The essential words and phrases that explain student life in Sweden

International students make up almost a tenth of Stockholm's total university student population, with many more across the rest of the country, and the experience is likely to stick with you for the rest of your life. Here are the words and phrases you'll need to navigate Swedish student life and make the most of your time here.

The essential words and phrases that explain student life in Sweden
File photo of a student at the National Library of Sweden. Photo: Isabell Höjman/TT

When you first begin at university, the term starts with nollning, which means something like 'zeroing'. It's the equivalent of British Freshers Week and US orientation, where the nollor ('zeroes' or new students) are initiated into university life. This involves a range of events organized by older students, which often include wearing the studentoverall (student overalls/boilersuit) and sometimes a rite of passage such as jumping in a lake or singing a song.

Some universities have their own unique words for first-year students, such as novisch at Lund and recentior or recce at many institutions.


After that, the termin (term or semester) properly begins. Don't be confused by the word semester, which means 'holiday'. Take a look at your schema (course schedule) and kursplan (course syllable) to find out when you have föreläsningar (lectures) and which are the obligatoriskt moment (compulsory elements) in your course.

And finally, you've probably heard the stereotype of Swedes arriving exactly on time for everything. But students should familiarize themselves with the akademisk kvart (academic quarter), a tradition that means most lectures or events start at 15 minutes past the hour. This dates back to a time when the hourly church bells served as a warning that students had 15 minutes to make it to class.


Photo: Magnus Liam Karlsson/


You might be confused when you first hear that most Swedish students live in a korridor (corridor) but don't worry, this doesn't mean they actually sleep in the hallway. The set-up is similar to university halls in the UK: students live in a private room (you won't have a roommate), and share kitchens with other students whose rooms are on the same corridor.


Instead of receiving percentage marks or grades, your work will usually simply be given one of the following classifications: underkänd, godkänd or väl godkänd (fail, pass, pass with distinction).

When speaking to teachers, in Sweden you'll usually use their first names. It's also helpful to know a few of the terms used for different members of the faculty: the prefekt is the head of department; the studievägledare is the study advisor who can assist you in choosing which courses to pursue; a professor is of course a professor, but you'll also encounter a lektor or adjunkt, both of which mean 'lecturer', but an adjunkt may not have a doctorate. And a handledare is a supervisor, especially for doctorate students.


You may also want to find out about the studentkår (student union), which works to protect the interests of students and should offer you support if you get into any difficulties.

Photo: Sofia Sabel/


It's not all work and no play: there's plenty to do as an international student in Sweden.

At many Swedish universities, social life revolves around nationer (nations), which are student organizations you sign up to in order to attend their regular events through the semester or year. They are named after different historical provinces of Sweden and traditionally students would join the one representing their hometown, but these days you can choose based on size and the events on offer.

There are other activities on offer, such as joining a sportförening (sports club) where you can take part in a favourite sport or learn a new Swedish one: innebandy (floorball) or orientering (orienteering: the English word comes from the Swedish), anyone? And even if you're not a fan of exercise, there's no excuse not to participate in the Swedish friluftsliv, which literally means 'open air life' and refers to making the most of the outdoors, from barbecues to long walks in the forest.


Photo: Tina Stafren/

At least some of your socializing will probably revolve around fika (coffee and cake – call it a pluggfika or 'study fika' if you'll also be cracking out the textbook) or drinks, either at a korridorfest (dorm party) or a bar. When it comes to fika, it's worth looking for places that offer free coffee refills (gratis påtår) if you plan on hunkering down for the afternoon with your laptop. And two crucial bits of vocabulary for bars: afterwork (referring to after-work drinks, which usually means discounts at city centre spots) and skål! (cheers – remember to look everyone in the eye as you say it).

Be aware of Sweden's laws around alcohol purchase and consumption, which might be surprising if your home country has more lenient legislation. You need to be 18 to buy alcohol at a pub or bar, and some places have their own age limits which might be a bit higher, so be ready to show your legitimation (ID) or leg for short. To purchase alcohol at the state-run monopoly Systembolaget, you need to be at least 20 years old.


When it comes to ordering your drinks, here are some useful phrases to have up your sleeve: en stor stark (literally 'a big strong', referring to a large lager beer), husets rött/vitt (the house red/white wine), en lättöl (a low-alcohol beer, for those evenings when you want to take it easy). Just make sure you don't turn up to lectures bakis (hungover).

QUIZ: How many words from the Swedish university exam do you know?


We'll start with the weirdest: the Flogstavrål (Flogsta scream or roar). Students in the Flogsta area of Uppsala open their windows and let out a scream, each week at precisely 10pm on Tuesday (because Swedes are organized and efficient even when it comes to letting out their angst). No one really knows when or why this tradition began, but it's been going on for at least 40 years.

You'll also hear it at many other student areas, where it might be named after the local student residence, such as Lund's Delphivrål, or simply called the tioskrik or elvavrål (the ten o'clock scream or the eleven o'clock roar). Listen to it in all its glory in the video below.

The biggest student night of the year is Valborg (Walpurgis) on April 30th, an evening of bonfires (valborgsbål or majbrasor) and merriment just before the big exam season. Part of the celebration sees students don their student caps (studentmössa) in a special ceremony.


As a student there are savings to be made. Look out for the magic words studentrabatt (student discount) or ungdomsrabatt (young person's discount) to cut costs on everything from food to concert tickets. To be eligible for the former, you may well need a studentkort (student card).

You'll probably want to download payment app Swish if you have a Swedish phone number and bank account: this allows you to send money to other app users, whether that's when you're splitting the bill with friends or buying secondhand furniture at a loppis (flea market). The app is so widely used in Sweden that it has become a verb, as in kan du swisha mig? (can you send me the money via Swish?)


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English-language programmes at Danish universities face cuts

Denmark's government has agreed on a plan to significantly reduce the number of courses offered in English in the country's universities.

English-language programmes at Danish universities face cuts
Life sciences faculty hold an open house at Copenhagen University. The university is now expected to reduce admissions as part of a plan to decentralise higher education in Denmark. Photo: Thomas Lekfeldt / Ritzau Scanpix

At the end of June, the plan aims to reduce the number of English-language higher education programmes while also expanding educational opportunities outside of Denmark’s major cities.

The exact number of courses to be cut – and where they will be cut – depends on the future employment of graduates.

Cuts to English-language programmes

The reduction of English-language programmes at institutions of higher education is rooted in an effort to reduce rising costs of state educational grants (SU) in Denmark. Despite attempts to reduce SU expenses, the cost is expected to rise to 570 million kroner by 2025, far above the cap of 449 million kroner set in 2013. 

There are a number of cases in which non-Danish citizens are entitled to SU, from moving to Denmark with one’s parents, marrying a Danish citizen, residing in Denmark for more than 5 years, status as a worker in Denmark, and more.

The reduction is targeted at English-language programmes where few English-speaking students find employment in Denmark after graduation, according to Denmark’s Ministry of Education and Research. 

Among the targeted programmes are business academies and professional bachelor programmes, where 72 percent of students are English-speaking and only 21 percent find work in Denmark after completing their education. 

However, programmes where higher proportions of English students enter the Danish workforce, and those that have a unique significance on the regional labour market, will be exempt from the reduction. This amounts to 650 education institutions around the country. 

In 2016, students demonstrated against cuts in SU. Photo: Emil Hougaard / Ritzau Scanpix

The agreement also establishes a financial incentive for institutions that graduate English-speaking students who remain to work in Denmark.

According to a June 10 analysis from consulting firm Deloitte, EU students who receive higher education in Denmark contribute an average of nearly 650,000 kroner to Denmark’s public coffers over a lifetime. 

However, the report notes, a student’s positive or negative contribution depends on how long they stay in Denmark. Although students who leave Denmark shortly after graduating constitute a cost to the Danish state, the analysis found that the contribution of students who stay in Denmark to work offsets the cost of those who leave.

The analysis expressed concern that reducing opportunities for English-language higher education could “have a number of unintended negative consequences,” including deterring students who might stay in Denmark to work from moving in the first place. There’s also the risk that it will become more difficult to recruit foreign researchers to Danish universities, which could impact education quality, the analysis claims.

The UCN professional school in Thisted is expected to open one new training program as a result of the decentralisation plan. Photo: Henning Bagger/Ritzau Scanpix

Decentralisation of Danish education

The plan to decentralise higher education in Denmark not only expands educational opportunities outside of Denmark’s major cities, but it also aims to reduce enrollment in higher education within major cities by 10 percent by 2030 (but not more than 20 percent).

For example, a law programme will be established in Esbjerg, a medical programme in Køge and a veterinary programme in Foulum.

Minister of Education and Research Ane Halsboe-Jørgensen said the goal was to offer students educational opportunities regardless of where they live within Denmark and strengthen the economy outside of major cities. 

However, the Danish Chamber of Commerce, Dansk Erhverv, expressed concern that the decentralisation plan doesn’t factor in labour demands within Denmark’s major cities.

Mads Eriksen, head of education and research policy at Dansk Erhverv, said it was “unwise” for programmes to reduce acceptance rates to in-demand fields in that particular city. 

“They are trying to solve a problem with labour in the countryside, but at the same time they are creating labour problems in the cities,” Eriksen said. “The English-language programme cuts are far more aligned with the demands of the labour market.”

Denmark has utilised unemployment-based admission for higher education since 2015. Programmes whose graduates experience unemployment consistently 2 percent higher than average are subject to a 30 percent admission cut.

Eriksen thinks it shouldn’t be a matter of reducing admissions across several universities by

“For example, we have five philosophy education programmes in Denmark, each of which have high unemployment rates among graduates,” Eriksen said, referencing a recent Dansk Erhverv analysis

He would prefer to see resources concentrated into making a couple of those programmes the best they can be and closing the rest, versus reducing admissions in all five programmes. “We have to be ready to close programmes that continue to have high unemployment, not just reduce them.”

In 2018, the University of Southern Denmark closed one English-language program and converted two from English to Danish. Photo: Tim Kildeborg Jensen / Ritzau Scanpix

Opposite impacts on provincial institutions

Gitte Sommer Harrits, vice chancellor at VIA University College, shared concern that although the decentralised education aspect of the plan aims to increase the number of students at provincial universities, the reduction of English-language programmes is likely to have the opposite effect.

A report from the organisation Akademikerne in early June found that international students have played a significant role filling educational institutions outside of Danish cities. Nine of the 10 educational institutions with the largest proportion of English-speaking students are outside the country’s largest cities. 

The University of Southern Denmark in Sønderborg has the highest proportion of international students; 40 percent of its 628 students are not affiliated with Denmark or other Nordic countries. 

While significantly larger with nearly 37,000 students, Copenhagen University has 5.2 percent international students.

Already in 2018, the University of Southern Denmark closed one English-language programme and converted two others from English to Danish after the Danish government ordered universities to reduce the number of international students.

Harrits said she found the possible closure of English-language programmes drawing international students to provincial areas to be puzzling when paired with the intention to decentralise education.