Sweden has both universities (universitet) and university colleges (högskolor). What's the difference between the two? Here, we settle the confusion.

There aren't any regulations regarding how and when the names university and university college can be used - 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).

Some schools call themselves university or university college - universitet or högskola - but don't have degree-awarding powers. They often offer diploma programmes or certificate programmes. Some important things to understand about them are:

  • the courses and programmes they offer are not considered higher education level
  • the credits these institutions award are not higher education credits
  • they 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

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 general permission to do so. University colleges can only offer doctoral level degrees if they have asked for 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 the Swedish Higher Education Authority.

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 look quite different from one university to another.

The Swedish Parliament 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). 

Independent higher education providers

Some university colleges are owned and managed by others, for example foundations or associations. These institutions receive their degree-awarding powers from Parliament, and not from the Swedish Higher Education Authority like the public institutions. Most of the laws that regulate universities and university colleges and other government agencies do not apply to independent education providers. As a student, this means that you for example don't have the same possibilities for appealing an admissions decision, and supervision is limited.

Find out more about independent higher education providers at UKÄ's website

List of independent higher education providers with degree-granting powers

  • Chalmers University of Technology
  • Jönköping University
  • Stockholm School of Economics
  • The Newman Institute University College
  • Beckman's College of Design
  • Marie Cederschiöld University College
  • Gammelkroppa skogsskola
  • Johannelunds teologiska högskola
  • Swedish Red Cross University
  • Sophia Hemmet University
  • Stockholms Musikpedagogiska Institut
  • University College Stockholm
  • Örebro School of Theology
  • Brunnsviks enskilda musikhögskola

There are also a few institutions with degree-awarding powers for psychotherapy education:

  • The Swedish Institute for CBT & Schema Therapy
  • Evidens AB
  • The Erica Foundation
  • Stockholms Akademi för Psykoterapiutbildning

Specialised institutions

Some universities and university colleges are specialised in a specific area. The Swedish School of Sport and Health Sciences offers courses and 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 remind one of engineering. They both have their origins in technology but teach courses and programmes in a number of different areas.

Different specialisations

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 universities and university colleges can have differing degree specialisations in the programmes they offer.

Page last updated 2023-12-21