Higher education in Sweden is distinguished by its flexibility and also offers great freedom of choice, which is used by the students. It is possible to choose from a large number of programmes and courses with a variety of specialisations and different scopes. People may study in higher education at any age and can return to higher education for new or supplementary studies.
However, this open system, that is characteristic of Swedish higher education, entails some difficulties with the statistical description of the students’ periods of study. So far, such descriptions have primarily been limited to information about periods of study for programmes leading to a professional qualification, which have a start date and an end date. Statistical follow-ups based on degree statistics are made additionally difficult as students in Sweden must request their degree certificates, though many choose not to do so despite completing their studies.
This report demonstrates that a long follow-up period, one that is not limited to studying for a degree or within a programme, is necessary if one wants to investigate students’ entire periods of study. For example, mapping the students’ study patterns in the form of the number of study periods and total periods of study requires follow-ups throughout an “entire adult life”.
This survey is based on information in the higher education register that is kept by Statistiska centralbyrån, SCB (Statistics Sweden). This register contains information about everyone who has registered for higher education and dates back to 1977. This means that the longest period for which we have been able to follow new entrants to higher education is just over 30 years.
The higher education register also contains information about the people who completed an undergraduate degree before 1977. However, undergraduate education prior to 1977 did not include healthcare training or much of the available teacher education. These became part of higher education in 1977.
The survey covers all those who were new entrants to higher education during the 1978/79–1997/98 period, as well as those who completed a higher education degree in the system used prior to 1977 and who were registered in higher education after 1977. Follow-ups were carried out up to and including 2009/10.
The survey of students’ study patterns looks at the extent to which students return to higher education for new studies after finishing a period of study, how long these periods of study have been and what this has entailed for the students’ total length of study measured in the number of registered semesters.
The group of individuals that we can follow longest are thus those who completed one or more degrees by the academic year of 1976/77 in the previous higher education system, and who were then registered in higher education on one or more occasions up to the academic year of 2009/10. A number of these people are now above the age of 60.
The survey’s results show that lifelong learning is a reality – particularly for women. This publication in English includes summaries of the report’s most important results.