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The Expansion of Higher Education in the Swedish the Welfare State and the Reconfiguration of its Professional Workforce
Linnaeus University, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, School of Social Sciences. (HERE (Higher Education - Research and Evaluation); FPF (Forum för professionsforskning))
2012 (English)Conference paper, Presentation (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

The Expansion of Higher Education in the Swedish the Welfare State and the 

Reconfiguration of its Professional Workforce


Gunnar Olofsson


The rapid expansion of the Swedish university sector has channelled many students into study programs that lead to employment in new kinds of jobs, occupations and professional groups. There are three main reasons why more and more occupations get their training within the university system.

(a)   The qualification and competence level of the labour force has been raised, due to changes in the economy and to decisions by the State to increase the formal training for a growing number of occupations and semi-professions.

(b)  In the context of increasing student enrolment in higher education, universities, especially among the newer universities and the university colleges, construct new study programmes in order to link the content and profile of the programs to specific occupational niches or categories in the labour market.

(c)   Some occupational groups and associations strive to enhance their social standing by seeking to transfer their training to formal study programs in the universities in order to attain professional status 

This paper argues that the rapidly growing numbers of students in new vocational study programmes changes the relation between the higher education system and the occupational-professional categories in a number of ways. This is done with the concept of “a professional landscape” that encompass three waves of professions – the classical professions, the traditional semi-professions and the now emerging “pre-professions”

Traditional semi-professions are becoming more and more academically oriented. Their training is increasingly permeated by abstract, scientific thought. New scientific disciplines have developed out of their professional training and practice – nursing studies, social work, leisure studies, etc.

Many occupations are being professionalized. Their training is transferred to universities and the occupational niches where they are destined to work are transformed by being linked to scientific bodies of thought. This group of occupations can be conceptualised as pre-professions.

These pre-professions bring with them the fruits and teachings of science, its theories, methods etc. into new social arenas and work settings, impregnating ever wider areas of society with the applied versions of different sciences.

There is now a much more complex “professional landscape” than before. The relations between the university system and the occupational-professional field have been reconfigured.  This paper gives a synthetic picture of these developments in Sweden, where the combined processes of expansion and reconfiguration are played out within a common and unified institutional form.


Finally, the paper sums up, in a compact and descriptive way, key features of the modern Swedish system of higher education. The structure of the system, its scope and its finances, the employment results, as well as key features of its links to the Swedish welfare model, such as the concern for a socially broad recruitment to higher studies and the role that regional concerns play for higher education policies, are discussed.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Keyword [en]
higher education, classic professions, semi-professions, pre-preprofessions, transformation, university teachers, academic education, vocational orientation
National Category
Research subject
Social Sciences, Sociology Education; Social Sciences, Sociology
URN: urn:nbn:se:lnu:diva-22160OAI: diva2:561983
the ASAN Conference: “Understanding the Swedish Welfare Model,” hosted by the Asan Institute for Policy Studies Seoul, Korea August 30-31, 2012
Available from: 2012-11-29 Created: 2012-10-22 Last updated: 2012-11-29Bibliographically approved

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ASAN conference paper(133 kB)149 downloads
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