Startpage for Swedish National Agency for Higher Education

Please note! The Swedish National Agency for Higher Education was closed down on 31 December 2012. Instead two new agencies have been established: the Swedish Council for Higher Education and the Swedish Higher Education Authority. This website will continue to operate as the new agencies will have links to information it contains.  

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Higher education and the labour market

Labour market forecasts and planning the volume of higher education

Difficulties in linking forecasts to educational needs

Forecasts offer an important basis for planning the volume of higher education. But the possibilities of making long term assessments of supply and demand for people with qualifications from higher education are subject to a number of factors whose consequences are difficult to survey. Renewal is a process that is continually taking place, affecting both higher education and the skills required in the labour market. It is not easy to predict what forms of competence will be required, even in the short term. Ongoing structural changes in the labour market with service-based sectors playing an increasingly important role give rise to a great deal of uncertainty, which makes forecasting even more difficult. An important complement is therefore provided by descriptions of developments in the labour market today to enable the mapping of current trends.

A divided rather than a coherent labour market

It is often claimed that one development in the labour market is, generally speaking, the tendency to require increasing expertise, the shift towards a "knowledge society" with more and more occupations demanding ever increasing competence. But the belief that greater expertise is required by the labour market as a whole is erroneous. In fact, developments appear to be moving in the direction of a labour market in which the skills required and working conditions diverge. Trends suggest that we are going to end up with a more binary labour market in which either a great deal of expertise is demanded or not very much at all.

During the next decade we cannot expect more than half of the population to acquire higher education. In discussions of the knowledge society, the other half are often forgotten. The twofold division of the labour force in terms of competence will have an impact on the potential for change in the labour market. This, too, should be taken into account when planning the long-term volume of higher education. Shortages are going to arise, mainly of craftsmen, as a result of large-scale retirement in the decade to come. A larger proportion of short vocationally-oriented training programmes will be needed to provide replacements. But the solution to this training requirement needs to be sought in the education system as a whole. One question that must be borne in mind during developments in the years to come is which section of the labour market should primarily be manned by graduates from higher education. It would be reasonable to suggest that for higher education the task of providing labour should be concentrated to the vocational areas that require high competence levels.

The value systems and social position of graduates from higher education

Differences between those with higher education and the rest of the population

Generally speaking, the government´s aim that 50 per cent of each age cohort should have begun higher education by the age of 25 has been more or less attained. At the same time this means that half of each age cohort do not undergo higher education programmes. One important question in the future will be how these two groups differ in aspects other than the formal level of their education. Differences in attitudes and value systems between the groups may influence the kinds of careers and social positions they aspire to, regardless of whether these differences are largely the outcome of their higher education programmes or more the consequence of social bias in the enrolment system.

The National Agency for Higher Education has surveyed a population aged from 20-29 to compare those who are completing or have completed higher education programmes with those with no experience of higher education. This reveals that attitudes to and expectations of the labour market are more or less the same in the two groups, at least in terms of their approach to salaries, future pay increases, professional development and security of employment. There are however differences. Those with higher education do not seem to be as concerned as their peers about their financial situation or their footing in the labour market. It also transpires that those with higher education feel that the labour market to which they have access has features that provide them with a greater degree of personal satisfaction. Higher education also means that they are more prepared to allow their careers to take them abroad. At the same time a balance is maintained by the high level of education among immigrants - and returning expatriates. A larger proportion of immigrants have higher education qualifications than the population at large. There seems, therefore, to be no immediate risk of a Swedish brain drain. In the survey we also compared the interest of young women and men (aged 16-24) in various career possibilities and employers. This showed that these young people largely envisage a future labour market characterised by traditional gender differences.

Higher education leads to greater community involvement

Other differences were also revealed between those who undergo higher education and the rest of the population which are related to attitudes to democracy. On the whole, those with higher education appear to be more aware of the democratic rules of play and the opportunities they offer, and a larger proportion are involved in community activities. One conclusion is that inadequate information about these cornerstones of democracy is provided in the primary and upper-secondary schools. This therefore presents a challenge for the various levels of the educational system prior to higher education.