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I. Constitutional Right to Publicly Funded Education

In 1976 a goal-setting provision (målsättningsparagraf) was included in the Swedish Constitution, declaring the purpose of state power.[1]  However, it is not legally binding.[2]  The text reads as follows:

Public power shall be exercised with respect for the equal rights of all people, and for the individual’s right to freedom and dignity.  The individual’s economic and cultural well-being shall be the fundamental goal of public activity.  Especially, the public power should ensure the right to work, housing, and education, and work towards social welfare and safety, and for good health conditions.[3]

In 1994 (entered into force January 1, 1995), a specific right to free education was included in the Swedish Constitution, providing that “children who are subject to compulsory school attendance (skolplikt) have the right to a basic education free of charge in public schools.  The public shall also ensure that higher education is available.”[4]  Thus, the Constitution provides that higher education must be available, but unlike basic education (elementary through high school), there is no constitutional mandate that it be free.[5]  In 2010 Swedish universities began charging tuition for non-EU citizens.[6]  Following a debate on the amount charged for international tuition, the Minister for Higher Education has declared that an investigation into the calculation of international tuition will commence in the fall of 2016.[7]

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II. Right to Education

The right to education in Sweden was first introduced as a mandate on local priests to teach their congregations (both girls and boys) how to read in 1688.[8]  A public and compulsory school system (Folkskola) for children was established through legislation in 1842.[9]  Local parishes were given some autonomy as to when to enroll children, but at the latest children were to enroll prior to their ninth birthday.[10]  The law further mandated that poor children were to receive funds (for clothes) from the parish to enable them to attend school.[11]  No tuition was charged.  A mandate for all children to attend classes at the Folkskola level was established in 1882.[12]  This mandate included children ages seven to fourteen.[13]

Over time the school system changed, and today it is made up of a nine-year compulsory, basic education (grundskola) followed by three years of high school (gymnasieskola), which is elective.  Today there is a mandate to attend school (skolplikt) that is in force for grades one through nine (ages seven to sixteen).[14]  Once enrolled in high school (grades ten through twelve), attendance is mandated by law as well.[15]  High school is tuition free by law,[16] and students attending high school receive a study allowance of approximately SEK 1,050 (about US$130) per month.[17]  The national government provides a child benefit of equal amounts to the parents of children from the time they are born to age sixteen.[18]  The study allowance (unlike the child benefit) can be withdrawn if the child does not attend school.[19]  Free school is provided to all children in Sweden, regardless of their legal status.[20]  However, undocumented children are not subject to the compulsory requirement of attending school.[21]

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III. Correlation Between Rights and Access to Education

For Sweden, there appears to be no correlation between the right-to-education provision added to the Constitution in 1976 and the actual observance of basic educational rights (for those aged seven to sixteen).[22]  Basic schooling has historically been high.  Already in 1868, 97.5% of all Swedish children received some education.[23]  By 1935, 72% of children living in towns had at least seven years of schooling.[24]  Moreover, there appears to be no clear correlation between the adoption of a constitutional right and the quality of education received, as Sweden has fallen in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) rankings in recent years.[25]

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Prepared by Elin Hofverberg
Foreign Law Research Consultant
May 2016


[1] 1 ch. 2 § Regeringsformen [RF] [Constitution] (Svensk författningssamling [SFS] 1974: 152), as in force in 1976, as amended by Lag om ändring i regeringsformen [Act on amending the Constitution] (SFS 1976:871).

[2] See Johan Hirschfeldt, 1.1 Regerignsformen, in 1 Karnovs lovkommentar (2015/16), comment 5, at 3.

[3] 1 ch. 2 § RF (all translations by author).

[4] 2 ch. 18 § RF as amended through Amending Act SFS 1994:1468.

[5] 2 ch. 18§ RF, as amended.

[6] Lag om ändring i högskolelagen (SFS 1992:1434) [Act Amending University Act (SFS 1992:1434)] (SFS 2010:298), http://www.notisum.se/rnp/sls/sfs/20100298.pdf, archived at https://perma.cc/3HXR-UY9Z.   

[7] Emelie Rosén, “Studieavgifterna behöver granskas”, SverigesRadio (May, 10, 2016), http://sverigesradio.se/ sida/artikel.aspx?programid=83&artikel=6429400, archived at https://perma.cc/8QRY-MQ9L.  For rules governing the tuition charged, see Förordning om anmälningsavgift och studieavgift vid universitet och högskolor [Regulation on and Tuition at Universities and Colleges] (SFS 2010:543), https://www.notisum.se/rnp/sls/lag/20100543.htm, archived at https://perma.cc/2892-LS8S.

[8] Kyrkolag [Church Act] (SFS 1686:903), entered into force in 1688.

[9] Lag om folkundervisning i riket [Act on Public Education in the Kingdom] (SFS 1842:19).

[10] Id. 8 § 1 para.

[11] Id. 8 § 4 st.

[12] 6 ch. 37 § Folkskolestadgan (SFS 1882:2).

[13] Id. 6 ch. 35 §.

[14] 7 ch. 2 § Skollag [Education Act] (SFS 2010:800), https://www.notisum.se/rnp/sls/lag/20100800.htm, archived at https://perma.cc/E5KF-PKR9.  

[15] Id. 15 ch. 16 §.

[16] Id. 15 ch. 17 §.

[18] 5 ch. 3–4 §§ Socialförsäkringsbalk [Social Insurance Code] (SFS 2010:110), http://www.riksdagen.se/ sv/dokument-lagar/dokument/svensk-forfattningssamling/socialforsakringsbalk-2010110_sfs-2010-110, archived at https://perma.cc/XQ4U-6HGP.  

[19] See 2 ch. 6 § Studiestödslag.

[21] Id.

[22] Statistics for lowest level of education of the population based on age and country of birth (inside/outside of Sweden) are available on the Statistics Sweden website: Utbildningsnivå för befolkningen efter inrikes/utrikes född, kön och åldersgrupp 2015, SCB, http://www.scb.se/sv_/Hitta-statistik/Statistik-efter-amne/Utbildning-och-forskning/Befolkningens-utbildning/Befolkningens-utbildning/#, archived at https://perma.cc/CQC7-DBRF.

[23] Elever i obligatoriska skolor 1847-1962 [Pupils in Compulsory Schools in Sweden 1847–1962], Statistiska Centralbyrån, Nr. 1974:5 (Nov. 1974) at 42. 

[24] Id.

[25] PISA results declined to 478 raw points (ranking ranges 35–40) in 2012, OECD, PISA 2012 Results in Focus: What 15-year-olds  Know and What They Can Do with What They Know 5 (2014), http://www.oecd.org/ pisa/keyfindings/pisa-2012-results-overview.pdf, archived at https://perma.cc/JT7L-39XR, compared to 516 raw points in 2000, OECD, Literacy Skills for the World of Tomorrow: Further Results from PISA 2000, at 76 (2003), http://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/literacy-skills-for-the-world-of-tomorrow_5lmqcr2k2mnx.pdf;jsessionid= 2dvkf15w5l0b6.x-oecd-live-02?contentType=%2fns%2fOECDBook%2c%2fns%2fBook&itemId=%2fcontent %2fbook%2f9789264102873-en&mimeType=application%2fpdf&containerItemId=%2fcontent%2fserial%2f1996 3777&accessItemIds=, archived at https://perma.cc/72QJ-W54P.