Education system in Sweden

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Written by Sam Wetherell


Education in Sweden is state-funded and compulsory for all between the ages of seven and sixteen.


The number of preschool institutions in Sweden has expanded rapidly since the 1970s. Preschool education is an intrinsic part of Sweden’s welfare provision, and thus is heavily state-funded, and extremely popular, with over 70% of under fives in preschool education. Although there are a handful of private nurseries, most are run by parental co-operatives, and are seen as the first step in a Swedish child’s education development.

Primary and lower secondary education

The cornerstone of the Swedish education system is the nine-year comprehensive school (grundskola), for children between the ages of seven and sixteen. Thus the vast majority of children in Sweden remain in the same institution for all of their compulsory education. Grundskola have a relatively high degree of autonomy, and have the power to decide the size and number of classes, as well as whether or not the classes are coeducational or single sex. Schools still must adhere to a nationally standardized curriculum however, which designates a very specific number of hours to each subject, with Swedish, Mathematics, History/Social Sciences and Science given the most emphasis. Children start learning English formally at the age of ten. At the end of their ninth year in school (age 16) students sit national examinations in Swedish, English and Mathematics. National tests are also optional for municipalities at the end of the fifth year of school. Students are often assessed locally by their schools, usually on an annual basis.

Upper Secondary Education

The vast majority (98%) of Swedish students continue their studies into upper secondary education (gymnasium) and anyone up to the age of 20 can enrol for free upper secondary education. There is a large degree of diversity in upper secondary education, but most national programs provide grounding in Swedish, English, Maths and Science among other subjects. Students choose from over fifteen nationally approved specialist programs, each of which has emphasis on a different vocation, from hotel and catering to vehicle mechanics. Students spend three years in upper-secondary education, which is always coeducational. Students are assessed continually for these three years and, as of 2001, undergo national examinations.

Higher Education

Most of the large, prominent universities in Sweden are state-funded and tuition is free. Among the largest and most prestigious universities in Sweden are The University of Lund and the University of Uppsala. A diploma is awarded after two years of University study, although most students stay for another year and achieve a Batchelor’s degree. Most of the large Swedish state universities offer post-graduate courses, which require a further year of study. In order to apply to university, a Swedish student must first meet basic eligibility requirements. This either involves graduation from upper secondary education with at least a 90% pass rate, or four years experience of work with competence in English and Swedish (if over 25 years of age). Students can only apply to university if they have met these standards. Finally, students are also subject to the admissions requirements of individual universities, which are usually based on their achievements in upper secondary school and extra curicular activities.

Alternative Education

Private Education

If a Swedish school is “private” or “independent” it can mean a variety of things. There are many schools in Sweden that are run by corporations or independent bodies, often with a particular educational philosophy in mind, that still receive municipality funding, and thus are free for all students. Other private schools however, particularly international schools or schools run on religious grounds, depend on tuition fees from students.

Sami Schools

Sami is a language spoken by nearly ten thousand people in northern Sweden (among other places). There are many schools in northern Sweden that cater specifically for the Sami language. They are funded by the state, but managed by the Sami School Board. There are also a handful of integrated Sami and Swedish schools, where both languages are spoken and taught.


Estia - education
An independent website that provides a very detailed description of the Swedish education system. (Visited 20-July-05)

The Sami Language in education in Sweden. (Visited 20-July-05)

Ministry of Education, Research and Culture
The Swedish Ministry of Education website. (Visited 20-July-05)

Go to the education systems index