European Education Area Progress Report 2020

Education and Training Monitor 2020


1. Key indicators

Figure 1 – Key indicators overview
Sweden EU-27
2009 2019 2009 2019
Education and training 2020 benchmarks
Early leavers from education and training (age 18-24) 7.0% 6.5% 14.0% 10.2%
Tertiary educational attainment (age 30-34) 43.9% 52.5% 31.1% 40.3%
Early childhood education
(from age 4 to starting age of compulsory primary education)
94.7% 95.9%18 90.3% 94.8%18
Proportion of 15 year-olds underachieving in: Reading 17.4% 18.4%18 19.3% 22.5%18
Maths 21.1% 18.8%18 22.2% 22.9%18
Science 19.1% 19.0%18 17.8% 22.3%18
Employment rate of recent graduates by educational attainment (age 20-34 having left education 1-3 years before reference year) ISCED 3-8 (total) 81.6% 88.7% 78.0% 80.9%
Adult participation in learning (age 25-64) ISCED 0-8 (total) 22.5% 34.3% 7.9% 10.8%b
Learning mobility Degree mobile graduates (ISCED 5-8) : 4.5%18 : 4.3%18
Credit mobile graduates (ISCED 5-8) : 10.5%18 : 9.1%18
Other contextual indicators
Education investment Public expenditure on education as a percentage of GDP 6.7% 6.9%18 5.1% 4.6%18
Expenditure on public and private institutions per student in € PPS ISCED 1-2 €8 10112 €8 63917 €6 072d, 12 €6 240d, 16
ISCED 3-4 €8 43012 €8 47717 :12 €7 757d, 16
ISCED 5-8 €17 35812 €17 74517 €9 679d, 12 €9 977d, 16
Early leavers from education and training (age 18-24) Native-born 6.4% 4.6% 12.6% 8.9%
Foreign-born 11.9% 13.6% 29.3% 22.2%
Tertiary educational attainment (age 30-34) Native-born 44.3% 52.5% 32.0% 41.3%
Foreign-born 42.6% 52.7% 25.1% 35.3%
Employment rate of recent graduates by educational attainment (age 20-34 having left education 1-3 years before reference year) ISCED 3-4 74.6% 84.9% 72.2% 75.9%
ISCED 5-8 89.6% 91.7% 83.7% 85.0%

Source: Eurostat; OECD (PISA); Learning mobility figures are calculated by DG EAC, based on UOE 2018 data. Further information can be found in Annex I and in Volume 1 ( Notes: The 2018 EU average on PISA reading performance does not include ES; b = break in time series; d = definition differs; u = low reliability; : = not available; 12 = 2012, 16 = 2016, 17 = 2017, 18 = 2018.

Figure 2 - Position in relation to strongest and weakest performers

Source: DG EAC, based on data from Eurostat (LFS 2019, UOE 2018) and OECD (PISA 2018).

2. Highlights

  • Schools are highly digitally equipped and pupils’ digital skills are good, but teachers need more training.
  • Investment in education is high and many reforms are planned.
  • The gap in reading between learners with a migrant background and native students is growing.
  • There is a shortage of subject-teacher students, and teacher training needs to be strengthened.

3. A focus on digital education

The population has high digital skills, but there are not enough information and communications technology (ICT) graduates. Digital skills of 16-19 year-olds are better than the EU average: 71% have above basic digital skills (EU-27 57%)1 and those of general population are among the best in the EU. There is a shortage of ICT graduates on the labour market (European Commission, 2020), which is likely to continue: shares of ICT graduates and students are relatively low (3.7%2 and 4.3%3, respectively) and pupils who perform well in the OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) also show low interest in ICT professions (OECD, 2019-SE).

A National digitalisation strategy for the school system was adopted in 2017 (Regeringen, 2017). It is monitored regularly by the National Agency for Education (NAE, 2019a), and implemented through a National action plan developed by the Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions (SALAR, 2019). It includes coding skills in compulsory school and revised curricula and syllabi for upper secondary education. Diploma goals for VET programmes have been updated according to digital competence needs in different vocations.

Teachers’ digital skills need to be better supported. There is no compulsory coverage of ICT in initial teacher education (ITE) or assessment of digital competencies before entry into the profession (European Commission, 2019b). The share of teachers trained in ICT in ITE is the lowest in the EU (36%; EU-22 49.1%) and the share who report a high level of need for ICT training (22.2%) is above the EU-22 average (18%) (OECD, 2019b). As digital skills became part of the national curriculum in all schools from 1 July 2018, teachers now probably feel an increased need to acquire ICT skills. A recent Swedish survey about the effect of COVID-19 on education showed big variations between schools in the accessibility of digital learning resources and their use by teachers (a third did not have access and use them, while almost 50% had good access and used them a lot) (Bergdahl & Nouri, 2020). This reflects decentralisation of the school system and the resulting autonomy in funding and teaching. Access to technical and educational support also varies between schools, rising with the level of education (NAE, 2019a). A large number of teachers encounter technical problems during lessons, preventing them from completing them as planned4. The share of teachers participating in ICT continuing professional development (CPD) annually (66.6%) grew by 19.8 pps in 2013-2018 (OECD, 2019b).

Schools are highly digitally equipped and connected, and pupils’ use of ICT for learning is high. Compared to the European average, pupils at all levels attend schools more highly digitally equipped and connected (see Figure 3), with a favourable ratio of digital equipment per student and high-speed internet. A high share of pupils attend schools where more than 90% of equipment is operational and have access to a virtual learning environment at school and from outside – for lower secondary school 93% (EU average 54%) and 99% (EU average 89%), respectively. Pupils’ use of internet at school for learning is the second highest in the EU in both lower and upper secondary school (European Commission, 2019), as is the percentage of teachers who let students use ICT for projects and class work (63.3%; EU-22 46.9%) (OECD, 2019b).

Figure 3 – Share of pupils in digitally equipped and connected schools by education level, 2018

Source: 2nd Survey of Schools: ICT in education, Country Reports, 2019

There are concerns about negative effects of digitalisation on education. Two studies on introducing one computer per pupil have shown its adverse effect on equity in schools, due to more work and to pupils learning alone (Grönlund, Andersson et al. 2014; Hall, Lundin et al. 2019). With digitalisation, the use of printed materials decreases, risking a negative impact on reading comprehension (Delgado et al., 2018). A growing number of students now think that reading is a waste of time (40% in 2018, 10-11 pps higher than in 2009) (NAE, 2019c). To counter these negative effects, a mobile phone ban is being introduced in schools5.

4. Investing in education and training

Investment in education is high and most spending other than for tertiary level comes from local government. In 2018, the share of GDP spent on education was again the highest of all EU countries (6.9%; EU-27 4.6%). Education’s share of total general government expenditure was also among the highest (13.8%; EU-27 9.9%)6. Sweden is the EU country with the largest share of education expenditure at local government level (5.5%; EU-27 1.6%)7, and the only OECD EU country where primary and secondary education are 100% financed from public sources (OECD, 2019c).

New targeted spending aims to improve school education. The NAE received funding to develop new school syllabi and prepare for the introduction of new subject grades in upper secondary school. The Swedish Schools Inspectorate is receiving additional funding to increase supervision based on individual cases and evaluation of the reading, writing, and counting guarantee (Regeringen, 2019d). The equality grant to municipalities, to boost the quality of schools with more children with a migrant background, continues, amounting to EUR 460 million in 2020, and can now also be used for after-school centres8. Municipalities were seeking to reduce their education funding before the pandemic; government will give them EUR 2 billion extra to combat its effects, but how much will go to education is not known9.

5. Modernising early childhood and school education

Participation in early childhood education and care (ECEC) is above the EU benchmark. Formal childcare attendance by children under 3 is high (49.4%; EU-27 34.7% in 2018)10. Participation in ECE from age 4 to the beginning of compulsory primary education was 95.9% in 2018, above the EU average (94.8%) and benchmark for 2020 (95%)11. Participation of children with a migrant background is lower; an inquiry is seeking ways to improve it, with a report expected in October 2020 (Regeringen 2019h, and Regeringen 2019i). The last year before primary school - pre-school class - will formally become the first year of primary school. An inquiry is analysing how to do this, with results expected in April 2021 (Regeringen, 2020). There is concern that this may aggravate the teacher shortage. From 1 July 2020, pre-school directors have the title of principal and face the same qualification requirements as school heads (to be acquired in a 3-year part-time course), to increase the quality of instruction12.

Early school leaving has decreased below the national benchmark, but is highest among boys and those from a migrant background. The early leavers from education and training rate in 2019 is 6.5%, below the EU-27 average of 10.2%13 and, having decreased by 1 p.p. from 2018, is again below the Europe 2020 national target of 7%. It is higher for boys (by 1.9 pps)14 and significantly higher for foreign born (13.6%) than for native born (4.6%)15. It is also higher in rural areas (8.4%) than in cities (4.6%), a difference that has grown by 3.4 pps since 200916.

Pupils’ basic skills levels are again improving. Results of the OECD’s PISA 2018 show that after a period of deterioration in mathematics and science, pupils’ performance has improved and is now better than the EU average in all three domains. Mean scores in all three fields are above the EU average, the share of top performers in mathematics and reading has also improved, and they are among the best for reading (13.3%, EU-27 8.5%) (OECD, 2019, Vol. I). Percentages of underachievers are below the EU averages: mathematics 18.8% (EU 22.9%), science 19.0% (EU 22.3%) and reading 18.4% (EU 22.5%), but remain well above the 15% EU target. The improvement suggests that educational reforms of recent years are bearing fruit.

The gap in reading ability between learners with a migrant background and native pupils is growing. It is among the highest in the EU, both in the mean scores (83 points v EU-27 44.9, higher than in previous years) and in the percentage of underachievers (25.5 pps gap, and especially high for pupils born abroad, at 38.2 pps) (OECD, 2019, Vol. II). The number of pupils with a migrant background nearly doubled in 2009-2018 (European Commission, 2020).

Figure 4 - Percentage of underachievers in reading, by migrant background, PISA 2018

Source: OECD 2019, PISA 2018. Note: Data for BG, PL and RO are missing. SK, LT, HU, CZ, LV have less than 5% of migrant students. The EU average does not include ES.

Inequalities affect performance. Socio-economic background affects educational outcomes, at individual and school levels, but less than the EU average. School principals reported more staff shortages but less material shortages than the OECD average, and this is more pronounced in disadvantaged schools (40% v 20%) (OECD, 2019-SE, p. 5). There is a widening gap between schools with the highest and those with the lowest results in 115 out of 188 municipalities, and the number of schools where many pupils are not eligible for upper secondary education has nearly doubled in 5 years17. Gender gaps in mean scores in favour of girls in reading and science are above the EU-27 average (34 pps v 28 pps and 8 pps v 0.7 p.p., respectively), as are the gaps in the percentage of underachievers. A court in Gothenburg has confirmed that Statistics Sweden should not provide municipalities and the public with school level information on private schools’ composition, pupils’ background and results due to obligation to preserve statistical confidentiality of individual legal or physical persons’ information. This presents problems for education analysis and determination of funding needs18 and work is ongoing to remedy these problems. There are suggestions to abolish queue time as a selection criteria in private schools to reduce school segregation, and to introduce a coordinated school choice period for private and public schools and equivalent information for all (Andersson et al., 2019). School authorities are working on national targets and indicators for monitoring schools’ activities to improve equity and better understand schools’ success factors (Regeringen, 2020f). Grading in Sweden is in practice partly dependent on the school and class average: analysis shows that independent schools give higher grades in relation to national tests than this effect alone would account for19.

Several educational reforms are being considered. On the proposal of the NAE, the government has decided on the changes in the subject syllabi, to make them clearer and simpler and to emphasise teaching of factual knowledge in early years, adapting content to grades. Several inquiries are ongoing or being processed to address inequality and educational quality. They will analyse grade inflation (Regeringen, 2019e) (analysis and proposals of changes in grading delivered in August, now in consultation), the learning environment in after-school centres (Regeringen, 2019b), the possibility of closing schools with major and recurring shortcomings (Regeringen 2019k), and the possibility of transferring school funding back to the state, and propose measures to reduce school segregation and improve the allocation of resources to preschool and compulsory school (Regeringen, 2018). In 2020, Sweden received a country-specific recommendation to ‘foster innovation and support education and skills development’ (Council of the European Union, 2020).

Wellbeing affects reading performance. One third of all pupils feel that they do not belong at school, and this has a very negative effect on their reading performance (-23 points v EU average of -16). While pupils in Sweden are not likely to skip school, disadvantaged pupils are twice as likely to do so as advantaged ones (13.1% v 6.9%), as are pupils with a migrant background (15.8% v 8.3% for native born, nearly twice the EU difference of 4.9 pps) (OECD, 2019, Vol. III).

Teacher shortages and frequent changes of school principal affect the quality of education. The projected teachers’ shortage for 2033 stands at 45 000, lower than previously estimated as projected inflows of pupils with a migrant background have fallen, but corresponding to 21% of the current teacher population (NAE, 2019b). The ‘Boost for Teachers’ Salaries’ scheme has increased the salaries of one in three teachers, but has also created inequalities and divisions, and has not yet caused numbers entering the profession to rise. The budget for 2020 funds continuation of the scheme and another boost additionally benefiting teachers in schools with particularly difficult conditions (Regeringen, 2019f). The 2020 budget also supports targeted programmes for special needs (EUR 3 607 500 in 2020), vocational teachers (EUR 2 775 000 annually until 2023), and additional training of school leaders (EUR 1 850 000 increase) (Regeringen, 2019d). To enable wider participation in the Boost for teachers, the requirement that teachers already teach the subject for which they want to become qualified is removed (Regeringen, 2020c). There is an initiative for unqualified experienced personnel to complete teacher training: Vidareutbildning av lärare och förskollärare (VAL) (Regeringen 2019g). A teachers' union survey shows that 49% of unqualified teachers have started, but not completed, teacher training20. An inquiry is looking into how to increase the quality of teacher training and make it easier for people to become teachers21. Teacher shortages are worst in rural areas of northern Sweden22 where in some schools no teacher is certified for the subject they teach. From 30 June 2021 a law will enable the use of distance education as a response: pupils would be in the classroom, but taught by a qualified teacher from another school (Regeringen, 2020b23). The Swedish Schools Inspectorate reported a high turnover of principals (50% work in their school for less than 3 years), particularly in schools with bad results. The share of teachers who doubt that they chose the right profession is among the highest in the EU (41.3%; EU-22 25.9%), and significantly higher among men (7.8 pps gap v EU-22 3.5 pps) (OECD, 2019b, Vol. II). CPD for teachers usually takes place in the school, and is less adapted to teachers’ personal development needs (61.4%; EU-22 77.9%). CPD is more likely to take the form of peer learning (46.8%; EU-22 32.5%) or networking (46.6% v 30.6%). Participation in the formal qualification programme is far lower than the EU average (5.1%; EU-22 14.7%) (OECD, 2019b, Vol. I), which is especially worrisome due to the large number of unqualified teachers in schools.

Challenges encountered in delivering distance teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic. Only upper secondary schools, higher education and adult education transitioned to distance education on 18 March, while remaining accessible for small groups, for example for practical examinations and special learning support. Most schools had sufficient infrastructure and resources. The NAE on its website provided guidance on how to organise work and prepared online resources for distance teaching and information for teachers at Reflecting the decentralisation of the system, all decisions on technical platforms, educational materials, etc. are taken at local, and often even school level. Some teachers reported that newly arrived pupils did not have computers, internet connections or the necessary IT skills, and could not get help from their parents (Bergdahl & Nouri, 2020). Many pupils say their internet is not good enough for distance studies. They are concerned about the workload, tests and excessive screen time, and do not feel motivated to learn (Sveriges Elevkårer, 2020). Common challenges included difficulties when teaching practical subjects, teachers unused to digital teaching, overload of internet or platforms and the need to translate materials for students speaking other languages. Pupils who were previously often absent from class or had problems with learning are sometimes more present and perform better than before, due to a more individualised approach and lack of distractions. More reflection-based tests were used, to avoid cheating through use of the internet during tests (Hall, 2020). However, some teachers report that though digitally present, pupils participate less (Lärarnas Riksförbund, 2020c). Schools and universities reopened on 15 June, after the end of the school year, but in time to enable summer classes24. Due to the pandemic, new temporary regulation enables upper secondary schools to combine on-site and distance learning, which is already possible in adult and higher education. Education agencies monitor developments.

Box 1: The Swedish approach to the pandemic

While kindergartens and schools in other Member States closed due to the pandemic, they remained open in Sweden. The Public Health Agency’s opinion was that closing down kindergartens and compulsory schools would not significantly reduce the spread of the disease, as they are local, but would negatively affect the economy as parents would need to stay home to take care of children25. Some municipalities, facing shortages of kindergarten staff, excluded children of unemployed people and those on maternity leave from kindergarten (NAE, 2020), even though this goes against educational goals. Pupils in compulsory schools were obliged to be in school unless ill, and schools were told that since they were open, they had no obligation to teach children who are at home26. Many offered them distance tutoring, however. Even teachers who were deemed to be at high risk had to teach in school27; 32% of teachers expressed dissatisfaction with this approach. Forty percent of teachers state that they will not be able to complete their teaching programme for the year (Lärarnas Riksförbund, 2020b). The government has allocated about EUR 11 million to vacation schooling for pupils who did not achieve educational goals during the crisis (Regeringen 2020d).

6. Modernising vocational education and training

Participation in initial vocational education and training (IVET) is low, though the employment rate is among the highest in the EU. The share of VET students among secondary students in 2018 was 35.4% (EU average 48.4%). In 2018/19 there were 12 400 apprentices, representing 12% of all national VET learners, an increase of 207% of enrolled apprentices since 2013/14 (Cedefop ReferNet Sweden, 2020). Recent VET graduates’ employment rate was 87.4% in 2019, exceeding the EU-27 average (79.1%).

In 2019 Sweden decided on the revision of content in certain IVET programmes, starting from 2021. Aspiring assistant nurses in the health and social care programme, and students of the natural resource use programme and the vehicle and transport programme are most affected. (Cedefop ReferNet Sweden, 2020).

A national commission of inquiry (Yrkesprogramsutredningen) recommended that establishment of trade/industry schools to provide the work-based component of secondary VET programmes. This is relevant for trades and industries with too few applicants, and VET institutions do not have the required infrastructure to provide workplaces. Ten trade schools have been selected to pilot the measure in 2018-2023, and a state grant of up to EUR 4 700 (SEK 50 000) per learner is available to them (Cedefop ReferNet, 2020).

The expansion of higher VET continues. The number of study places increased by 70% in 2014-2020, mostly during the last 2 years (38%). This expansion includes the increase provided through distance learning, which grew from 12% to 21% of all programmes in 2007-2019, half of the increase during the last 5 years (Cedefop ReferNet, 2020). The expansion of higher VET is part of the government’s ongoing initiative ‘the Knowledge Boost’, which aims at creating an additional 100 000 permanent study places. (Regeringen, 2019c).

Box 2: Digga Halland

This project is a cooperation between several municipalities, the Halland region and academia to increase the digital competences of workers in the healthcare and care sectors. It consists of 10 parts:

  • The first part is broad web-based training about new, digitalised ways of work, current digital tools in health and care, and ethical and legal aspects of their use. It is obligatory for all participants, and courses should be short, individual or group-based, and adapted to the work.
  • The next eight parts are specific for certain municipalities and/or organisations, and are organised in the workplace, enabling staff to review their work methods and processes and create new and better ones from a user/patient perspective, using digital tools.
  • The last part is monitoring and documenting of knowledge and results and exchange between different participating groups.

The planned number of participants is 7 000, of whom 5 217 have already participated.

Project period: 01/08/2018 – 31/01/2021.

COVID-19 effect on the project: prolonged, some activities re-arranged and, as digitisation of work in this sector has increased, the project will build upon it further.

ESF funding: EUR 1.9 million (SEK 20 996 190)


7. Modernising higher education

Tertiary attainment is above the EU average, but there is a gender gap. The tertiary attainment rate in 2019 is 52.5%, above the EU-27 average of 40.3%. The gap between women and men (59.9% and 45.5%) is above the EU-27 average (14.4 pps v 10.5 pps)28. The difference between native born (52.5%) and foreign born (52.7%) is small, and unusually in favour of foreign born (-0.2 p.p.). This is mostly due to very high tertiary attainment among residents from within the EU (64.7%)29.

More subject-teacher students and higher quality of teacher studies are needed. The Report of the Swedish Higher Education Authority (UKÄ) shows the need for an 87% increase in annual enrolments for subject-teaching studies in 2023-2035 from 2018 to meet future teacher needs (UKÄ, 2019). The Authority is reviewing quality of 44 out of 103 subject-teacher training courses30. Applicants for teacher studies who come directly from secondary school will have to meet higher grade requirements in their chosen subject. This should reduce the number of students who do not finish studies31.

The employment rate of recent graduates is high. The employment rate of all recent graduates (ISCED 3-8) in 2019 (88.7%) is above the EU benchmark for 2020 (82%) and the EU-27 average (80.9%). For tertiary graduates it is 91.7%, above the EU-27 average of 85%32.

Universities were able to adapt their programmes and faced few challenges during the COVID-19 crisis. The study loans system was adapted so that students continued receiving payments even if their educational institution was closed33. The government has announced funding of EUR 6 million to stimulate distance learning in universities (Regeringen, 2020e). Even though the spring Swedish University Aptitude Test, one of the major routes to higher education, was cancelled due to the pandemic, the number of applications for higher education (HE) studies is 13% higher than last year, the highest ever34. Interest in medicine and nursing studies, which have had shortages, increased, nursing applications by 33%. The government has also allocated about EUR 10 million to increase the number of students in these fields by 2 600 (Regeringen 2020c).

8. Promoting adult learning

Participation in adult learning is high, and new investments are ongoing. Investments are particularly relevant for sectors such as health care, construction, education and ICT. Participation in adult learning is the highest in the EU at 34.3% (EU-27 10.8%). In addition to the 2019 ‘Knowledge boost’ initiative (European Commission, 2019c), and as a response to the COVID-19 crisis, the government proposed in March 2020 new initiatives to invest in all levels of education, including in adult VET.

The digitalisation of formal municipal adult education (Komvux) has been much slower than in schools. The number of students per computer is estimated at 3.7 in Komvux compared to 1.3 in compulsory school and 1.0 in upper secondary education (NAE, 2018). The percentage of students who have received or borrowed a personal computer or tablet from the school is also much lower, 6% in Komvux compared to 49% in compulsory school and 88% in upper secondary education.

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Annex I: Key indicators sources

Indicator Eurostat online data code
Early leavers from education and training edat_lfse_14 + edat_lfse_02
Tertiary educational attainment edat_lfse_03 + edat_lfs_9912
Early childhood education educ_uoe_enra10
Underachievement in reading, maths and science OECD (PISA)
Employment rate of recent graduates edat_lfse_24
Adult participation in learning trng_lfse_03
Public expenditure on education as a percentage of GDP gov_10a_exp
Expenditure on public and private institutions per student educ_uoe_fini04
Learning mobility:
- Degree-mobile graduates
- Credit-mobile graduates
DG EAC computation based on Eurostat / UIS / OECD data

Annex II: Structure of the education system

Source: European Commission/EACEA/Eurydice, 2020. The Structure of the European Education Systems 2019/2020: Schematic Diagrams. Eurydice Facts and Figures. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union.

Comments and questions on this report are welcome and can be sent by email to:


1 Eurostat: [isoc_sk_dskl_i].

2 DESI, 2019

3 Eurostat, UOE: [educ_uoe_grad03].



6 Eurostat, COFOG: [gov_10a_exp].

7 Idem.



10 Eurostat, EU-SILC: [ilc_caindformal].

11 Eurostat, UOE: [educ_uoe_enra10].


13 Eurostat, LFS: [edat_lfse_14].

14 Idem.

15 Eurostat, LFS: [edat_lfse_02].

16 Eurostat, LFS: [edat_lfse_30].












28 Eurostat, LFS: [edat_lfse_03].

29 Eurostat, LFS: [edat_lfs_9912].



32 Eurostat, LFS: [edat_lfse_24].