The names university and university college do not have any usage requirements dictated by regulation - any school can use either term. However, an institution of higher education must be granted degree-awarding powers in order to award higher education qualifications (degrees). A university or university college must apply for degree awarding powers from the Swedish Higher Education Authority (Universitetskanslersämbetet).
Schools that call themselves university or university college - högskola or universitet - that don't have degree-awarding powers often offer diploma programmes or certificate programmes. These are not considered higher education level courses or programmes and as such do not meet the entry requirements for university degrees at a higher level, for example master's level where a bachelor's degree is required for studies. The credits these institutions award are not higher education credits.
Universities have degree-awarding powers
To put it very simply, the difference between universities (universitet) and university colleges (högskolor) is that universities can award degrees at the doctoral (third cycle) level because they have a general permission to do so. University colleges can only offer doctoral (third cycle) level degrees if they have asked permission to award a specific degree in a specific subject area. They can receive permission for degree-awarding powers for more than one doctoral level degree - they do this by applying for permission from Universitetskanslersämbetet.
Both universities and university colleges must apply for permission to award artistic higher education qualifications at the doctoral (third cycle) level.
Most universities and university colleges are public
There are approximately 50 universities and university colleges in Sweden. Most of them are public universities, meaning they are funded by the government and follow their regulations. They are independent, however, and can decide what courses and programmes they wish to offer and how they are organised. This is why the same course or programme can be quite different from one university to another.
It's the Swedish Parliament that decides what public universities and university colleges are to exist, and even if a university college (högskola) can have permission to call itself a university (universitet).
A few private higher education institutions
Some university colleges are owned and managed by others, for example foundations or associations. These insitutions receive their degree-awarding powers from Parliament, and not from Universitetskanslersämbetet, like the public institutions. Some examples are Chalmers University of Technology, Stockholm School of Economics and Jönköping University, which all offer a wide number of courses and programmes. Others, for example Beckmans College of Design and Örebro Theological Seminary, award degrees in a specific subject.
Some universities and university colleges are specialised in a specific area. The Swedish School of Sport and Health Sciences offers courses in programmes in physical education and health, while Karolinska institutet trains future doctors, nurses, dentists and other professions in the health care area.
Blekinge Institute of Technology and Luleå Institute of Technology have names that make one think of engineering types of programmes. They both have their origins in technology but teach in a number of different areas. .
There are many things that can make one university or university college different from another. If you're interested in studying history, you can find courses and programmes offered in a number of different areas of the country. Remember that uiversities and university colleges can have different degree specialisations in the programmes they offer.