Sweden Country Profile - Education System

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System structure

In Sweden, attendance at primary school is compulsory for nine years between the ages of 7 and 16. Students can then choose to take a further three years at secondary school before potentially moving on to higher education. Public school is free for the children of all residents until the end of the compulsory period regardless of their nationality, however as teaching is usually in Swedish many expats prefer to send their children to fee-paying private or international schools. This choice can be costly, but depending on the child’s residency status they may be eligible for state-subsidised fees.

Academic year

The academic year in Sweden is typically divided into two semesters, the first running from the end of August until mid-January with a short break at the end of December, and the second from mid-January to the beginning of June. The school day begins around 8am and ends at approximately 3:30pm, although some international schools keep different hours. 

Higher education

Sweden has around 50 higher education establishments including public universities, public university colleges and a handful of independent colleges. As higher education is well-funded by the state and attracts investment from businesses on top of this, enrolment is high and teaching and research standards are very good. In Sweden, your degree as a whole is referred to as a ‘programme’ rather than a ‘course’, and the segments which other countries might call ‘modules’ are known as ‘courses’. A degree programme consists of a combination of compulsory, recommended and optional courses.


Public universities in Sweden are fully-subsidised for Swedish nationals as well as students from the EU/EEA and Switzerland. Students from other countries will usually have to pay tuition fees and depending on the institution, application fees and student union membership fees may apply. Students in Sweden are also able to access funding in the form of grants and loans to fund their time at university, while a number of scholarships are also available for those wishing to remain in the country or for Swedish residents who study abroad.


Universities in Sweden offer a full range of taught programmes in Swedish as well as a smaller number in English. To study a Swedish-language programme, students must pass the TISUS test – the ‘Test in Swedish for University Studies’. The typical programme structures and duration fall in line with the majority of European universities:

  • Undergraduate programmes – taught courses that typically last three years
  • Graduate programmes – combine teaching and research over a period of one or two years
  • Doctoral programmes – research degrees, usually involving four or more years of work towards a dissertation

The majority of doctoral programmes in Sweden are paid roles, with competition fierce for these much-sought positions.


With good funding and links with business, research is strong in Sweden. Access to funding and the top research jobs are hotly-contested between the best candidates from around the world. For more information, visit the EURAXESS Sweden website.

Secondary education

The post-16 secondary school period in Sweden lasts for three years and the vast majority of primary school graduates continue through this stage. With a choice of around 17 different programmes of study, it is the first opportunity for children to really specialise and focus on either preparing for higher education or taking a vocational qualification.

Primary education

The nine years of compulsory primary education in Sweden follows a programme administered by the Ministry of Education and Research and is designed to provide a well-rounded education for children of every ability level. English is a compulsory second language from early in this period and a third modern language also becomes compulsory later on.

Preschool and childcare options

While preschool is not compulsory in Sweden, it is popular – an estimated 80% of eligible children attending between the ages of one and five. Part of the reason for this is a maximum-fee scheme, which caps the amount parents pay for preschool. Alternatively, private childcare schemes and day nurseries are available, but costs can be significantly higher.

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