The case involves 44 women who were rejected from the veterinary medicine programme at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (Sveriges lantbruksuniversitet – SLU) between 2006 and 2007.
Although the women had the exact same qualifications as the men with diplomas from Sweden’s folk high schools (folkhögskolebetyg), only men were accepted to the veterinary programme.
The men received additional weight in the selection process because men were seen as an “underrepresented gender” in the veterinary school programme.
But the District Court in Uppsala has ruled against SLU’s affirmative action strategy and ordered the state to pay the women 35,000 kronor ($4,200) each, which is significantly less than the 100,000 kronor they had sought.
The state must also pay for the costs of the trial.
The women were “disadvantaged by being treated worse than male applicants. The unfair treatment consisted of the male applicants, through a weighted lottery, receiving a significantly greater chance of being offered a spot in the programme,” wrote the court in its ruling.
The acceptance of the men over the women was seen as violating discrimination prohibitions in laws guaranteeing the equal treatment of candidates seeking higher education in Sweden, as well as a European Union (EU) directive on equal treatment.
“The point of the weighted lottery has been to benefit applicants of a certain gender and therefore disadvantage applicants of the other gender,” wrote the court.
Gunnar Strömmer, a lawyer with the Centre for Justice (Centrum för rättvisa) which represented the women in the case, expects the university to appeal the ruling.
The ruling may be significant for others who feel they’ve been discriminated against during their bid for acceptance to Sweden’s colleges and universities.
According to the Centre for Justice, approximately 8,000 college applicants were subjected to discrimination between 2006 and 2008.
Two thirds of Sweden’s institutes of higher education rely on acceptance criteria which discriminate on the basis of gender which adversely affect female applicants in nine out of ten cases.
The discrimination is most prevalent in popular programmes such as medicine, psychology, and veterinary medicine, and usually affects applicants with degrees from Sweden’s folk high schools.