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What to do if you’re accused of cheating at university in Sweden

A student at Uppsala University was caught cheating with the help of ChatGPT this week. We look at what the rules are for students, if they are accused of cheating in Sweden.

What to do if you're accused of cheating at university in Sweden
Stockholm University. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg / TT

The system is slightly different depending on whether you got caught cheating in an examination or in an essay, thesis or dissertation, and also whether you are accused of plagiarism, prohibited collaboration, or the use of prohibited aids. 

We looked at the procedure at Uppsala University, where the rules on cheating were last updated in 2014, so long before Chat GPT began to add whole new possibilities to cheating, and also the procedure at Stockholm University

It’s hard to know, for instance, if the use of Chat GPT should count as plagiarism (as its answers may well be unique), prohibited collaboration (as there is no actual person to collaborate with), or the use of prohibited aids.

Uppsala University, as it happens, has classified this week’s case as “use of prohibited aids”. 

If you are caught cheating in an exam 

If an examination invigilator suspects you of using prohibited aids during an exam, they must immediately tell the student that they are under suspicion. If the student has notes with them, or a device for contacting people outside the examination hall, these can be confiscated. 

The student can then, if they wish, finish the exam. 

Once the exam is over, the invigilator must contact the teacher responsible for the student, and then write a report detailing their suspicions. 

If you are caught plagiarising in an essay, thesis or dissertation

This is a lot more complex. 

Uppsala University distinguishes between two types of plagiarism, forbidden plagiarism, which is a legal matter, and plagiarism that is the result of carelessness or a misunderstanding, which it sees as an educational matter. 

A lecturer who suspects a work has been plagiarised, must together with the course examiner try to understand if the student has consciously tried to deceive the teacher, or has simply been guilty of bad academic writing that sticks too closely to its sources. 

What happens after the suspected cheating has been reported? 


The first thing that happens is that a conference is held between the student, their supervisors or lecturers, and the members of staff who have made the accusation. 

At the conference, the student is allowed to give as good an explanation of what happened as they can, and to present their view of what happened. The student is also informed of what the process is that might now be started. At this stage, the accusations and the student’s claims should be kept confidential. 

There may need to be further investigation to confirm or disprove any claims made by the student or their accusers. 

At Uppsala University, if there is “well-founded suspicion of attempted deceptive conduct”, then any decisions on examining the students work are deferred until after a decision. 

At Stockholm, though, the student can continue to participate in “instruction, examinations, and other activities related to his or her studies”, until a decision has been made. 

Stockholm, unlike Uppsala, details what happens when multiple students are involved. Each should be able to to give their own account. 

Matter dismissed

If the academic staff investigating the cheating decide that the plagiarism is either the result of carelessness or lack of knowledge, or that there has been some misunderstanding, then they need to submit an official memorandum detailing how they dealt with the claims.

Even if the cheating accusations are dismissed, the student may still be failed for the exam or assignment if the person marking it deems that it does “not measure up to the course goals”.

The formal report 

If the academic staff investigating the cheating decide that the plagiarism is not the result of carelessness or lack of knowledge, and that there was an intention to deceive, then the examiner and the head of department, or director of studies, have to submit a report. 

The report is addressed to the Vice Chancellor of the university, signed by the responsible head of department or director of studies, and submitted to the Registrar at the University Administration.

The department also needs to brief the student about what is in the report, and also give them information in writing. 

The student should also be put in contact with the right person at the student union to help them in their case. 

At Stockholm University, but it seems not Uppsala, the student can comment on the report. 

The Disciplinary Board

Both Uppsala and Stockholm University have a Disciplinary Board, which assign an officer to further investigate the case, and present their findings to the Vice-Chancellor. 

The Vice-Chancellor then, in consultation with the officer, decides whether to dismiss the matter without action, issue a formal warning to the student, or refer the matter to the Disciplinary Board. 

The board includes the Vice-Chancellor, a legally qualified member, a teacher representative and two representatives from the student unions.

At Stockholm, the student might be temporarily suspended once their conduct is submitted to the board. 

At the hearing a representative from the department concerned and the accused student can each make their case about what happened, after which they leave the room. 

The board then informs the student and his department on its decision, which can be to dismiss the student, give a warning, or to suspend the student from their studies, a decision which comes into force immediately. 

Stockholm says that suspension means the student is prohibited from “instruction, examinations, or any other activities related to courses and study programmes at Stockholm University” during the period of suspension.

They may also be forced to repay student grants and study loans covering the period of the suspension. 

The appeals process

Students have the right to appeal the decision to suspend them to Sweden’s Administrative Court (förvaltningsrätten), and can also apply for a “stay” of the decision while their case is held. 

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How many foreign students are there in Sweden and where are they from?

Almost 40,000 international students started courses in Sweden last year. How does this compare to previous years? What countries are they from, and which universities are most popular?

How many foreign students are there in Sweden and where are they from?

Some 39,806 international students began studying in Sweden during the 2021/22 academic year. Of this figure, 21,754 were female and 18,052 were male.

Of these students, 28,197 were so-called “free movers”, meaning that they have organised their own studies and applied independently, rather than moving to Sweden as part of a student exchange programme, and 11,644 were exchange students.

This is a slight increase in the total number of international students from the 2020/21 academic year, which saw a lull in admissions due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Just 33,298 international students arrived in Sweden that year.

The year before, 2019/20, saw similar figures to 2021/22, when 39,589 international students registered for courses in Sweden.


Where do they come from?

Looking at the breakdown of the 39,806 students by country of origin, we can see that the country at the top of the list is not a country at all; it’s a group of more than 7,000 students where the country of origin is unknown.

Erik Dahl, analyst at the Swedish Higher Education Authority, told The Local that this category includes students who haven’t given any details, “for example it can be those from the rest of the Nordic region or an EU/EEA country".

Some students in this group will also be students studying remotely, or those in Sweden for fewer than three months. EU citizens are allowed to stay in Sweden for three months without registering their details, and non-EU citizens staying fewer than three months do not need to apply for a residence permit (but may need a visa in some cases).

Of the 'unknown' category, all were so-called 'free-mover' students.

Germany and China the biggest 

After students with an unknown country of origin, the next-largest group of students arriving in Sweden in 2021/22 came from Germany, with an all-time high of 4,166 German students arriving in Sweden last year, most of whom (2,346) were exchange students.

The next largest group was China, with 2,302 Chinese students starting courses in Sweden last year. In contrast to the German students, the vast majority (2,003 of 2,302) were 'free-mover' students, rather than exchange students.

China was followed by France in third place (2,276 students, mostly exchange students), India in fifth (2,125, mostly 'free-movers'), and Finland sixth (1,951, also mostly 'free-movers').

Rounding out the rest of the top ten were Spain with 1,463 students, Pakistan with 1,395, Italy with 1,305 and the Netherlands on 1,152.

See the end of this article for a full breakdown of countries.

Pandemic changes

Comparing 2021/22 with 2020/21, it is clear that pandemic-related restrictions caused a drop in the number of exchange students coming to Sweden as part of a university programme in their own country, whereas the number of 'free-movers' was not particularly affected.

The big drop in 'free-movers' occurred instead in 2011/12, where 38,140 students came to Sweden, down from 46,691 the year before. This is likely due to the fact that fees were brought in for 'free-movers' from non-EU countries in 2021.

In fact, statistics show that the ‘free-mover’ student numbers that fell so abruptly after 2010 continued to climb unbroken through the pandemic years, whereas exchange students saw a sharp drop in numbers in academic year 2020/2021. 

Exchange student numbers for 2021/22, however, had almost returned to pre-pandemic levels.

Technical universities most popular for Indians

In terms of students paying course fees, the highest numbers came from India (1,713), China (1,655) and Pakistan (1,135), followed by students with an unknown country of origin.

The most popular universities for international students in general were Lund (5,362), Stockholm (4,426), Uppsala (4,263) and Gothenburg (3,663).

Looking at international students from specific countries, the three top universities for students from India were Chalmers University of Technology (350 students), KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm (320 students), and Blekinge Institute of Technology in Karlskrona (266 students).

KTH was the most popular university for Chinese students, with 526 Chinese students arriving there in 2021/22. This was followed by 391 Chinese students at Lund University and 302 at Uppsala.

For Pakistani students, Linnaeus University in Småland was most popular, with 183 students commencing studies there in 2021/22, followed by 182 at Uppsala and 111 at Stockholm University.

You can have a look at the full statistics here.