University Degrees that Lead to Jobs in Sweden

A recurring theme here on Aard is my complaints about how useless certain kinds of higher education are if you want a job. For a change, let’s take a look at what kind of degree is most likely to get you a job in Sweden over the coming decade. The Swedish National Agency for Higher Education has just published a study that offers data on this very issue. Here are the degrees where there will be a labour shortage in Sweden for the foreseeable future!

  • Medical laboratory scientist, Sw. biomedicinsk analytiker
  • High-school teacher of manual skills for craftspeople such as carpenters and plumbers, Sw. yrkeslärare
  • Youth centre leader, Sw. fritidspedagog
  • Pharmacy clerk, Sw. receptarie (but getting an actual pharmacist’s degree is career suicide)
  • 3-4 year engineering degree, Sw. högskoleingenjör
  • Teacher for children with special needs, Sw. speciallärare
  • Day care teacher, Sw. förskollärare
  • Dentist, Sw. tandläkare

Need I point out that most of these jobs are relatively poorly paid compared to others that presuppose a university degree, and that most are not perceived as high-status? The only real exception, to my knowledge, is dentistry. But all of them will support you and your kids quite handsomely. And most of them look to me like they’d be quite fun.

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30 thoughts on “University Degrees that Lead to Jobs in Sweden

  1. Someone with a 3-4 year engineering degree, Sw. högskoleingenjör is an Engineer, aren’t they?

    Are engineers poorly paid in Sweden?

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  2. The standard engineering degree here is 5 years. Some engineers with shorter training are probably very well paid too. However, there is apparently a less well paid engineering labour market which people with full 5-year degrees avoid, and that’s where there’s going to be a shortage of people according to the study.

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  3. Part of the problem is that the Swedish welfare state – all that cradle to grave stuff – militates against job creation.

    The standard is so high for those in employment, that it costs far too much to employ new people, so very few entry level jobs are created. It’s frustrating, I know, when much of the talk on Swedish TV, when politicians are being interviewed, is about UTBILDNING!

    At some point you need to ask the question, “where does this education lead?” What’s the point of educating two people for every vacancy?

    I don’t know what the answer is. It’s a dilemma. The simple answer is to lower the threshold, create more jobs with worsened working conditions and lower salaries, so that a greater number of people will be able to get a job. This is a shitty solution, I admit. But at least it pinpoints the problem.

    Another point is the vocational nature of the Swedish education system in which a degree in one discipline very often excludes you from working with another. The logic of the list presented above by the Swedish National Agency of Higher Education, is that a person educated to do one thing cannot do another. It is basically saying. “You only get one chance. Make sure you make the right decision because you cannot change course at a later date”.

    A good all round education, which is what is required to gain a degree in one discipline at a British or American university, in the UK or the US doesn’t make it difficult for you to get a job in another, which in my experience is the case in Sweden. As I understand it, in Sweden you are more or less guaranteed a good job if you have studied natural sciences, rather than social sciences or humanities, whereas in the UK and US you are more or less guaranteed a good job if you have gone to university, rather than not having gone at all.

    I know British and American history graduates (an academic course of study), for example, who have become accountants, after getting an entry level job in an accountants’ office and taking professional qualifications in accountancy (a vocational course of study) at evening classes.

    Now, I’m not suggesting for a moment that someone with a degree in art history can become a brain surgeon or rocket scientist. But they can do most clerical jobs which will provide them with a salary so that they are able to support themselves.

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  4. Part of the problem is that the Swedish welfare state – all that cradle to grave stuff – militates against job creation. The standard is so high for those in employment, that it costs far too much to employ new people, so very few entry level jobs are created.

    The welfare state in general is not the problem. If anything, good unemployment benefits and universal health care and pensions promote job turnover since people don’t have to hold on to a sucky job just to keep their benefits.

    But yes, there are some specific regulations that do heavily penalize those outside the employment circuit for the benefit of those already in. That certainly needs to change.

    As I understand it, in Sweden you are more or less guaranteed a good job if you have studied natural sciences, rather than social sciences or humanities, whereas in the UK and US you are more or less guaranteed a good job if you have gone to university, rather than not having gone at all.

    Not really true. An engineering degree, or a phyics, chemistry, statistics or perhaps computer science degree will probably lead to a decent job. But ask any geologist or “green” biologist (who work in the field, as opposed to lab-oriented “white” biologists) about the harsh career prospects in their field.

    As you say, I’ve too have heard you have wider career prospects in the UK or US, but I’m not really sure why that is the case. One reason may be that entry-level work that doesn’t require special skills is rarer (secretaries or clerks would more often have some economic and management responsibilities as well, for instance). Or it could simply be that general administrative work is in itself something you can study and train for in Sweden, so you’d be competing with those graduates.

    And it is not at all the case that you can’t retrain afterwards. You can certainly become an accountant after the fact by studying evenings; I believe evening classes are not only deductible, but they can even get sponsored to reduce the cost. And a fair number of people take unpaid leave in their late 30’s or 40’s to get a university degree, and their employer, again, can even get some amount of compensation for it. In university classes I taught there were always at least a few middle-aged people among the 20-somethings doing exactly this. I don’t know where you got the idea that this is not possible or normal in Sweden?

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  5. I’m a little confused by this Martin. What would stop a fully-trained engineer or pharmacist (with a university degree) from taking the less prestigious position? I don’t know much about how your country’s education system or job market is organized.

    The other thing of course is that higher education isn’t just about job skills (or there would be a lot fewer arts and humanities students). Higher education is fun (if you like learning) and gives you versatile training you can carry over into another field. I agree that its important to understand your job prospects before you get a degree.

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  6. I’m a little confused by this Martin. What would stop a fully-trained engineer or pharmacist (with a university degree) from taking the less prestigious position? I don’t know much about how your country’s education system or job market is organized.

    What happens is, a fair number of employers don’t want applicants who are too qualified for a job. They worry that they’ll ask for higher salaries (and higher increases over time). They also worry – not completely groundlessly – that they’ll be bored and keep looking for jobs better matched to their abilities, and jump ship at the first opportunity, wasting months of training and general workplace introduction.

    This is more common – and with more justification – the larger discrepancy you have. So if you have a PhD, you have some serious difficulty even getting to interviews for most jobs. It’s also more common in small companies where perhaps nobody knows firsthand what having a civil engineering degree or PhD actually means.

    Also, this phenomenon is not unique to Sweden. As far as I can determine it exists pretty much everywhere, though it may take different forms (you may employ the applicant, perhaps, but not spend any resources on their career or skill development since you figure they’ll be gone anyhow).

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  7. A good all round education, which is what is required to gain a degree in one discipline at a British or American university, in the UK or the US doesn’t make it difficult for you to get a job in another, which in my experience is the case in Sweden.

    As Janne suggested, in Sweden, with only general university-level training you will always have to compete for any given job with somebody who has specific university-level training for it. I often have to explain this to people who offer the “useful secondary skills” argument for why there should be so many opportunities to get an archaeology MA in Sweden. It’s not worth your while doing a degree in Sweden unless it prepares you specifically for your future task.

    What would stop a fully-trained engineer or pharmacist (with a university degree) from taking the less prestigious position?

    I’d say they’ll end up there eventually. But they’re in no hurry as the unemployment benefits are so good. If you’re an engineer in the top-quartile for salary, then your unemployment dole will be much larger than the standard salary of someone with a 3-4-year engineering degree. What you suggest is happening in contract archaeology, though: a lot of jobs that were held by people with a BA 20 years ago are now taken by PhDs because there’s such an overproduction of those.

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  8. There is absolutely no chance of there being a shortage in medical laboratory scientists in Sweden. There are enormous numbers of trained scientists available here. Laboratories here, however, prefer to hire foreign scientists on limited contract two year posts since that way they can avoid paying social security costs.

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  9. I wonder if the scientists you mention may be over-qualified for the jobs the study’s authors were thinking of. A Swedish biomedicinsk analytiker is, I believe, generally employed by a local medical centre (vÃ¥rdcentral) and spends her days dipping various litmus strips into bodily fluids.

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  10. “I’d say they’ll end up there eventually. But they’re in no hurry as the unemployment benefits are so good. If you’re an engineer in the top-quartile for salary, then your unemployment dole will be much larger than the standard salary of someone with a 3-4-year engineering degree.”

    This would seem to confirm what many Americans think about the socialist aspects of life in Scandinavia and the taxes you incur in support of it. Yesterday, however, I was informed by a physician with whom I had an appointment that he met a fisherman in Finland who was paying 78% income tax. When I looked on-line, though, I encountered a web site that said income tax in Finland was 7%-30.5%. In addition, there is a municipal tax of 16% – 21%, and a church tax of 1%- 2.25%. This adds up to a top rate of 52.5%, so I have to doubt the accuracy of the physician’s claim and suspect that he was just using bogus info to justify his stance against the health insurance bill currently being considered by the US Congress.

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  11. I pay about 30% income tax, 18% municipal tax and no church tax since I’m not member of such an organisation.

    Swedes don’t consider their system to be socialist. We call our system a “mixed economy”. Private enterprise is very much alive here: the Stockholm stock exhange saw a US$ 350 billion market capitalisation in Q2 2007. Our current Prime Minister endorsed Obama during the latest US presidential campaign. I didn’t vote for our current government though because I find them too conservative.

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  12. Posted by: Martin R
    …The standard engineering degree here is 5 years..

    Ah, that might explain it; the difference between an ordinary and honours.

    I wonder why they take 5 years?
    Some engineering courses in the UK are 5 years, but honours is normally 4 years like other degrees. Different folk different ways I guess.

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  13. I must admit that I have no idea what “an honours degree” means.

    Though Sweden may have an unusually long standard engineering degree, it has long had an unsusually short one for archaeology. I only did a 3-year BA before I started working. The Danes always snort at us. And I agree, their archaeology is better than ours on average. (-;

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  14. The welfare state in general is not the problem. If anything, good unemployment benefits and universal health care and pensions promote job turnover since people don’t have to hold on to a sucky job just to keep their benefits.

    This doesn’t reflect my experience of Sweden. Most of the people I knew while I was there never changed employers. And none of them moved to other areas to take up new jobs or pursue opportunities. In particular I saw several colleagues, who having problems at work chose not to look for different jobs. They became anxious, tired, lost weight and eventually were put on sick leave because of illness.

    I don’t know where you got the idea that this is not possible or normal in Sweden?

    I got the idea that it isn’t as usual for people to change career path in Sweden as it is in the UK or US from observing life during the 6.5 years I lived there. I studied an MA in Uppsala and found the university to be geared towards producing a well educated corps of bureaucrats and technicians.

    My main criticism is not of Swedish universities themselves but of how they function with the employment market. The number of places on university courses doesn’t match up with the number of vacancies for those jobs.

    Now, this isn’t something that is just happening in Sweden. But from my experience of living there, I’d say that a university degree doesn’t give you the same automatic advantage over competitors on the employment market as it does in the UK or US.

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  15. I’d say that a university degree doesn’t give you the same automatic advantage over competitors on the employment market as it does in the UK or US.

    True. Because most everybody has one here. It’s not a scarce commodity.

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  16. “Swedes don’t consider their system to be socialist. We call our system a ‘mixed economy’.”

    Thanks for the feedback. When I Googled “Sweden ‘mixed economy'” the hit at the top of the page was this 2003 item written in Capitalist Magazine by an American free lance journalist living near me:

    http://www.capmag.com/article.asp?ID=2210

    The writer has worked for the very conservative (probably “wingnut” to most readers here) Fox News and the libertarian Cato Institute.

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  17. http://www.capmag.com/article.asp?ID=2210

    As regards the above article.

    Christ. I’m glad I’ve got nothing to do with journalism any longer. This article is complete and utter balderdash! The only fun you can have with it is pointing out its errors!

    ”Sweden experienced a brain drain as its sharpest minds fled to market-driven economies that rewarded knowledge and know-how with wealth. Entrepreneurs in Sweden were painted as pariahs”.

    You can tell this article was written at the height of George Bush’s and Tony Blair’s neoliberal crusade. It implies the Swedish economy isn’t market driven. I suppose anything that wasn’t smash and grab capitalism in 2003, when this article was written, must be virtually communist. But wrong. Stockholm has a stock market, last time I looked. It’s got the Stockholm School of Economics and its banks as are in trouble for lending too much to the Baltic states. Market driven, in other words.

    ”Free, comprehensive national health care made Sweden the sickest country in Europe – so long as government picked up the tab, Swedes demanded the highest care for the feeblest illnesses”.

    Okay, Swedes are off work a lot because of illness, but only a complete raving neo-con would claim that absenteeism is caused by free, comprehensive national health care.

    “Education and health care are still free (and, consequently, still on the verge of collapse)”.

    Also untrue. Most Swedish children grow up bilingual, speaking both Swedish and English. Literacy and numeracy in Swedish schools are better than average, in international comparisons. Swedes are envious that Finnish schools are better, but I don’t know if they are. As for its universities, despite what I’ve written here about how they didn’t suit me personally, because they are free, they must be considered good value for tax-payer’s money. And Swedish health care? I’d say as good as any other universal health care syetem. Niether Swedish education or health are on the verge of collapse.

    Sweden’s suicide rates are among the highest in the world (much higher than latitudinally similar, low-sunlight communities in, for example, Alaska)” .

    Swedes do not commit suicide more often than other nationalities, as far as I know.

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  18. Posted by: Martin R
    I must admit that I have no idea what “an honours degree” means.

    Easy enough to explain.

    In England/Wales an ordinary degree is normally earnt after 3 years. An honours degree is a further year of study and a thesis.

    Scotland is different; no ordinary in Scotland as both the pass and honours have the same 4 years of study and exams/subjects to pass (perhaps why it is called a pass) with the honours having the addition of the thesis.

    Honours are further sub-divided into 1st (level 1 or 2), 2nd (level 1 and 2) or 3rd. A 3rd is often considered worse than a pass for various reasons.

    So if you see BSc (sometimes BEng or BA depending on the course and/or university) Hons 1.2 it means the person earned an 1st class Honours degree of the 2nd level.

    The honours thesis is, of course, nowhere near the level of an MSc or PhD thesis but does eat up a lot of extra curricula time that could be used for studying.

    After working in industry for a while the differences become trivial, the objective is gaining CEng (Chartered Engineer) status and to simplify working throughout Europe EurIng (European Ingenieur) accreditation.

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  19. Dr. Martin Rundkvist
    Re: The Kensington rune stone. Please Email me your Email
    address and I will furnish you with astonishing news.

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  20. Steinar, you can find Martin’s email under “Contact” in the blog’s header (look for the dark gray bar at the top).

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  21. Hi..
    I am going to join Uppsala University. My programm name is M.S in Applied Biotechnology.. I want to know about job prospective about this course.. how is the university. i heard lot about Sweden as i am learning more and more I am afraid to think about my future..
    kindly help me

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  22. According to a respected ranking system, Uppsala was the world’s 75th best university last year.

    http://www.topuniversities.com/university-rankings/world-university-rankings/2009/regional-rankings/europe

    And by all accounts, biotech is one of the great growth industries.

    And you speak English, the largest language on the planet.

    Therefore, I believe you can rest entirely at ease about your future. As long as you’re able to work reasonably hard at your studies despite the charms of Swedish girls, that is.

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  23. martin you dint explain about job prospect only saying that biotech is one of the great growth industries it does not mean you will get a job in your core comapny. i had talk to the university student they says it hard to get a job in sweden

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  24. hi .. i am interested in working in sweden… i have master degree in traffic and communications … and am from Bosnia 🙂 so what chances i have to find work there and to get visa and what about saleries

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