Analyzing structural stratification in the Swedish higher education system: Data contextualization with policy-history analysis



20th century massification of higher education and research in academia is said to have produced structurally stratified higher education systems in many countries. Most manifestly, the research mission of universities appears to be divisive. Authors have claimed that the Swedish system, while formally unified, has developed into a binary state, and statistics seem to support this conclusion. This article makes use of a comprehensive statistical data source on Swedish higher education institutions to illustrate stratification, and uses literature on Swedish research policy history to contextualize the statistics. Highlighting the opportunities as well as constraints of the data, the article argues that there is great merit in combining statistics with a qualitative analysis when studying the structural characteristics of national higher education systems. Not least the article shows that it is an over-simplification to describe the Swedish system as binary; the stratification is more complex. On basis of the analysis, the article also argues that while global trends certainly influence national developments, higher education systems have country-specific features that may enrich the understanding of how systems evolve and therefore should be analyzed as part of a broader study of the increasingly globalized academic system.