Universities in Sweden started to emerge in the 15th century and since then have produced innovations and inventions. Swedish brands and technology companies such as Spotify, Electrolux, Ericsson, Volvo, IKEA, and Bluetooth continue to shape the world today. A large number of students come here not only for progressive education but also for quality teaching, a liberal atmosphere, and a variety of universities. Sweden is home to the Uppsala University — oldest in all of Scandinavia, several prestigious academies of fine arts, and a dozen universities of technology with a focus on research.

List and ranking of Swedish universities

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Advantages of universities in Sweden

  • The relationship between universities and industry. Studying at Swedish universities is closely tied to practice. Therefore, students undergo internships several times throughout their studies, and in the classroom, they work on real projects and case studies. Students are sent for internships to established enterprises, which allows future specialists to study each stage of the profession in practice. Moreover, universities often host ‘guest lectures’ by consultants, top managers, and even board members and company presidents.
  • Independence of universities. Public universities are funded by the government and follow its rules, but they are completely independent. For example, universities can decide which courses to offer its students. Thanks to this, universities annually introduce more and more relevant training programs focused on the needs of the market. Also, due to the autonomy of educational institutions, admission requirements and curriculum content differ depending on the institution.
  • Approach to the learning process. Unlike other countries, where students take several subjects at the same time, in Sweden students often study only one subject for several weeks and take an exam at the end of the course. The study of the next subject begins immediately after it. Another advantage of studying in Sweden is that here you are allowed to retake exams without restrictions. This opportunity is used not only by slackers but also by perfectionists and those for whom the GPA is important: for example, doctoral students or future specialists for further applying for a job (lawyers).
  • Group work. In Swedish universities group work is a mandatory component in the educational process. This is how students learn from each other and solve difficult problems as a team. Collaboration allows students to develop skills in decision making, time management, and interpersonal communication.
  • Infrastructure of universities. The overwhelming majority of universities and colleges in Sweden were founded not so long ago — in the 19th-20th centuries, and their infrastructure is modern. Old traditions and architecture have been preserved by several universities established in the 15th-18th centuries. According to the structure of their possessions, Swedish universities are divided into two types: decentralized (following the example of German and Danish universities) — several buildings around the city, and centralized — with their own campus. Each university has a gymnasium, dormitories (always full), libraries, museums, and research centers.
  • Internationality. A large number of Europeans come to Swedish universities, mainly due to the free education and the high standards of living in the country. Although the presence of tuition fees also does not prevent many citizens of distant countries from coming to Sweden: for example, Japanese, Koreans, Australians, and Americans. The general level of multiculturalism is high: in master's programs, only about half of the group consists of Swedes themselves.

Disadvantages of universities in Sweden

  • Expensive education. Until 2011, higher education in Sweden was free for citizens of all countries. Now it’s free only for citizens of the EU / EEA and Switzerland. For students from third countries, the average tuition fee will vary from 12,210 USD to 14,089 USD per year. Doctoral studies remained free for all students, regardless of citizenship, although the competition is usually high.
  • Freedom with responsibility. This is the principle of the Swedish teaching model. This means that most of the educational process takes place outside of the classroom and studying takes place independently or in groups. The students have to understand new information themselves and think about solutions to problems and tasks that are not written in the textbook. At first, it may be difficult for a student to fit into such an atmosphere, but over time, they will have to take full responsibility for their own learning. This approach prepares graduates for work, as it develops their time management skills, independence, and discipline.
  • Lack of English programs. Despite the fact that there are more than 1000 English-language programs in Swedish universities, not all areas are available for study at the bachelor’s level. For example, medicine, dentistry, veterinary medicine, and pedagogy are taught only in Swedish. Therefore, future doctors and teachers should look for another country to study or learn Swedish at a level sufficient to study at a university.
  • Noisy libraries. The culture of behavior in university libraries in Sweden is very different from that of other countries. Here you can chat and laugh loudly, talk on the phone and even eat. Some students may not like this and, unfortunately, they will be unable to concentrate on their studies and work in such a library.
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Admission requirements to universities in Sweden

ProgramAgeDurationMin. costAvg. costMin. language levelExams
Foundation16+1-2 semesters14,558 USD/year17,470 USD/yearB2IELTS 6.0
Bachelor's17+3 yearsFree12,210 USD/yearC1IELTS 6.5 / TOEFL 90
Master's20+2 yearsFree14,089 USD/yearC1IELTS 6.5 / TOEFL 90
MBA20+1 year7,627 USD/year18,785 USD/yearC1IELTS 6.5 / TOEFL 90
Doctoral20+3+ yearsFreeFreeC1IELTS 6.5

All prices must be checked on the university websites.

Applications are submitted through universityadmissions.se, where multiple universities and programs can be selected. The decisions of admission committees are also published there. For admission you will need:

  • For bachelor's: a certificate of completed secondary education, including the transcript with grades;
  • For master’s/PhD: four-year bachelor's/master's diploma, transcript with grades;
  • Language certificate (IELTS/TOEFL);
  • Motivation letter;
  • Letters of recommendation;
  • CV;
  • Application form;
  • Copy of the passport;
  • Other program-specific requirements (for example, excellent grades in certain subjects).

The certificate or diplomas must be translated into Swedish or English and notarized.

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Types of educational institutions in Sweden

There are 38 public universities and several private universities in Sweden. Educational institutions in the country are divided into 2 types:

  • Universities (universitet) are large institutions that award bachelor's, master's, and PhD degrees in a wide range of subjects. The universities are research-oriented;
  • University colleges (högskola) focus on the technical and vocational training of students. University colleges focus on applied sciences (engineering, exact and natural sciences). As a rule, högskolor do not award doctoral degrees, except a handful of scientific fields.

Universities and university colleges differ in the amount of attention dedicated to research. Older universities conduct more extensive research than university colleges and new universities.

The distinction between the two types of institutions is not always clear from the name of the institution, because:

  • University colleges may simply call themselves universities;
  • The word “högskola” in the name does not mean that it is a college since some institutions that have already reached the status of full-fledged universities have left their old name (for example, Royal Institute of TechnologyKungliga Tekniska Högskolan, Chalmers University of TechnologyChalmers Tekniska Högskola);
  • Both universities and högskolor translate their official names into English as “university”, although in the latter case, “university college” would be a more appropriate name.

Initially, only two institutions had university status — Uppsala University and Lund University. The rest "grew" out of colleges. The list of all universities can be viewed here or here.

University colleges in Sweden

University сollege (Högskola) is a higher education institution, similar to a university, but usually smaller in size. Högskolor, like universities, do research and offer bachelor’s and master’s programs. Unlike research universities, which can award PhD degrees, some högskolor are not allowed to provide doctoral studies. Moreover, the Swedish government has limited the number of scientific areas in which högskola can award PhD degrees. Most university colleges have agreements with major universities to conduct joint doctoral programs.

Higher vocational education is presented by special HVE (Yrkeshögskolan) programs. They are offered at universities and private educational institutions. HVE addresses the urgent needs of the labor market. Here, theoretical studies are combined with on-the-job practice. The duration of HVE is 1-3 years. In total, such programs make up just over 10% of all higher education in Sweden[1]. The admission requirements vary from institution to institution, but it is mandatory to know Swedish and have relevant education. For details, students must contact the educational institution directly.

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Public and private universities

Sweden has a unified higher education system that follows the same legislation, regardless of the institution in question. The size of higher educational institutions varies greatly. Judging by the number of enrolled students, in the 2018 and 2019 academic years, the largest university (Kungliga Tekniska högskolan) had more than 45,000 students, and the smallest universities had less than 100 registered students[1].

There are 14 public universities and 17 public university colleges in Sweden. They are controlled and funded by the state, but at the same time, they are autonomous in many of their decisions. Additionally, there are a number of independent higher education institutions such as the Stockholm School of Economics, the Chalmers University of Technology, and the Jönköping University Foundation. They are owned by foundations or associations. Private institutions receive the authority to award degrees from the Parliament, and not from the Swedish Ministry of Higher Education like public universities.

Admission requirements are set by the university and individual programs themselves.

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Groups and associations of education institutions

  • Association of Swedish Higher Education Institutions (SUHF), was founded in 1995. Members of the Association are 38 Swedish educational institutions: 16 universities, 18 university colleges, and 4 art university colleges. SUHF has the following objectives:
    • Promote the interests of the higher education sector;
    • Strengthen cooperation between universities;
    • Provide a platform for sharing experiences between member institutions and lobbying their interests.

    The association was created by the education institutions themselves, the initiative came from the rectors. SUHF has no legal status and is not regulated by law, but in practice, it is recognized as a representative of education institutions.

  • The Nordic Association of University Administrators (NUAS). The goal of the association is to expand contacts and create networks between universities in the Nordic countries at all administrative levels. NUAS works with the Scandinavian Council of Ministers, other organizations, and authorities to promote the development of the Scandinavian education community. The association consists of 57 Scandinavian universities. Seminars are held annually for university directors on topical issues in the field of higher education. The Secretariat is located in Stockholm.
  • ACCESS is a cooperation project between the universities of Chile and Sweden. ACCESS aims to establish strong relationships between researchers, students, and staff in order to discuss issues common to both countries.
  • Sweden-USA Project for Collaboration, Academic Leadership, and Innovation in Higher Education (CALIE) is a cooperation project between Swedish and US universities. Swedish participants are Lund University, University of Gothenburg, Stockholm University, and Uppsala University; Stanford University, UC Berkeley, and Washington University represent the US. The focus is on the renewal of education and academic leadership, which are key aspects of positive change in the future.
  • Southern African-Nordic Centre (SANORD) — an international network of higher education and research, aimed at the development of academic cooperation between universities in Scandinavia and the South African regions. SANORD aims to provide a platform for research, education, and collaboration. The network offers graduate applicants a Brian O'Connell Scholarship to study at Scandinavian universities.

Additionally, Swedish universities are members of other international associations and alliances, for example, European University Association (EUA), Conference of European Schools for Advanced Engineering Education and Research (CESAER), Alliance of Global Sustainability (AGS), Nordic Five Tech (N5T), Scholars at risk (SAR), SGroup European Universities' Network and Eutopia.

Free universities in Sweden

Until 2011, universities in Sweden were free for everyone, but now only for citizens of the EU/EEA and Switzerland. PhD programs are still free for all students, regardless of citizenship, while bachelor's and master's programs cost about 13,149 USD per year on average. However, universities and the Swedish government offer generous grants to local and foreign applicants.

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Interesting facts about universities in Sweden

  • The oldest universities in Sweden are Uppsala University, which was founded in 1477, and Lund University founded in 1666.
  • Among alumni of Uppsala University, there are 15 Nobel laureates, 8 of whom made discoveries while being at the university. Carl Linnaeus, Anders Celsius, and Olof Rudbeck Sr. are examples of outstanding scientists in the legacy of Uppsala University.
  • The doctoral ceremony at Lund University is a traditional festive rite. Exactly at 12:00 on the last Friday of May, the doors of the university’s main building are opened for the procession, and its participants march through the park of the university to the Lund Cathedral, where the ceremony takes place. The most important part begins when the presenters accompany the graduates of the doctoral studies (promovendi) to the Parnassus podium and award them with the new status insignia (honorary symbols of the doctoral degree). Some of them have long since disappeared, such as the book and the sword, while the hat, laurel wreath, ring, and diploma are still presented in full. The podium symbolizes the residence of the ancient Greek gods — Mount Parnassus. From this moment, promovendi has the right to practice academic teaching. During the ceremony, they even arrange fireworks. The ceremony usually lasts about 3 hours and is held exclusively in Latin, with the exception of speeches by the vice-chancellor and doctoral students[2].
  • One of the main principles in Swedish universities is equal access to education for all. Students of any background, gender, religion, socioeconomic background, and age are welcome here. Sweden itself is recognized as one of the most equal countries in the world.
  • In 1889, Sophia Kovalevskaya was appointed professor at Stockholm University College (now Stockholm University), becoming the first female professor in Sweden and the first female professor of mathematics in the world. Kovalevskaya was born in Moscow, but could not get an education there because women were not allowed to attend classes. She studied in Germany thanks to her marriage, as she had an accompanying man[3]. Sofia Kovalevskaya had a great influence on the history of the world, and her personal life story is a statement of perseverance and courage.
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