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.  

2006:13 R

Evaluation of programmes in literature and rhetoric at higher education institutions in Sweden

This report presents the results of an evaluation undertaken by the National Agency for Higher Education in 2005. The evaluation dealt with undergraduate and postgraduate programmes in literature and in rhetoric at higher education institutions in Sweden. The report covers nineteen undergraduate programmes in literature, eight postgraduate programmes in the same subject as well as three undergraduate and one postgraduate programme in rhetoric.

The appraisal of the programmes has been carried out by a panel of assessors consisting of three subject experts from Sweden, two from Norway, one from Finland, one from Denmark together with two postgraduate students and three undergraduate students from Sweden. The secretariat for this evaluation consisted of Hedda Gunneng, Iréne Häggström and Lars Geschwind.

The report comprises two sections: one containing the National Agency´s decisions and reflections, the other the opinion of the assessors on the programmes in both subjects. The panel is itself responsible for the content of its report. The National Agency´s decisions and reflections are based on the opinions expressed in the report.

Where literature is concerned, the assessors point out that the qualifications of the teachers at most institutions are good, at certain of them even excellent. There is manifest emphasis in the subject on Swedish literature and the focus in postgraduate programmes is, with one or two exceptions, almost completely restricted to 20th century Swedish literature. There is continuous discussion of the structure of the first and second semester courses so that literary history and literary analysis can be integrated. However there is a lack of discussion in most institutions about the identity of the subject in the current and future systems of higher education.

There is great awareness of different teaching techniques and seminars have increasingly become the predominant form of teaching at the higher education institutions. The assessors are not convinced that it is appropriate to offer today´s courses in literary studies in the form of distance teaching and/or using the internet in their current form. The use of seminar discussions as the most important form of instruction also requires a certain volume of activity. The standards required seem to vary a great deal throughout Sweden and sometimes also appear to be unnecessarily low, particularly when essays are graded.

In most of the settings in which literature is offered, resources are considered to be too scarce. Many departments offer a great deal more teaching of literature within teacher training programmes than as a subject in its own right and are dependent on the courses they are asked to supply for the survival of their discipline. The students would, without exception, welcome more teaching. Supervision of degree projects and theses is mainly provided by teachers in their own free time. Applications to courses in literature are declining and the conclusion of the assessors is that in the future many of the students will become teachers in the upper-secondary schools. The appraisal of the teacher-training programme for upper-secondary schoolteachers conducted by the panel revealed that the great freedom of choice offered at many of the higher education institutions may lead to undesirable outcomes. Future upper-secondary schoolteachers in Swedish may be awarded qualifications even though their knowledge of the subject is, in the opinion of the assessor, inadequate. The National Agency for Higher Education urges the higher education institutions to whom this criticism applies to review and revise their syllabuses to assure the quality of programmes for upper-secondary school teachers in terms of their knowledge of their subject.

At some institutions with postgraduate programmes the student population is too small. Otherwise the situation for postgraduate students seems to be sound in terms of supervision, material resources and the academic community provided by the departments. The assessors consider, however, that students are still being asked to produce theses that are too extensive. The number of undergraduate and postgraduate students who pursue some of their studies abroad is still remarkably small, even at the departments that host many incoming students.

The National Agency for Higher Education agrees with the conclusions of the assessors and therefore endorse their appeal to the higher education institutions to arrange regular national conferences in the subject to discuss requirements in undergraduate programmes, a higher level of internationalisation, greater emphasis on professional aspects in undergraduate and postgraduate courses, amended requirements for PhD theses and future cooperation in general to permit the adoption of profiles and specialisation. The National Agency also agrees with the assessors when they point out that the introduction of the Bologna model will require firm academic leadership in this discipline and sound communication between different decision-making levels at the higher education institutions.

Where the study of rhetoric is concerned, the assessors present an interesting analysis of the knowledge and skills that a current programme in rhetoric should aim to offer. The National Agency considers that rhetoric is a subject that deals with issues that are central in a democracy and consequently for higher education as well. The Agency therefore considers that Sweden´s programmes in rhetoric are very interesting and promising.

On the basis of the panel´s opinion, the National Agency questions the entitlement to award bachelor´s degrees in literature at the Jönköping University Foundation and at Luleå University of Technology. On the same grounds the National Agency is also questioning the entitlement to award master´s degrees at Linköping University as well as entitlement to award both bachelor´s and master´s degrees at Mid-Sweden University.