Understanding Post-Doctoral Fellowships in Sweden

Swedish universities offer excellent opportunities for post-doctoral research on inland waters, but the details of the Swedish labor market can be opaque to researchers from North America. The Swedish system has two types of post-docs: employees and scholarship holders, with funders often stipulating how a position is offered. The classification has important implications for taxation and access to social welfare benefits.

In short, there are two types of benefits in Sweden: residence-based and work-based. Employees receive both. Scholarship holders only receive residence-based benefits. This is because scholarship holders are not considered employees of the university and are not considered to be working, even though they are conducting research at the university.

Umeå University in Sweden is a great place to do a post-doctoral fellowship in the aquatic sciences!

Residence-based benefits include health insurance and dental care, child benefits (a monthly stipend for families with children), housing allowance, and parental leave. Parental leave is paid monthly at a rate based on salary, but because scholarship holders are not employed, they are not seen as having a salary and can only claim this at a minimal level. Affordable childcare is available for families with children starting from age one. The exact price depends on income, but for context, the maximum fee applied to Umeå residents with high income is about $150 per month including two meals per day. Post-docs will pay less than this. Overnight and weekend childcare facilities are also available.

Work-based benefits are more comprehensive. Parental-leave is paid monthly at the rate 80% of salary, which is significantly higher than the minimum level. Paid long-term disability and family-illness leaves are also accessible. Employees are eligible for unemployment benefits at the conclusion of their position. Universities provide occupational benefits to employees on top of work-based benefits from the government. These benefits include retirement pension, supplemental health insurance, and supplemental parental leave contributions. For example, Umeå University supplements parental leave payments so that employees receive 90% of their salary during time at home with their children instead of the 80% paid by the government.

Scholarship holders are paid less than employees. However, scholarship income is tax-free, so the take-home pay is the same or slightly higher compared to employees, who are subject to Swedish income tax. Scholarship holders also have access to special housing options and this can be advantageous to those with few connections in a new city. For example, in Umeå, scholarship holders have the opportunity to rent nice fully furnished apartments in the city center. These apartments are not offered to employees. Because employees pay taxes, they are typically eligible to vote in city and county elections (but not the national election). Scholarship holders are typically not eligible to vote in these elections.

There is contention between labor unions and university administrators related to post-doctoral scholarships. Labor unions oppose scholarships because they don’t offer full access to Sweden’s social welfare benefits. University administrators see scholarships as a mechanism for increasing the total number of post-doctoral positions and suggest that scholarships provide important opportunities to early career scientists that would otherwise not exist. Despite the trade-offs, aquatic scientists have been successful in both types of positions.