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Swedish higher education institutions hold their own in a Nordic comparison

Swedish higher education institutions hold their own in a Nordic comparison. Despite this, the audit undertaken by the Swedish National Audit Office (Swedish NAO) shows that some of these institutions could produce considerably more teaching and research, without more resources.

Students studying in small study rooms on different floors, the rooms form a grid system.

Photo: Leif Johansson

Every year, central government invests over SEK 56 billion in Swedish higher education institutions. As part of Nordic collaboration, the Swedish NAO has audited the efficiency of Swedish higher education institutions compared with those of Denmark, Finland and Norway.

The audit shows that the Danish higher education institutions have the highest average efficiency and could improve their efficiency by six per cent. The higher education institutions that were audited in Sweden could improve their efficiency by seven per cent, the Norwegian by ten per cent and the Finnish by 18 per cent.

The potential for improvement, however, is unevenly distributed. The most efficient higher education institutions include Uppsala University, Karolinska Institute, the Royal Institute of Technology, Chalmers University of Technology, the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, University of Gävle, and Kristianstad University. Among those with the greatest scope for improvement are Linnaeus University, Karlstad University, Södertörn University and Mälardalen University.

“Despite the fact that higher education institutions in Sweden are comparatively efficient, several of them could increase their performance within teaching and research – without requiring more resources,” says Auditor General Helena Lindberg.

In its audit, the Swedish NAO has examined the possible causes of these differences in efficiency. The only factor that showed a correlation with efficiency in these analyses was high staff turnover.

“High staff turnover makes for extra costs in terms of recruitment, introduction and acclimatisation. There are probably also other factors that can explain the results”, says Christian Andersson, Project Leader for the audit.

The audit also shows that productivity has increased in general by almost one per cent per year at the Swedish higher education institutions examined. The highest productivity increase was in Denmark and Finland (approximately two per cent per year) whereas the productivity of Norwegian higher education institutions declined somewhat over the period of the audit.

The Swedish NAO also examined how Swedish higher education institutions are working to increase student performance and completion, which is one aspect of efficiency. All the higher education institutions are taking measures to increase student completion. Few institutions undertake systematic follow-ups of the effect of these measures, however.

About the audit

The audit examines resource efficiency and productivity of Swedish higher education institutions compared with other Nordic higher education institutions. This is done by measuring inefficiency expressed as potential for improvement in relation to efficient higher education institutions. What is examined is thus not absolute, but relative efficiency.

The method used is the Data Envelopment Analysis (DEA), which provides a comparative measure of efficiency by relating the higher education institutions’ performance (credits achieved, number of PhD degrees and number of published research articles) with their resource investment (staff, students, doctoral students and office space). Of slightly more than 160 higher education institutions in the Nordic countries, 68 were included in the audit, 27 of them in Sweden. The audit studies the period 2011–2016.

The audit findings show that, on average, Swedish higher education institutions could increase their efficiency by seven per cent. Put very simply, the size of this potential for improvement may be equated with 12 000 annual performance equivalents (one annual performance equivalent corresponds to 60 higher education credits completed in a year). However, it is a matter of a combination of more students managing to obtain their degrees, more doctoral students achieving their doctorates and the production of more research.

Press contact: Olle Castelius, phone: +46 8-5171 40 04.

Presskontakt: , telefon: 08-5171 42 06.


Updated: 17 August 2020

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