The purpose of the report is to determine the legal rights of students at independent education institutions and the possibilities for them to assert these rights in the current legal system.
According to legislation (1993:792) regarding degree-awarding powers, independent higher education providers are entitled to award qualifications regulated by the Government. This means that public administrative functions are assigned to independent legal entities, for example associations or foundations.
According to its mandate, Högskoleverket (Swedish National Agency for Higher Education) is not only responsible for supervising public HEIs but also for supervising independent higher education providers with degree-awarding powers. However, this supervision is limited because most of the legislation, for example, the Administrative Procedures Act, the Higher Education Act and the Higher Education Ordinance are not applicable to independent higher education providers.
One of the conclusions of the Swedish National Agency for Higher Education (Agency) is that students at independent higher education institutions have a legal right to assert their influence over their studies. Further, the Equal Treatment of Students at Universities Act applies (excluding the possibility to appeal against decisions made by independent higher education providers to the Higher Education Appeals Board). Further, the Agency has concluded that the principles of objectivity and equality in chapter 1, section 9 of the Constitution Act are applicable to matters concerning degree-awarding powers.
The need for supervision has been highlighted by legislators. In the legislation regarding degree-awarding powers a stipulation has been introduced that such powers must be combined with the right of individuals to access information about such matters at independent higher education institutions. The Agency´s overview shows that the principle regarding the right of access to public records is applied at Chalmers University of Technology and JönköpingFoundationUniversity and, to a limited degree, at Stockholm School of Economics. However, no demands regarding supervision have been placed on other independent higher education providers. This means that their students have no guaranteed insight into matters.
The terms for the granting of degree-awarding powers are mainly concerned with tuition fees and the right to student finance. In the majority of cases, tuition is free and students have the right to student finance at independent higher education providers. The exception is students on psychotherapy programmes.
The disciplinary boards at Chalmers University of Technology, JönköpingFoundationUniversity and Stockholm School of Economics have been formed in accordance with the Government´s demands for foundation universities. Otherwise the administrative functions are not regulated.
Some of the independent higher education providers have their own disciplinary boards, appeal boards, student ombudsmen and their own means of strengthening the legal rights of students. There are often possibilities for having decisions reviewed but there are no means of having decisions reviewed impartially, for example by the Higher Education Appeals Board.
In the majority of cases, students must resort to the civil courts if they cannot come to an agreement with the independent higher education provider where they are studying. This does not necessarily mean that students have fewer legal rights but it can be more difficult to commence an action against a HEI rather than appealing to the Higher Education Appeals Board or to the Agency, not least because of the question of cost. In addition, students at independent higher education institutions are usually unaware that they do not have the same legal rights as students at public HEIs.
The conclusion is that students at independent higher education institutions have fewer legal means of asserting their rights via impartial bodies than students at public HEIs. The Agency´s view is that students should have the same legal rights irrespective of the type of institution where they study.