Freedom - Responsibility -
Report of the Swedish Higher
Recent reforms of higher education in
The Swedish educational system has
undergone a continuing series of transformations since the 1950's. A
nine-year comprehensive school and an upper secondary school which
integrates theoretical and vocational study programmes have gone into
operation. Adult education has been expanded, and in 1977 a far-reaching
reform of the higher education system took place. It involved the creation
of a single and coherent system for all types of post-secondary education,
the decentralisation of decision-making, broadened admission policies for
higher education, better geographic distribution of educational
programmes, the creation of recurrent educational opportunities and new
measures to strengthen links between post-secondary education and research
and create closer ties between education and other areas of
The new Swedish collective name for higher
education, "hφgskola", encompasses not only traditional university studies
by also those at the various professional colleges and a number of
programmes previously taught within the upper secondary school system.
Most of the programmes included in the broadened definition of higher
education are under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Education. In
addition, there are a number of programmes under the purviews of the
Ministry of Agriculture. Those responsible for the higher education system
are central government, the county councils and some municipalities. Local
government-operated higher education consists of the programmes once
administered as part of the upper secondary school, but which have now
been transferred to the higher education system; most of these programmes
involve health care training.
Roughly 35 % of young persons in Sweden go
on to higher education after completion of their compulsory and upper
secondary schooling. About 65 % of those opting for 3 and 4-year study
programmes in the upper secondary school enrol for higher education.
First-time enrollments every year total about 40,000.
THE HIGHER EDUCATION
To a large extent the various reforms
within higher education in Sweden since the 1960's have concentrated on
questions of the expansion and organisation of higher education studies.
At the same time there has been a lively discussion on research policies.
Towards the end of the 1980's, both teachers and students criticised what
they saw as deficiencies in undergraduate education. In 1989 the Swedish
Government therefore decided to appoint "The Higher Education Commission",
chaired by the Vice-Chancellor of Lund University, Professor Hεkan
Westling. The main report of the Commission - "Freedom - Responsibility -
Competence" - was delivered in January, 1992. A final report on funding
principles in higher education is to be published later in
The Commission's work has been focused on
the quality of education in all kinds of higher education institutions.
The main task of the Commission was to analyse the current status of
higher education and to propose measures to make the most efficient use of
the available resources for higher education in a national perspective.
The focus of the Commission's assignment has, however, been limited to
The following is a summary of the main
content of the report.
The work of the Commission
In the Commission's view, the status of
undergraduate teaching within higher education is the fundamental problem
to be handled. The status of teaching and of undergraduate courses in
higher education is considerably lower than that of research, and in this
respect their standing has gradually deteriorated over recent decades. The
measures suggested to raise the status of undergraduate studies fall
mainly under the following headings:
Assessment of qualifications: Teaching
qualifications must be documented and considered more precisely and more
methodically, for example at the time of appointment, than has generally
hitherto been the case.
Teacher training in higher education:
The Commission argues that basic teacher training is necessary for all
staff with teaching duties in higher education. In addition, all teachers
should have the right to continuous further training so as to develop
further in their teaching role. A minimum training qualification should be
introduced as a requirement for teaching posts.
Developmental work: There must be
adequate resources - both locally, within the individual institution, and
at the national level - for the development of undergraduate studies and
to stimulate experimentation in teaching. The "Council for the Renewal of
Undergraduate Education", which was established in 1990 at the suggestion
of the Commission, is a part of this aim.
The relationship between undergraduate
studies and research is fundamental to universities and colleges. A number
of measures to strengthen this relationship are suggested in the
TEACHING AND RESEARCH
It is generally admitted that
undergraduate teaching has a lower status within higher education than
research. A fundamental reason for this is that research qualifications as
a rule carry more weight at the time of appointment, promotion and setting
of salary levels. However, in Sweden this attitude has been strengthened
by the signals given out by decisions on political and grant-making
The result of this is a bisection of the
entire higher education system which seems to be peculiar to Sweden. The
Commission points out that the relationship between education and research
is of fundamental importance to universities and colleges; it must be
strengthened and not weakened. In the Commission's opinion it is therefore
necessary to reexamine the organisational, financial and administrative
structures which today strive in the opposite direction.
The Commission summarises its suggestions
It should be made clear in official
documents that research is in principle an integral part of all categories
of teaching posts in higher education.
The institutions should make efforts to
facilitate access to postgraduate studies for those teachers who have not
taken a doctor's degree.
Researchers working on
externally-financed projects should regularly take part in the teaching in
STUDENTS AND TEACHERS
After giving an account of some of the
studies sponsored by the Commission, the report presents the following
There is a need for clearly set out
common information material which covers the whole of the Swedish higher
education system. Even in a decentralised organisation there is sufficient
common basic information to justify such a publication.
Contact between higher education and
upper secondary schools needs to be increased where information about
higher education is concerned.
mpressions made during the first few
weeks can be crucial for continued motivation, for the sense of community
and for the study environment as a whole in "the good department".
Institutions therefore need to discuss how this introductory period should
Institutions should be attentive to the
students' need of help in developing their study techniques and improving
their study practices.
The students' studying environment is an
important factor in terms of general well-being, effectiveness of study
and study results. Swedish universities and colleges often lack an
infrastructure for informal social contact between teachers and students
or between students. The layout of the premises is often the biggest
barrier to a good studying environment in this sense. One aspect of great
importance in this context is access to studying space (reading rooms in
The rules of the student grant system
may have negative consequences for the organisation of study programmes.
The requirements regarding study performance for prolonged grants has been
one of the reasons why teaching and examinations have often been divided
up into sections which are both too numerous and too small.
Teachers get their say
Teachers in higher education often
criticise the fact that educational reforms are instigated by politically
elected decision-makers and drawn up by educational administrators, and
that teachers and students are then expected to implement them.
Through a questionnaire to a
representative sample of teachers in higher education, the Commission has
tried to get a picture of the opinions of the teaching staff at
universities and colleges. The results have been published in a separate
The picture of teachers in Swedish higher
education given by the results of the questionnaire shows that the
teachers are happy with and committed to their work; they have a positive
view of the students and they work hard, but they are less satisfied with
the material conditions of their employment. They value the freedom, the
independence and opportunities for development highly. They are interested
in continued development and have a number of suggestions for
improvements. They are keen to find a way of safeguarding the quality of
TEACHING AND EXAMINATION
Teaching and learning
Education and teaching are cultural
phenomena. They are characterised by their cultural, historical, social
and financial context; they alter with time, as society alters. It is
therefore not possible to give a general answer to the question of what an
educational system should be like or how teaching should be carried
The report outlines of parts of the
educational research which has influenced developments in teaching in
Swedish higher education in recent decades. The conclusions are summarised
Every teacher should have the
opportunity to become acquainted with the results of the educational
research and development work which has taken place in recent decades so
as to be able to make use of it when teaching.
Institutions should allocate financial
and personnel resources for educational development work.
Forms of teaching
The Commission's survey of the density of
teaching in universities and colleges shows that there are major
differences in the learning support available to the students on different
courses. Our remit questions whether these differences, which often have a
historical basis, are still justified. These questions will be discussed
in more detail in a separate report.
The Commission does not want to attempt to
establish any universal guidelines with regard to the forms of learning
support to students. Different courses of study have by tradition
different forms of teaching, and this must probably continue to be the
case. Also, different categories of students need different forms of
learning support. The survey of teaching practices summarised in this
chapter also shows that the variation in forms of teaching between
different courses can be significant.
The Commission summarises its views as
It is not possible to establish
universal guidelines for achieving a balance between the different forms
of teaching. But it is emphasised that any teaching input, whatever it is
called, should always support and promote the students' own
On this basis, it is desirable that
there should be an increased emphasis on teaching in seminar
A development towards more
individually-focussed forms of learning support similar to the tutorials
of the British university system is also necessary, according to the
The knowledge and skills of professors
and other senior researchers ought to be put to greater use in
undergraduate education than is the case today.
Experiences of problem-based
One method of teaching which is much
studied today is that which is based on the principle of problem-based
learning (PBL). The Commission considers that problem-based learning has
many advantages. PBL makes a connection with the students' earlier
knowledge and skills, encourages a scientific attitude and handles the
subject matter in a meaningful context. In addition, this method of
organising studies stimulates intellectual curiosity, activity, personal
responsibility and control over one's own learning, and thereby
contributes to personal development.
A prerequisite for the PBL method is a
willingness on the part of the teachers to think of fresh ideas. It is
also requires more preparation and guidance from the teachers' side in
comparison with conventional teaching. Further, there is a need for better
resources in the form of libraries, literature and venues for group work.
The resource requirements for PBL should not however be judged solely by
comparing with conventional teaching but also by comparing with teaching
which fulfils its objectives to the same extent.
The Commission suggests
that both local and central development
resources continue to be invested in experiments with PBL also in other
areas than the health sciences, and
that these experiments are followed by
systematic evaluations which take note of changes in knowledge,
proficiency and opinions amongst the students.
Many studies have shown how examinations
govern the students' style of learning. For the end result, measured in
terms of what has been learned, the examinations is often as significant
as the teaching. The examination is also one of the most important
instruments for the monitoring and control of the quality of the
The report refers to a study on the
examination as quality control in higher education, sponsored by the
Commission. The Commission draws the conclusion that the current Swedish
practice of dividing the course into a large number of successive tests,
without an all-embracing final examination, ought to be questioned. It is
also important that the examination results of different higher education
establishments should be comparable. In the Commission's opinion, common
or coordinated tests should be encouraged.
The Commission argues that the importance
of the examination as quality control warrants the participation of more
than one examiner. A system of external examiners would be of great
importance in assuring quality and equivalence in Swedish higher
education, the report concludes.
In the report, the conclusions and
suggestions are summarised as follows:
The examination, which is an important
part of quality control in higher education, should not be limited simply
to checking certain factual knowledge. The examination should be in
keeping with the superior aim of promoting the students' independent and
critical attitude to the subject matter.
Examinations should therefore cover
considerably larger sections of the course than today - if possible a half
or a whole year of study - which will make it possible to make a more
comprehensive judgment of the knowledge and skills of the students. This
does not exclude sectional exams, or the equivalent, in shorter course
Examinations of a summarising nature or
which cover larger sections of a course should generally require the use
of external examiners. As a primary objective, it is suggested that any
study programme that leads to a degree should include at least one such
QUALITY AND EVALUATION
Quality in higher education
The accountability of higher
As government inanced institutions, higher
education establishments have a clear duty to account both for their use
of resources and for the results - both quantitative and qualitative - of
their work. In the case of research there is an established and
well-functioning system of quality control; but there is currently no
equivalent for undergraduate studies. Swedish higher education needs a
"quality system" for undergraduate studies too.
But two important conditions must be met
if an evaluation system is to avoid negative consequences: in the first
place the evaluation must consider all aspects of the study programme and
take into account the fact that the programme has several different aims,
in the second place crude statistics should not be used mechanically as a
basis for the decisions of superior authorities without there being an
opportunity for those who are affected to give an explanation for the
Quality in higher
The concept of "quality" in higher
education is not easy to grasp, and it can be given different meanings
depending on the viewpoint of the observer. Different interested parties
make different - and legitimate - demands on education. From our point of
view, however, the most important interest group in higher education is
the students. It is above all their interests and needs which should guide
decisions on priorities and quality assessment.
In the final analysis, therefore, a
fundamental factor in the assessment of quality must be the quality of the
result of the studies - i.e. what the student has assimilated when the
course is at an end. It is this quality aspect that the interested parties
in higher education (both the students and society/the employment market)
have most reason to be interested in.
The development towards an increasing
focus on objectives and results makes it necessary to find a satisfactory
form for quality assurance. Quality control must essentially be a matter
for the institutions themselves, but it is at the same time important that
society should be able to rely on the institutions to take full
responsibility for quality assurance.
The Commission indicates some quality
assurance procedures which are considered important:
- New courses or study programmes should
be subjected to a validation process focusing on quality before they
- There must be a continuous evaluation of
the teaching from the students' point of view.
- The examination is a fundamental element
in quality control. The Commission considers that external examiners
should to be the rule in Swedish higher education. This will probably
require a change to examinations summarising larger course sections than
today. In addition it is important that common or coordinated tests are
used to a greater extent than is currently the case.
- At the national level there is a need
for some form of subject-based body for the exchange of experience,
consultation and cooperation.
Monitoring and evaluation
The monitoring of results, quality
assurance and evaluation should be seen as interacting factors in a
coherent quality system. The main of monitoring is to give an overview of,
and control over, the work of the educational establishment, while
evaluation aims to provide a basis for development and
The monitoring of results is based on
routine reporting which is a part of the yearly report of the
institutions. Evaluation should be based upon a self-evaluation by those
who have local responsibility for education. To this self-evaluation is
added an external judgment ("peer review") which is communicated to those
involved and can be a basis for development and charge. Finally, if it is
to have any meaning, the evaluation must lead to action.
Each sector in higher education
organisation is responsible for monitoring and evaluating its work. At the
local level the board of the institution bears the formal responsibility
for evaluations within its own establishment. The practical evaluation
work must, however take place within the individual department. Sometimes,
however, the evaluation must be focussed on the study programme rather
than on the department, especially in the case of self-contained,
There is also a need for evaluations at
the national level, with international perspectives. There should be a
long-term programme for evaluation work over, for example, a five-year
period, so that institutions are aware of which areas are to be evaluated
at national level and can adapt local evaluations accordingly.
The students' assessment of the course can
be a valuable indicator of the effectiveness of the teaching. A student
assessment alone, however, rarely reveals the causes of any possible
problems, and neither does it offer any guarantee of constructive
On the other hand, course evaluations
carried out jointly by teachers and students can be a powerful instrument
for developing the quality of the course, of the students' learning and of
teachers' skills and knowledge. Evaluations of this kind at the basic
level can be seen as one of the cornerstones of quality assurance in
The report summarises:
Student participation should be a
natural feature of all types of course evaluation.
Longer courses should be evaluated by
students and teachers together, and the results should influence the
future planning of the course.
The evaluation at the end of a course
can be summarised an assessed in a course report, which can, for example,
be used as a basis for decisions on possible changes.
Responsibility for seeing that the
evaluation takes place lies ultimately with the board of the institution,
even if the practical work is delegated to the department.
The status of undergraduate teaching in
academia and the relative weight of the teaching commitments of academics
depend to a large extent on the way teaching qualifications are assessed
for promotion etc. This question was therefore made a priority in the work
of the Commission, and a preliminary report with our suggested guidelines
and recommendations was published during the autumn of 1990.
In the final report, the results of a
couple of questionnaires given to the institutions about the assessment of
educational qualifications at the time of employment are summarised. We
also give examples from other countries and give an account of some recent
Swedish experiences of methods of assessing teachers.
A central question is of course to what
extent teaching ability can be assessed and documented. The question is
discussed in detail, with one of the background reports commissioned by
the enquiry as a starting point.
The following is a summary of the views
expressed in the report:
When academic qualifications are being
assessed - at the time of appointment, when pay levels are being discussed
etc. - both research qualifications and teaching excellence need to be
taken into and account, albeit with different emphasis depending on the
type of post.
In order that teaching qualifications be
given more consideration than they have been given previously, the
documentation must be better and more comprehensive than is currently the
case. This is primarily the responsibility of the applicant.
In appendices to the report, there are
(a) suggested guidelines for the documentation and assessment of
educational qualifications, intends both for applicants and for
appointment boards, and (b) a memo with suggested criteria for the
assessment of teaching ability.
The requirements with regard to
educational competence for teaching posts should be made explicit. A basic
teacher's training (corresponding in total to 6 working weeks) should be a
minimum requirement for all teaching posts.
As a basis for the appraisal of teaching
ability each teacher should have the right to an opinion of their ability.
This should normally be given by the head of the department where the
teacher is employed. The basis and form of this appraisal are discussed in
Staff development for teachers in
The teachers' level of competence is of
strategic importance for the quality of higher education. The Commission
suggests an action programme for educational training as a part of the
teachers' workload. In the programme, emphasis is laid on developmental
work in the teacher's own department.
Basic qualification as a teacher
requires the completion of the first part of the programme (six weeks).
This part should be completed during the first year of service.
Qualification as a lecturer should
additionally require the completion of the second part of the programme
(ten weeks over a period of five years).
All teachers should be entitled to take
part in the third part of the programme (one week per year).
Each department is responsible for
seeing that its teachers are given the opportunity to follow the training
programme and that a senior teacher is appointed as a mentor for new
The basic course should be offered or
required within the framework of research training.
Each institution is responsible for
seeing that there is a base organisation and enough operational resources
to support the realisation of the training programme.
A national coordinating body for staff
development should be created.
ORGANISATION AND MANAGEMENT
Management and responsibility in
The Commission has initiated some studies
of management questions in universities and colleges. The report gives an
account of these analyses.
The Commission concludes that questions of
management will have increasing importance in a decentralised system of
higher education. One starting point should be the characterisation of the
university as a "multi-professional organisation", a concept which
originated in one of the reports to the Commission. The management at
various levels must put together values and visions which are common to
the different professional groups. This produces synergy and is a
prerequisite for the recruitment of good managers.
The internal organisation of universities
and colleges must be allowed to vary depending on size and degree of
diversification. The organisational link between education and research
should be strengthened.
The proposals are summarised as
The organisational structure should have
four core functions: strong and self-sufficient departments, an
institutional management with a strategically coordinating role, in large
institutions also planning and decision-making middle (faculty) level
bodies for education and research, and good administrative support
Particularly in the case of the large
universities, consideration should be given to establishing an advisory
academic body covering the whole institution, which could perhaps be
called the "academic senate".
Each institution should be responsible
for a programme of management development, preferably working jointly with
other institutions on a regional or national level.
"The good department"
In the brief of the Commission, attention
is drawn particularly to the organisation of the basic units of
institutions of higher education, the departments of various disciplines.
In the report, the Commission distinguishes two approaches which lead to
what for want of better terms is called the "expedient" department and the
The concept of the "expedient" department
is reserved for the model which seems most expedient from the
administrative - perhaps the university management's - point of view. It
is this concept of a department which underlies the discussion in a
previous government statement about the necessity of merging of small
The concept of the "good" department is
something that is seen as having its basis in the internal life of the
department. It implies an intellectually stimulating environment for all
who work there and for the students whose studies are temporarily linked
to it. A "good" department is perhaps most likely to be found in a unit
whose tasks are reasonably homogeneous.
The administratively "expedient"
department has a certain minimum size determined by the fact that
decentralisation of responsibilities and powers requires a certain
administrative competence and certain service functions related to the
number of employees. The "good" department on the other hand has a certain
maximum size which is determined by the number of people who can be
brought together in solidarity around reasonably homogeneous tasks. It is
true for both types of department that, for the scientific and educational
environment to be of an acceptable quality, the combined skills and
knowledge of considerably more than one or two academic teachers are
The final balance between the two
departmental concepts will always be a compromise, which combines the
above-mentioned factors with additional historical and psychological
aspects as well as factors concerning the premises. The Commission
emphasises that, when all aspects are considered, it is the factors which
speak in favour of the "good" department which should be given the
The Commission's views concerning the
departmental organisation are summarised as follows:
Higher education should take place in
subject-based or subject-area-based departments, where education, research
and other assignments can be common obligations and
A department should generally be of a
size which lends itself to management by a representative body (a
The desire to have large,
administratively effective departments must however be balanced with the
desire to have departments with homogeneous tasks.
The management of the institution should
consider establishing groups of departments as an alternative to very
The provision of departmental space
should be organised so that each department is given compactly-laid out
premises with space for students.
One important aspects of management
responsibility is to make the objectives of the work known and accepted by
The institution should carry out staff
development programmes with the focus on the department and its
RESOURCES FOR SERVICE AND
The Commission points out that the primary
responsibility for education and teaching lies unequivocally with the
individual department, its management, teachers and students. This
responsibility also covers curricular and educational
However, experience shows that one
prerequisite for regeneration and development is that there are defined
resources set aside by the department, the most important resource factor
being the time of the teacher. Further, there is a need for the
institution as a whole to have some collective developmental resources,
and experienced staff, that departments can draw on. In the report, the
Commission discusses both the organisation of educational development work
within the individual institution and the resources at the national
It is important that the management
commits itself to the development of teaching. Every institution needs a
local educational programme - perhaps as a part of a comprehensive
development programme for the institution. It would probably be wise for
the institution to create a forum for the discussion of questions
concerning the quality and development of teaching - an "educational
council" or something similar. In the opinion of the Commission, every
institution also needs a specialist function for educational development
which can support development work at the departments and take the
responsibility for certain common questions (including the educational
training of the teachers).
There is also a need on the national level
for resources for development and support for new initiatives. The
"Council for the Renewal of Undergraduate Education", which was
established after a proposal by the Commission, will play an important
part in this development, and should therefore be allowed to continue its
work after the initial three-year trial period.
The question of the role of university and
college libraries in relation to the quality of education has been
analysed by a special working group. The group's report has led the
Commission to the following conclusions and proposals:
Swedish university and college libraries
are, with a few exceptions, below the comparable international standard.
There is a need for an improvement programme, not least at the new
colleges. The government should initiate a special review of the resource
needs of the university or college library.
The improvement programme should be
linked to organisational changes and a number of rationalisation measures,
largely according to guidelines which have been drawn up in an evaluation
by the British librarian Maurice B. Line on behalf of the Nordic body
"Nordinfo". Libraries should exist to provide a service to researchers,
teachers and students rather than to preserve collections.
University and college teachers must be
given better opportunities in internal training to enable them to make use
of libraries and other sources of information in their
One of the aims of higher education must
be to ensure that all students learn the theory and practice of using
libraries and other sources of information. This can most easily be
achieved if they are given tasks at an early stage which require this
The needs of the students in terms of
study places and group rooms must be taken into consideration when library
buildings are planned.
The role of the library in information
provision should be taken into consideration during the basic and further
training of librarians.
Computers in teaching
Even if the enthusiasm for the potential
of the computer within undergraduate teaching has at times perhaps been
far too great in relation to the actual possibilities and results, it
seems that we are now on the way to a realistic view which justifies
In the first place, higher education
students should learn, to a far greater degree than today, to use the
computer as a tool. This can improve the quality of written reports and
increase the accessibility of databases and literature, which makes
studying more effective and increases the students' motivation to study.
The use of computers should thus be a regular element in any study
programme and where appropriate be a requirement for passing a course.
Secondly, the drawing up of suitable forms
of computer support for teaching and learning must of course be regarded
as an addition to the teaching qualifications of a teacher. There is also
a need for comprehensive training efforts so that a large proportion of
the teaching body can benefit from the latest developments in computer
technology. The Commission points out that, in general, higher education
teachers in Sweden are poorly equipped to use the services that are
available via computer networks, e.g. computer conferences and searching
in databases and libraries.
The British model of subject-based centres
for the development of computer support for education ought to be
applicable in Sweden too. Such centres may in addition find advantages in
cooperating with their equivalents in Britain. The Commission suggests a
three year programme with subject-based development centres.
Scientific foundation course
The Commission's remit does not include
the content of educational courses. However, one exception is the the
question of so-called scientific foundation courses and equivalent
elements in undergraduate education, which came about through a statement
from the parliamentary education committee and an initiative of the
Swedish National Union of Students.
The Commission has supported some
experiments with this kind of courses. The conclusions are summarised as
All students in examination orientated
study courses should - irrespective of type of institution or course - be
given an introduction to the history of science, scientific theory and
scientific method. This introduction should also be followed up in the
At larger institutions, mainly the
universities, there should be a general scientific foundation course of
one term (20 points/weeks) as part of a recommended educational study
programme. Such a course is a good introduction to university studies but
can also be of use, in its entirety or in certain parts, in later phases
of the course.
Cooperation between universities and
colleges in this area should be encouraged since there is a lack of
teachers, study material etc. This cooperation should aim at exchanging
ideas and experiences relating to the content and planning of the
foundation course as well as to the training of the teachers. The
responsibility for this cooperation should be entrusted to an institution
with extensive experience of the field. This could also include the
responsibility of acting as a databank, i. e. keeping track of the stock
of study materials and communicating this information to other