More Swedish students choose university

While an increasing number of Swedish high school students are choosing to go to university, the gap between the number of students from affluent compared to challenged areas is widening, according to a new report by the Swedish National Agency for Higher Education (Högskoleverket).

More Swedish students choose university

The figures, presented to the government on Thursday, show that the number of high school graduates choosing to go to university is increasing.

At the same time, a study carried out by the agency shows a great divide between Sweden’s more wealthy municipalities and those which are less affluent when it comes to the number of students who go on to university.

In Norrtälje, north of Stockholm, only 33 percent of all inhabitants over 24 have studied at university level, according to the report. Among the 26 municipalities in Stockholm county the average is 48.4 percent.

Among those that turned 24 years of age last year, 43.6 percent on average had studied at a university. There are still more women than men that enroll, 51.6 percent compared to 36.0 percent.

Upscale Stockholm municipalities Danderyd and Lidingö are at the top of the list measuring the number of high school grads moving on to university with 76 percent and 72 percent, respectively.

Munkfors, in rural community of roughly 3,000 in Värmland County, did worst with only 17.6 percent of all 24-year-olds having studied at a university.

Some 60 of Sweden’s 290 municipalities showed figures equaling those of Norrtälje or below.

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Swedish university exam unlikely to go ahead at all this year

It is looking increasingly unlikely that 'högskoleprovet' – an exam used by thousands of students every year as a way to enter Swedish university will go ahead – despite a government U-turn.

Swedish university exam unlikely to go ahead at all this year
In a normal year, 100,000 students sit what is known as the SweSAT or 'högskoleprovet'. Photo: Malin Hoelstad/SvD/SCANPIX

The Swedish Scholastic Aptitude Test (SweSAT, or högskoleprovet) is normally held twice a year, but was cancelled in spring and then later in autumn due to the coronavirus pandemic. But after pressure from opposition parties, the government last week said it would pave the way for the test to take place on its usual date in October in a limited format, open only to people who had not previously sat it.

Usually around 100,000 people sit the exam each year, around 40 percent of them doing so for the first time. The exam is not compulsory, but many people use its results to get into university, and it is seen as a crucial second chance for those who are not able to get accepted based on grades alone.

But any hope lit by the government's announcement last week was quickly extinguished this week, when university principals said it would still not be possible to organise a coronavirus-safe sitting. In the end it is up to the exam organisers to decide whether or not to hold it, so the government holds limited sway.

“They [the university principals] do not want to take responsibility for conducting the exam during the autumn, but would rather spend time and resources on conducting two tests as safely as possible in spring,” Karin Röding, director-general of the Swedish Council for Higher Education (UHR), told the TT news agency on Tuesday.

“I have no reason to have another opinion,” she added.

“It appears to be the case that you are going to have to wait another few months before an exam can be carried out in an infection-safe way,” confirmed Sweden's Minister of Higher Education, Matilda Ernkrans.

Meanwhile the political pressure eased on the Social Democrat-Green coalition government to ensure the test could be held before the deadline for applying to the spring semester of university, when the Liberal party joined the centre-left in voting no to pushing for an autumn sitting. Last week there was a majority for a yes vote on the Swedish parliament's education committee, consisting of right-wing parties Moderates, Christian Democrats, Sweden Democrats and the Liberals, but after the latter switched sides the committee voted no.

The Mdoerates blamed the government for not acting sooner to help the exam go ahead, by for example allocating more money and investigating the possibility of using more venues.

“There is one person who is to blame. That's Matilda Ernkrans,” said the party's education spokesperson Kristina Axén Olin. “The government has handled it really poorly and now it is thought to be too late and impossible.”

Ernkrans argued that she and the government had done everything they could, including making sure that test results from previous years will be valid for eight years rather than the usual five, as well as allocating extra funding to make it possible to hold more than one exam next spring.

Swedish vocabulary

cancel – ställa in

test/exam – (ett) prov

second chance – (en) andra chans

government – (en) regering

semester – (en) termin (note the false friend – the Swedish word semester means holiday)