8. November 2021
A joint admissions process to Swedish higher education institutions
Academic recognition for access/admission to further studies is a task for each Swedish higher education institution. The vast majority of HEIs are public institutions, and they are as such legally responsible for their admission decisions. Private and independent HEIs follow the same regulatory framework as public HEIs. However, all Swedish HEIs cooperate on recognition of foreign qualifications for access to Bachelor and Master programmes, administered within a joint admissions organisation through the Swedish Council for Higher Education. Since 2006 admissions to HEIs in Sweden is a digitized process with online applications, a digital applications case management and admissions system, and scanned credentials.
One prerequisite for an effective common admissions process is the Swedish legislation and ordinance on entry requirements to HE, with a division of access and admission requirements. The joint admissions organisation evaluates foreign upper secondary school qualifications for access to Bachelor programmes. For access to Master programmes, it evaluates academic qualifications, i.e. assessment of the HEI’s quality, level and workload, language requirements as well as document authenticity. The approved applications are forwarded to the HEI which the applicant actually applied to, for the assessment of the profile and programme specific learning outcomes. HEIs also do the selection of applicants for admission to their programmes.
The joint admissions organisation can to some extent be compared to the Uni-Assist in Germany, with the main difference that all Swedish HEIs use this service, and that HEIs are involved actively in the organization with part-time staff. The online services at antagning.se or UniversityAdmissions.se are the main sites for admissions to all Swedish HEIs for all applicants with either Swedish or foreign qualifications.
ENIC-NARIC Sweden supports HEIs and admissions officers in the joint admissions services with information on recognition methodology, support to implementation of automatic recognition, and country/institution/qualification-specific information and research. This is done through databases like The Qualifications Assessment tool and the Naric Portal (in Swedish - login necessary), at training sessions online or at conferences.
ENIC-NARIC Sweden is situated within the same public agency as the coordinated admissions organisation, i.e. the Swedish Council for Higher Education, UHR (Universitets- och högskolerådet). One of ENIC-NARICs main tasks is to evaluate foreign qualifications for individuals: upper secondary education, post-secondary vocational education and higher education. The evaluation results in a non-legally binding recognition statement (Zeugnisbewertung), which states the foreign qualification and its comparison in the Swedish education system. This service is free of charge for applicants, and its main purpose is to promote access to the non-regulated labour market in Sweden. However, the recognition statements are also used to in applications to further studies, but they are not binding for HEIs. ENIC-NARIC Sweden does also provide information on foreign higher education systems and recognition to other competent recognition authorities in Sweden, to employers and other stakeholders with the Naric Portal as its main information channel.
Recognition of non-formal and informal learning
Academic recognition of non-formal and informal learning (RPL) is not as organised at national level as the recognition of foreign formal learning.
There is legal support for academic recognition of learning acquired outside of the HE sector in the Swedish Higher Education Ordinance, and the Association of Swedish Higher Education Institutions (SUHF) has issued a set of recommendations on RPL for access (in Swedish). There are no similar national recommendations regarding RPL for credits.
For RPL, there’s no formalised cooperation between HEIs for evaluations/assessments as in the joint admissions organisation described above. However, there are networks of HEIs working with joint guidelines for validation/RPL for access and for credits. Many, but not all HEIs, have developed internal policy documents on RPL for credit and this concerns also recognition of prior formal learning/transfer of credits.
At a national level, no central agency currently has a formal task to promote or organise RPL in higher education in Sweden. However, the Swedish Council for Higher Education has been involved in national as well as international projects regarding development of practices in RPL, such as the Erasmus+ funded KA3 project RPL in Practice, which was finalised Spring 2021.
Strengths and challenges ahead in recognition
As mentioned above, the higher education legal texts with a division of access and admission requirements, provides a good framework for cooperation and joint guidelines regarding academic recognition. The trust between HEIs and the efforts to provide joint regulations for access benefits the students as well as the HEIs themselves. The students, because of the high level of transparency in the admissions process; they don’t need to struggle with different access regulations. One set of documents is sufficient since the process is digital. The HEIs, because the shared resources of admission officers provide smooth application process with high professional standard. De facto automatic recognition of EHEA degrees is implemented to a high level. The cooperation between the coordinated admissions organisation and the ENIC-NARIC is good. The willingness to develop recognition methodology and learn together is high, which is noticeable also regarding recognition of non-formal and informal learning. Networks between HEIs are forming.
On the other side of the coin there are challenges ahead. When HEIs cooperate as tight as they do in Sweden, it does of course also bring some negative consequences.
There’s a set application deadline and a joint schedule when admission letters are sent, which makes it difficult for HEIs to give a formal quick response to individual applicants. Each HEI also risks lacking the broader competence on foreign credentials when the major part of evaluations is done somewhere else. Each HEI may become less flexible and perhaps reluctant to make exceptions joint admissions regulations in individual cases.
There’s a need to develop the regulatory framework for RPL – both regarding recognition for credits as regarding funding, as well as the use of the Swedish QF-LLL (SeQF) in higher education.
The Swedish ENIC-NARIC will continue to work to strengthen the cooperation between the stakeholders involved and reach out to quality assurance bodies and other parts of the sector, to ensure fair and transparent recognition of foreign qualifications in Sweden.
- Number of HEI (public/private): 49 HEIs (31 public - 18 private/independent)
- Total number of students: c. 385000 (Fall 2020, first + second cycle)
- Number of foreign students: 39.500 (2019/20)
- Proportion of students in higher education completing a study or training period abroad: c. 14%
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