SWEDEN's government is strengthening small and medium-sized university colleges to reduce regional differences in education levels and to stimulate regional growth.
It has just approved the university status of colleges at Karlstad, Vaxjo and Orebro from 1999.
Four university colleges applied for university status last autumn. The Hogskoleverket, the national agency for higher education, said that only Karlstad was sufficiently qualified in education, science and research to become a fully fledged university immediately.
The fourth, Mitthogskolan, is spread over north-central Sweden. Education minister Carl Tham said that it was also well on the way to university status.
"To be honest, I don't think that the term 'university' is so important for the world at large," he said. "Who questions the status of the Royal Institute of Technology, which operates in a limited subject area? It's the quality and form of research that matter."
In Swedish counties with universities, about 30 per cent of the population between 25 and 64 has had higher education; in the other counties the figure is 20 per cent.
The university colleges at Karlstad (more than 7,000 students), Vaxjo (about 6,500 students) and Orebro (more than 6,000 students) are all 30 years old, while Mitthogskolan, which has more than 6,000 students, was formed in 1994 out of colleges.
There is a new university under construction on the waterfront at Malmo, which expects to have 15,000 students by 2005. It is located about mid-way between the universities of Lund and Copenhagen (from which it is separated by The Sound, but linked by a bridge and tunnel crossing from 2000). Malmo's new university will form part of a loose higher education and research group called Oresundsuniversitetet - the University of The Sound.