Why Stockholm is the 'Boston of Europe'

It’s no secret that Stockholm and Boston are premier cities for higher education on their respective sides of the Atlantic. But a closer look reveals that similarities between the two cities go well beyond academics.

Published: Mon 23 Mar 2015 14:12 CEST
Why Stockholm is the 'Boston of Europe'
Boston and Stockholm waterlines. Photos: Shutterstock


Both Boston and Stockholm are historic waterfront cities bursting with culture – and both evolved into strong academic hubs populated by world-class institutions of higher education.

While Boston’s Harvard University may have been founded in 1636, the history of academic Stockholm dates all the way back to 1576, and its sterling reputation has only been burnished and brightened with the passing of time.

Among other things, Stockholm-based academics have proven themselves as leaders in a wide range of disciplines, whether inventing the first exercise bike at the Swedish School of Sport and Health Sciences or scholars from the Stockholm School of Theology negotiating peace in South East Asia. And let’s not forget the annual selection of Nobel laureates that takes place in Stockholm.

In a 2014 study, the Swedish higher education system is ranked the second-best in the entire world, and many universities in Stockholm place highly in international comparisons. The Karolinska Institutet ranks consistently as one of the top ten medical universities in Europe; the Stockholm School of Economics is the number-one business school in the Nordics; and Stockholm University ranks among the top 100 universities in the world.

Part of Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm. Photo: Shutterstock

As more and more schools have opened their doors in the Capital of Scandinavia, this relatively small European city is now home to 18 diverse and prestigious institutions of higher education. Today Stockholm hosts 97,000 university students and 6,000 PhD researchers, more than 8,000 of whom come from abroad.

And Stockholm’s colleges and universities employ more than 20,000 people, making the academic sector a vital part of the city’s economy.The Stockholm School of Economics, for instance, was founded in 1909 to forge ties with the city’s business community – and the relationship still flourishes today. Even today, schools frequently work together to create something new, such as the recently merged Stockholm University of the Arts.

“We want people across the world to think of Stockholm as the Boston of Europe,” Maria Fogelström Kylberg, director of Stockholm Academic Forum, tells The Local.

Want to study in Sweden? Check out Stockholm's official university guide

“Given its size, Stockholm has an incredibly diverse and vibrant academic community. Higher education is truly part of the city’s DNA, and more international students and researchers are taking notice.”

Indeed, students and researchers from more than sixty countries come to Stockholm each year to take advantage of its unique educational traditions and standards – a legacy that includes philosopher René Descartes, who lived his final year in Stockholm as personal tutor and adviser to Queen Kristina; Alfred Nobel, the inventor and industrialist who gave his name to the Nobel Prize; and Sonja Kovalevsky, the world’s first female mathematics professor.

Of course, higher education – whether in Boston or Stockholm – isn't just about quality, it’s also about variety.

Stockholm has universities that offer everything from a degree in aesthetic voice and speech pedagogy (the University College of Music Education offers the only Logonomy degree in Scandinavia), to courses in "Pep talks and physical activity from a public health perspective".

And Stockholm’s storied higher education scene remains as dynamic as ever, with the addition of Södertörn University College in 1997, and the Stockholm University of the Arts in 2014. And even the second-oldest music college in the world, KMH The Royal College of Music in Stockholm, is currently updating its campus with a slew of new buildings set to open in 2016.

These days, academic Stockholm is also at the beating heart of the city’s thriving start-up scene. From hot new tech companies spawned from innovative research at the KTH Royal Institute of Technology, to talented locally-trained engineers and designers, Stockholm universities and colleges are shaping the future of the city – and the world.

The Royal Institute of Technology, KTH. Photo: Shutterstock

And while the strength of their respective academic communities may be the first thing that comes to mind when people think of Stockholm and Boston, it turns out the two cities have a few other quirky things in common beyond being home to world-class universities.

So in the spirit of Cliff Clavin, the beloved know-it-all from the Boston-based sitcom “Cheers”, we offer up a few “little known facts” that make it even easier to see why Stockholm is the Boston of Europe.

1. Nobel Traditions

While universities in Boston like Harvard and MIT may boast among the highest number of Nobel laureates of any university – Stockholm’s Karolinska Instiutet actually gets the honour of choosing them. The Nobel laureate in Physiology or Medicine is selected each year by the Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Institutet.

2. Famous old towns

Photos: Shutterstock

Both Stockholm and Boston feature “Old Town” districts featuring cobblestone streets and picturesque waterfronts that are popular with tourists.

3. Water, water all around

Water is a fundamental part of both cities, with channels which open up into larger seas. Their cities are practically defined by their waterfronts. And as every Bostoner knows and every Stockholmer sings, the cities are “mixtures of sweet and salty”, saline and fresh water.

4. Violent separation stories

Both cities were witness to bloody episodes that played pivotal roles in their histories. The Stockholm Blood Bath of 1520, which saw dozens of Swedish nobles killed in a central square, served as a catalyst in Sweden’s separation from Denmark. Much later, the Boston Massacre of 1770 fueled anti-British sentiment that eventually led to US independence.

5. Black and gold; green and white

Sports fans from either city wouldn’t have to buy new supporter gear if they move across the bond. Both Stockholm and Boston have sports teams with matching colours – both Stockholm’s Hammarby and the storied Boston Celtics feature green and white. Then you’ve got Stockholm’s AIK and the Boston Bruins ice hockey team adorned in black and gold.

6. “T” is the key to getting around

Not a coincidence. Photos: Shutterstock and Flickr

Both cities mark the entrances to their metro systems with a big “T”. In Stockholm, “T” stands for tunnelbana; in Boston, one might assume the “T” is a reference to a famous Tea Party, but rumour has it that Boston’s T was actually inspired by that of Stockholm's metro system, which came into use 14 years earlier. Both systems also feature Red, Blue, and Green lines. Déjà vu.

7. Top in tech

Stockholm and Boston are both home to the top technical and engineering universities in their respective countries – and both have their own nifty three-letter abbreviations: MIT and KTH. OMG.

8. Winter weather woes

Winter in Boston and Stockholm. Photos: Shutterstock

Both cities face their fair share of snowstorms and subzero temperatures during the academic year. Of course, 2014-2015, Stockholm clearly has better weather at least lately. Boston has been battered by blizzards and has been victim of a constant chill, while spring came early to Stockholm.

This article was produced by The Local and sponsored by Stockholm Academic Forum


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