Author: Mats Benner, professor of research policy at Lund University, and Sylvia Schwaag-Serger, professor of research policy at Lund University.

To be published: spring 2023.

Dimensioning higher education – who actually decides

This report will focus on what governs the supply of higher education in Sweden. The analytical perspective is that higher education is seen as a market governed by the interacting effects of demand, supply and political governance (and regulation).

With regard to different programs and universities, how is the number of students decided in the short and long term? And how should the system operate?

Author: Mats Bergman, Professor of Economics at Södertörn University.

To be published: fall 2023


In this project, we intend to examine what different universities offer their employees in terms of salary, opportunities for educational career paths or how much research is included in assistant professor and full professor positions. We will study how these vary systematically across the Swedish higher education sector and examine whether different conditions have an effect on the working conditions of university teachers. In addition, we will also study the strategies adopted by Swedish universities to meet the new challenges of the mass university as well as assess how these strategies have affected the quality of higher education. In order to put the Swedish case in context, the project will also contain some illustrative examples from other Nordic countries.

Authors: Douglas Brommesson, professor of political science at Linnaeus University, Sofia Nordmark, assistant professor of social work at Linköping University, and Jörgen Ödalen, associate professor of political science at Mälardalen University

To be published: spring 2024.

Production of science, maternity leave and leaving the academy

The proportion of women in the academy is rising at a slow pace, especially in the highest positions, in spite of girls and women, on average, performing better in primary, secondary and higher education, measured in grades. This report examines the impact of raising a family with regard to individual academic careers. More specifically, we will study how the first child in particular affects the production of science and how having children has an impact on women and men deciding to abandon their academic career.

Author: Olof Ejermo, professor of economic history at Lund University

To be published: spring 2024.

More reports are published on an ongoing basis.

Reference group

AstraZeneca, Chalmers University of Technology, Confederation of Swedish Enterprise, Ericsson, Formas, Forte, Knowledge Foundation, Lund University, Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, Saab AB, Stockholm University, Swedish Association of Graduate Engineers, Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions, Swedish Confederation of Professional Associations, Swedish Confederation of Professional Employees, Swedish Foundation for Strategic Research, Swedish Higher Education Authority, Swedish National Union of Students, Swedish Research Council, TRR, Vinnova, Volvo Cars.