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PhD Study in Sweden - A Guide for 2019

Combining a historic higher education system with a culture of ingenuity and invention, it’s no surprise that Sweden is a popular choice for international PhD study. The country’s universities date back to the fifteenth century, whilst Swedish brands and technologies such as Spotify, IKEA and Bluetooth continue to shape the modern world.

This page explains what it’s like to study your PhD in Sweden, including information on applications, funding opportunities and doctoral fees (spoiler: there aren’t any).

PhD opportunities in Sweden – what’s on offer for 2019?

If the goal for your PhD is to produce original and potentially innovative work (it should be) then Sweden may well be the ideal doctoral destination.

Like its Scandinavian neighbours, Sweden is also a highly tolerant country, with progressive and inclusive laws that support LGBT rights and welcome international students and visitors.

Here are a few reasons why you should consider a Swedish university this year:

  • Creativity and originality – You may not discover the next big music streaming solution (and even a PhD may not help you understand *that step* in those IKEA instructions) but your doctoral research will be right at home in a country that celebrates free-thinking and supports new ideas
  • Prize-winning research - Sweden's status as the home of the Nobel Prize (with 32 winners) reflects its proud history of recognising and rewarding research, excellence and innovation
  • No PhD fees – Swedish doctoral programmes normally charge no tuition fees to their students (regardless of nationality)
  • Historic (and respected) universities – Higher education in Sweden dates back to the 1400s and the country’s universities are well placed in modern rankings, with particular specialisms in Medicine, Life Sciences and related subjects

We’ve studiously avoided making any ABBA references in this section, but if you want a university to take a chance on your research proposal and eventually give you, give you, give you a PhD without charging much money, money,money for fees*. . . well, there are worse destinations to choose than Sweden.

*We're sorry.


PhD Study in Sweden - Key Details
Universities 38
Nobel Prizes 32
Oldest University Uppsala University (1477)
International Students 28,029
PhD Length 4 years
Representative Fees None
Academic Year August to June

Swedish universities

There are 38 state-funded universities and equivalent institutions in Sweden, alongside a smaller number of privately funded higher education providers.

Degrees are organised using a three-cycle system, in common with the wider European Higher Education Area. Your PhD will be a third-cycle qualification, usually taking place after Bachelors (first cycle) and Masters (second cycle) study.

Universities and university colleges

Higher education providers in Sweden are divided into two types:

  • Universities (universitet) are large institutions awarding degrees in a broad range of subjects. They carry out original research alongside academic teaching and therefore have the capacity to support and train PhD students.
  • University colleges (högskola) focus on technical and professional training, often in applied sciences and related subjects. They are less likely to award PhDs but may do so in certain subject areas.

The distinction between these two categories isn’t always obvious or clear from an institution’s name (university colleges may simply refer to themselves as universities). The good news is that you don’t need to worry too much about it. As a PhD student you’re likely to end up studying at a university, but the smaller number of doctoral programmes offered by university colleges are equally rigorous and respected.

Swedish university rankings

Sweden is home to one of Europe’s top-performing higher education systems, at least so far as university rankings are concerned. Of the 38 universities in Sweden, 10 rank within the current Times Higher Education world top 400.


Top 10 Swedish Universities in 2019
University THE 2019 QS 2019 ARWU 2018
Karolinska Institute 40 - 44
Uppsala University =87 117 63
Lund University 98 92 101-150
Stockholm University =153 =200 77
KTH Royal Institute of Technology =187 =104 201-300
Chalmers University of Technology 201-250 =128 201-300
University of Gothenburg 201-250 =269 101-150
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences 251-300 - 201-300
Umeå University 301-350 =338 401-500
Linköping University 351-400 302 301-400
Information in this table is based on the latest Times Higher Education World University Rankings, QS World University Rankings and Academic Ranking of World Universities. Visit their websites for more information.

Do rankings matter for PhD study?

University rankings can help you choose a PhD project or programme, provided you know what to look at. Our guide explains how to use rankings as a prospective postgraduate.

Swedish university cities

Sweden’s cities combine high-tech facilities and relaxed modern lifestyle with easy access to the country’s often stunning Scandinavian landscapes. The following are some of the most popular hubs for university students:

PhD structure

PhD study represents the highest level of academic achievement for students at Swedish universities. As in other countries, the emphasis is on your independent research towards an original thesis that makes a new contribution to knowledge in your field.

Swedish doctoral degrees

Doctoral level study in Sweden takes one of two forms:

A standard PhD requires a minimum of four years full-time work (equivalent to 240 ECTS credits) and awards a full doctorate (along with the all-important title of ‘doctor’).

Alternatively, you may choose to study for a shorter licentiate degree. This generally only requires two years of full-time work towards a shorter and less ambitious thesis (equivalent to 120 ECTS credits). The Swedish licentiate is similar to the Master of Philosophy (MPhil) offered in the UK or other countries and some students initially enrol for this qualification before upgrading to become full PhD candidates.

The academic year in Sweden runs from August to June with two teaching terms (August to January and January to June) separated by summer and winter holidays. As a PhD student you’ll normally work more flexibly throughout the year, but some additional courses and other activities may be linked to specific teaching periods.

Supervision

You’ll complete your PhD (or licentiate) with the support of two or more expert supervisors whose job it will be to guide your work. Their roles will vary slightly depending on your field:

  • Supervisors for Arts, Humanities and some Social Science projects will serve primarily as mentors. They won’t be directly involved in your research, but they will be able to advise on the direction your project is taking.
  • Supervisors for Science, Technology, Engineeringand Mathematics (STEM) projects may also be carrying out similar research as the lead or principal investigator for the laboratory or research group your PhD is part of. This means they may also work alongside you or even collaborate on some experiments. However, your PhD thesis will still be an independent piece of work, based on your personal findings and analysis.

You’ll always have at least two PhD supervisors, one of whom will be the principal supervisor for your PhD. Some universities also appoint additional assistant supervisors with responsibility for specific tasks (such as training or pastoral care and support).

Your supervisors’ roles and expectations will be set by your university. As a minimum they’ll usually include arranging regular progress meetings, reviewing results and drafts and supporting you as you prepare to submit your thesis. Some additional responsibilities might include identifying and fulfilling training needs or assisting with other aspects of your professional and academic development.

PhD supervision

Our guides explain how to choose (and contact) a PhD supervisor and introduce the working relationship you'll have with yours as a doctoral student.

Programme structure

Your main focus during a Swedish PhD will be the original research required for your thesis. You’ll normally begin by assessing the scholarship in your subject (a literature review) before moving on to collecting sources or experimental data and eventually writing up your conclusions and results.

Some universities also offer more structured training alongside your research. This may involve attending short courses and / or attending short courses on research methods and other useful skills for your project.

It’s also common for PhD students at Swedish universities to serve as junior academic staff within their departments or faculties as part of their funding arrangements. If so, you’ll also have additional duties such as teaching or demonstrating.

Assessment and examinations

The assessment of a Swedish PhD is based on the quality of the doctoral thesis you submit at the end of your research. This needs to demonstrate that your work has been original, that it has made a significant contribution to your subject and that you have personally been responsible for designing and carrying out the research involved.

All of these qualities will be formally assessed during a final public defence of your thesis.

This is similar to the viva voce used in the UK and other countries but follows a slightly different procedure. Instead of being examined in private, you will present your thesis to an examining committee in front of an audience that may include other academics, fellow PhD students and your family and friends.

One of the committee will be an external expert (from outside your university) appointed to serve as your ‘opponent’. They will ask questions about your thesis and challenge you to explain your findings and conclusions. Other members of the committee (and audience) may also ask questions.

At the end of the examination your committee will decide whether or not you have successfully defended your thesis and can be awarded your PhD. This ‘live’ examination process may seem daunting, but you should think of it as an appropriate climax for your research, allowing you to assert your expertise and prove your qualification. It’s also quite rare for students to fail at this stage.

Fees and funding

State-funded Swedish universities do not charge fees for PhD study (note that this doesn’t apply to Masters or Bachelors degrees). Doctoral programmes are free for EU, EEA and international (non EU) students.

The same applies to application fees – you don’t need to pay these for a PhD in Sweden.

You will need to cover your accommodation and living costs, but support may be available from your university to help with this.

Study grants

It’s common for PhD students in Sweden to also be recognised as staff, subject to an employment contract with their university. If applicable, this pays you to a salary known as a study grant (utbildningsbidrag) worth approximately €1,500 per month (but subject to tax).

Your employment status may vary during your PhD. For the first two years you will receive your study grant, but not be entitled to benefits and social security. For the final two years you will normally hold a full employment contract (anställning) and be entitled to support during illness, parental leave or other circumstances. More information will be available from your university.

In return for your study grant you will normally be required to carry out some responsibilities within your department, such as teaching undergraduates or assisting with administrative work.

PhD funding

Other scholarships and bursaries for PhD study in Sweden may also be available to help top up (or substitute for) a study grant.

The main source of PhD funding for international students in Sweden is the Swedish Institute (SI). They offer scholarships for students from specific regions including Turkey, the Balkans and the Baltic. More information is available on the official Study in Sweden website.

Other funding may be available from universities in Sweden, or from specific academic organisations and research charities relevant to your subject area.

Looking for PhD funding?

Our guides provide information on a range of PhD scholarships and other funding options.

Applying for a PhD in Sweden

You should apply directly to universities for PhD study in Sweden. How you do so will depend on the kind of project you are interested in:

  • PhDs in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics will often be advertised as specific projects. You should view current opportunities and apply according to the guidelines set by specific adverts. This will often mean submitting a personal statement along with your academic CV and references.
  • Students in Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences are more likely to put forward their own project ideas. You’ll need to submit a strong research proposal, perhaps after contacting a potential supervisor for guidance and advice.

However you apply, make sure you check the specific requirements and procedure with your university.

Admissions requirements

Swedish universities are free to set their own entry requirements for PhD study. The minimum qualification will usually be a Bachelors degree in an appropriate subject, but a Masters is also desirable – particularly if you’re applying for funding.

Just as important as your previous qualifications will be your ability to demonstrate previous research experience. This could simply be the dissertation project for one or both of your previous degrees, but it’s important that you can show some preparation for the independent research you’ll be doing on your PhD.

PhD entry requirements

The general eligibility criteria for PhD applications in Sweden is similar to most other countries in the EU. Our guide explains entry requirements for a prospective PhD student.

Language requirements

A large proportion of teaching at Swedish universities takes place in English. This means you won’t necessarily need to know Swedish to study abroad in Sweden, but it’s worth checking with the specific university or department you plan to study within. Even if English isn’t required, picking up some language skills will help you settle in and enjoy your degree.

If English isn’t your first language you may need to submit a recognised test score. Exceptions might be made if you’ve completed a previous university degree taught in English.

Interviews

Your university may invite you for an interview as part of the admissions process (in person, or online). This is a good sign! It means your application is suitably interesting and impressive and the university wants to hear more from you.

Student visas

You won’t need a visa to study in Sweden as a PhD student (student visas are required for visits of less than three months, but your PhD is guaranteed to take longer than this!).

EU, EEA and Nordic students

If you’re a citizen of an EU, EEA or Nordic country (a group that includes Finland, Denmark, Iceland and Norway as well as Sweden) you won’t need a residence permit to live in Sweden during your PhD. However, you will need to register with a local branch of the Swedish Tax Agency (Skatteverket).

You’ll need to bring your passport plus any marriage or birth certificates (if you are married and / or have children). You’ll also need to bring proof of admission to a Swedish university and a signed declaration that you have sufficient funds to live on during your PhD (the minimum requirement is €800 per month).

Other international students

Students from countries outside the EU, EEA and Nordic group must formally apply for a residence permit in order to study in Sweden for longer than three months.

You can do this online. You’ll need to provide copies of your passport, along with proof that you have been admitted to a Swedish university, have paid the first instalment of your tuition fees and can support yourself financially during your PhD the minimum requirement is €800 per month).

Health insurance

All students in Sweden will need full health insurance. If you already hold a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) you will normally be automatically covered. Alternatively, your university may provide cover as part of your study grant, or offer an affordable policy for you to purchase.

Next steps

Sweden is a multicultural and inclusive country with plenty of opportunities for talented PhD graduates to apply their skills and expertise. Who knows – your work could be part of the next great Swedish innovation.

Can I work in Sweden after my PhD?

EU, EEA and Nordic students can live and work in Sweden without restriction. Other international students will need to apply for a post-study residence permit, allowing you to stay in Sweden for another six months as you look for work. To obtain this you’ll need to have completed your degree, still be in Sweden and hold a valid passport.

If you are successful in finding a job within six months, you can go on toapply for a work permit. Further information is available from the Swedish Migration Office.

Find a PhD in Sweden

Ready to start browsing some current PhD opportunities in Sweden? Alternatively, you can look at our other guides to PhD study abroad.

Last updated - 30/11/2018

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