Immigrant Student Achievement and Education Policy in Sweden

  • Lisbeth Lundahl
  • Michael Lindblad
Part of the Policy Implications of Research in Education book series (PIRE, volume 9)


As a result of extensive immigration, consisting largely of refugees, Sweden has undergone a fast demographic change during the last 25 years. In 2016, approximately 17% of Sweden’s inhabitants were born outside of the country. Sweden was the country in the European Union granting most refugees asylum in proportion to its population, and the EU country that had most asylum-seeking unaccompanied minors, in absolute numbers. The Swedish education system has had obvious difficulties to cope with the situation, inter alia reflected in considerable gaps in non-immigrant versus immigrant student achievement results and completion rates, which are above average when compared to other Western nations. This chapter provides a brief overview of the cultural composition of the student population within Sweden, including its evolution over time. The trajectory of achievement results on national and international large-scale assessment measures are examined in relation to non-immigrant and immigrant student groups. The authors discuss the range of policy approaches at national and local levels that have been adopted in Sweden to close these achievement gaps and reduce the levels of school dropout and non-completion.


  1. Åslund, O., Edin, P.-A., Fredriksson, P., & Grönqvist, H. (2011). Peers, neighborhoods and immigrant student achievement—Evidence from a placement policy. American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, 3(2), 67–95. Google Scholar
  2. Böhlmark, A. (2010). Age at immigration and school performance: A sibling analysis using Swedish register data. Labor Economics, 15(6), 1366–1387. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Böhlmark, A., Holmlund, H., & Lindahl, M. (2015). Skolsegregation och skolval [School segregation and school choice]. IFAU Rapport 2015:5. Stockholm: IFAU. Retrieved from
  4. Böhlmark, A., & Lindahl, M. (2015). Independent schools and long-run educational outcomes: Evidence from Sweden’s large scale voucher reform. Economica, 82, 508–551. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bouakaz, L. (2012). “Att behålla mitt ansikte och lära mig något nytt”: Föräldraengagemang i mångkulturella miljöer [“Keep the face and learn something new”: Parental responsibility in multicultural environments]. Malmö stad: Kommission för ett socialt hållbart Malmö. Retrieved from
  6. Bunar, N. (2015a). Elevsammansättning, klyftor och likvärdighet i skolan [Student composition, differences and equity in education]. Stockholm: Stockholms stad. Retrieved from
  7. Bunar, N. (Ed.). (2015b). Nyanlända och lärande—mottagande och inkludering [Newly arrived students and learningReception and inclusion]. Stockholm: Natur och Kultur.Google Scholar
  8. Bunar, N., & Ambrose, A. (2016). Schools, choice and reputation: Local school markets and the distribution of symbolic capital in segregated cities. Research in Comparative & International Education, 11(1), 34–51. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Bunar, N., & Kallstenius, J. (2007). Valfrihet, integration och segregation i Stockholms grundskolor [Choice, integration and segregation in Stockholm’s compulsory schools]. Stockholm: Stockholms stad.Google Scholar
  10. Byström, M., & Frohnert, P. (2017). Invandringens historia—från “folkhemmet” till dagens Sverige [The history of immigration—From “the people’s home” to contemporary Sweden]. Delmi Kunskapsöversikt 2015:5. Retrieved from
  11. Çelikaksoy, A., & Wadensjö, E. (2015). Unaccompanied minors and separated refugee children in Sweden: An outlook on demography, education and employment (IZA Discussion Paper No. 8963). Retrieved from
  12. Çelikaksoy, A., & Wadensjö, E. (2016). Hur har de ensamkommande barnen det i Sverige? [What is the situation of unaccompanied migrant children in Sweden?]. Socialmedicinsk Tidskrift, 93(1). Retrieved from
  13. Engzell, P. (2016). Intergenerational persistence and ethnic disparities in education. Stockholm: Stockholm University. Retrieved from
  14. Eurostat. (2016, April 20). Asylum decisions in the EU: EU member states granted protection to more than 330 000 asylum seekers in 2015 (Press release). Retrieved from
  15. Grönqvist, H., & Niknami, S. (2017). Ankomst och härkomst—en ESO-rapport om skolresultat och bakgrund [Arrival and origin—An ESO report on education achievement and origin]. Rapport till Expertgruppen för studier i offentlig ekonomi 2017:3. Stockholm: Ministry of Finances. Retrieved from
  16. Gruber, S. (2007). Skolan gör skillnad: Etnicitet och institutionell praktik [School makes a difference: Ethnicity and institutional practice] (Doctoral dissertation). Linköping University, Sweden. Retrieved from
  17. Gustafsson, J.-E. (2017). Proven ger en kluven bild av den svenska skolan [The assessments give a divided picture of Swedish education]. Forskning och framsteg, 3. Retrieved from
  18. Gustafsson, J.-E., Sörlin, S., & Vlachos, J. (2016). Policyidéer för svensk skola [Policy ideas for Swedish education]. Stockholm: SNS. Retrieved from
  19. Holmlund, H., Häggblom, J., Lindahl, E., Martinson, S., Sjögren, A., Vikman, U. et al. (2014). Decentralisering, skolval och fristående skolor: resultat och likvärdighet i svensk skola [Decentralization, school choice and independent schools: outcomes and equity in Swedish education]. Rapport 2014:25. Stockholm: IFAU. Retrieved from
  20. Jonsson, J.-O., & Rudolphi, F. (2011). Weak performance—Strong determination: School achievement and educational choice among ethnic minority students in Sweden. European Sociological Review, 27(4), 487–508. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Kallstenius, J. (2010). De mångkulturella innerstadsskolorna: Om skolval, segregation och utbildningsstrategier i Stockholm [The multicultural inner city schools: Freedom of choice, segregation and educational strategies in Stockholm] (Doctoral dissertation). Stockholm University. Retrieved from
  22. Lindbäck, J., & Sernhede, O. (2013). “Jag vill också vara en av er”. Om gymnasieelevers skolval i den delade staden [“I also want to be one of you”: On upper secondary school students in the divided city]. In N. Bunar & O. Sernhede (Eds.), Skolan och ojämlikhetens urbana geografi. Om skolan, staden och valfriheten (pp. 165–209). Daidalos: Göteborg.Google Scholar
  23. Lindblad, M. (2016). “De förstod aldrig min historia”: unga vuxna med migrationsbakgrund om skolmisslyckande och övergångar mellan skola och arbete [“They never understood my story”: Young adults with a migration background on school failure and transitions between school and work] (Doctoral dissertation). Umeå University, Sweden. Retrieved from
  24. Lundahl, L., Erixon Arreman, I., Holm, A.-S., & Lundström, U. (2013). Educational marketization the Swedish way. Education Inquiry, 4(3), 497–517.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Lundahl, L., Lindblad, M., Lovén, A., Mårald, G., & Svedberg, G. (2017). No particular way to go: Careers of young adults lacking upper secondary qualifications. Journal of Education and Work, 30(1), 39–52. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Lundahl, L., & Olofsson, J. (2014). Guarded transitions? Youth trajectories and school-to-work transition policies in Sweden. International Journal of Adolescence and Youth, 19(S1), 19–34. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Lundh, C. (2005). Invandringen till Sverige [Immigration to Sweden]. Stockholm: SNS Förlag.Google Scholar
  28. Lundqvist, C. (2010). Möjligheternas horisont: Etnicitet, utbildning och arbete i ungas berättelser om karriärer [Horizons of opportunity: Ethnicity, education and work in young people’s narratives about careers] (Doctoral dissertation). Linköping University, Sweden. Retrieved from
  29. National Center for Education Statistics. (2017). International data explorer. Retrieved from
  30. Niedomysl, T., Östh, J., & Amcoff, J. (2015). Boendesegregationen i Skåne. [Housing segregation in the region of Skåne]. Retrieved from
  31. Nilsson, Å. (2004). Efterkrigstidens invandring och utvandring [Post-war immigration and emigration]. Demografiska rapporter 2004:5. Stockholm: Statistics Sweden. Retrieved from
  32. Nilsson, J., & Bunar, N. (2016). Educational responses to newly arrived students in Sweden: Understanding the structure and influence of post-migration ecology. Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research, 60(4), 399–416. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. (2016). PISA 2015 results (Vol. I): Excellence and equity in education. Paris: OECD Publishing.Google Scholar
  34. Östh, J., Andersson, E., & Malmberg, B. (2013). School choice and increasing performance difference: A counterfactual approach. Urban Studies, 50(2), 407–425. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Sernhede, O. (2011). Förorten, skolan och ungdomskulturen. En studie om reproduktionen av marginalitet och ungas informella lärande [The suburb, school and youth culture: A study on the reproduction of marginality and youths’ informal learning]. Göteborg: Daidalos.Google Scholar
  36. Sharif, H. (2017). “Här i Sverige måste man gå i skolan för att få respekt”. Nyanlända ungdomar i den svenska gymnasieskolans introduktionsutbildning [“Here in Sweden you have to go to school to get respect”: Newly arrived students in the Swedish upper secondary introductory education] (Doctoral dissertation). Uppsala University, Sweden. Retrieved from
  37. Skolinspektionen. (2017). Språkintroduktion i gymnasieskolan. Kvalitetsgranskning Dnr. 400-2015:6585 [Language introduction in upper secondary education: Quality assessment Register no. 400-2015:6585]. Stockholm: Author.Google Scholar
  38. Skolverket. (2012). Likvärdig utbildning i svensk grundskola? En kvantitativ analys av likvärdighet över tid [Equal education in Swedish compulsory education? A quantitative analysis of equality over time]. Stockholm: Author. Retrieved from
  39. Skolverket. (2016a). Nyinvandrade elever i grundskolan [Newly arrived students in compulsory school]. Dnr: 2015:01339 1 (15). Stockholm: Skolverket.Google Scholar
  40. Skolverket. (2016b). Invandringens betydelse för skolresultaten [The importance of immigration for school performance]. Stockholm, Sweden: Author. Retrieved from
  41. Skolverket. (2016c). Resultat på nationella prov I årskurs 3, 6 och 9, läsåret 2015/16 [Results on national tests in grade 3, 6 and 9, academic year 2015/16]. Stockholm: Author. Retrieved from
  42. Skolverket. (2016d). Språkintroduktion [Language introduction]. Stockholm: Author. Retrieved from
  43. Skolverket. (2017a). Läroplan för grundskolan, förskoleklassen och fritidshemmet 2011 (Reviderad 2017) [Curriculum plan for compulsory school, preschool class and leisure time center 2011 (Revised 2017)]. Stockholm: Author. Retrieved from
  44. Skolverket. (2017b). Skolverkets lägesbedömning 2017 [The National Agency of Education: Assessment of the situation in 2017]. Stockholm, Sweden: Author. Retrieved from
  45. Skolverket (2017d). Betyg i årskurs 9 [Grades in compulsory education, year 9].
  46. State Official Reports. (2017). Samling för skolan. Nationell strategi för kunskap och likvärdighet. Slutbetänkande av 2015 års skolkommission [Rally to strengthen education. National strategy for knowledge and equity. Final report from 2015 School Commission]. Stockholm: Ministry of Education.Google Scholar
  47. Statistics Sweden. (2017a). Från massutvandring till rekordinvandring [From mass emigration to record high immigration]. Retrieved from
  48. Statistics Sweden. (2017b). Sveriges folkmängd från 1749 och fram till idag [Sweden’s population from 1749 until present]. Retrieved from
  49. Swedish Migration Agency. (2017). Antal asulsökande – aktuell statistic [Number of asylum seekers – recent statistics].
  50. Swedish Parliament. (2017b). SFS 2011:185 Skolförordning [Education Ordinance].
  51. Trondman, M., Taha, R., & Bouakaz, L. (2014). Deras, vårt och jag: om den kulturella tillhörighetens, hälsans och skolframgångens meningslandskap i det mångkulturella samhället [Theirs, ours and I: Cultural belonging, well-being and school achievement in multicultural society]. In O. Sernhede & I. Tallberg Broman (Eds.), Segregation, utbildning och ovanliga läroprocesser (pp. 54–93). Stockholm: Liber.Google Scholar
  52. Trumberg, A. (2011). Den delade skolan. Segregationsprocesser i det svenska skolsystemet [Divided schools: Processes of segregation in the Swedish school system] (Doctoral dissertation). Örebro University, Sweden. Retrieved from

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Umeå UniversityUmeåSweden

Personalised recommendations