Government wants to scrap mandatory student unions

A new government proposal calls for compulsory membership in student unions to be made voluntary for students enrolled in Swedish colleges and universities starting in July 2010.

“Compulsory student union membership is just as wrong as forcing labour union members to join the Social Democrats or automatic membership in the state church once was,” said higher education minister Lars Leijonborg in a statement.

Currently, students in Sweden are required to join a student union (studentkår) upon enrolling at an institution of higher education.

The unions are supported by fees collected from students and feature of a democratically-elected leadership which represents students’ interests on the university’s board of directors.

In order to secure students’ ability to have a voice at their respective university or college, the government is proposing that each union receive a subsidy of 105 kronor ($12) per full time student.

But the association of student unions, Sveriges förenade studentkårer (SFS), is deeply dissatisfied with the proposal, claiming the subsidy isn’t enough to cover the expected drop in membership fee income.

The government inquiry on which the new proposal is based concluded that the unions would need at least 310 kronor per full time student in order to remain viable.

“But the government only wants to give a third, a one hundred kronor bill, per full time student and no funding to our social activities. That’s way too little money,” said SFS chair Moa Neuman to the TT news agency.

As a result of the change, students’ sway at Swedish colleges and universities will be greatly diminished, she claims.

“Most student unions aren’t going to survive this. It means that students will lose the ability to influence their own educational programmes,” said Neuman.

“It costs money to pay people to keep an eye on things; it costs money to organize elections to choose who will sit on the university’s board of directors.”

Along with the implementation of voluntary student union membership, the government proposes that students be allowed to start new unions, provided they are devoted to participating in the development of educational programmes; that membership is open to all students; and that all members can vote for union leadership.

Newly formed unions will also have the right to be represented in the higher education institution’s decision-making bodies.

In cases where there are more unions than spots available on a given university board, the unions must come to an agreement on how their representation responsibilities will be divided. If they are unable to do so, then the university leadership will decide.


Swedish university exam unlikely to go ahead at all this year

It is looking increasingly unlikely that 'högskoleprovet' – an exam used by thousands of students every year as a way to enter Swedish university will go ahead – despite a government U-turn.

Swedish university exam unlikely to go ahead at all this year
In a normal year, 100,000 students sit what is known as the SweSAT or 'högskoleprovet'. Photo: Malin Hoelstad/SvD/SCANPIX

The Swedish Scholastic Aptitude Test (SweSAT, or högskoleprovet) is normally held twice a year, but was cancelled in spring and then later in autumn due to the coronavirus pandemic. But after pressure from opposition parties, the government last week said it would pave the way for the test to take place on its usual date in October in a limited format, open only to people who had not previously sat it.

Usually around 100,000 people sit the exam each year, around 40 percent of them doing so for the first time. The exam is not compulsory, but many people use its results to get into university, and it is seen as a crucial second chance for those who are not able to get accepted based on grades alone.

But any hope lit by the government's announcement last week was quickly extinguished this week, when university principals said it would still not be possible to organise a coronavirus-safe sitting. In the end it is up to the exam organisers to decide whether or not to hold it, so the government holds limited sway.

“They [the university principals] do not want to take responsibility for conducting the exam during the autumn, but would rather spend time and resources on conducting two tests as safely as possible in spring,” Karin Röding, director-general of the Swedish Council for Higher Education (UHR), told the TT news agency on Tuesday.

“I have no reason to have another opinion,” she added.

“It appears to be the case that you are going to have to wait another few months before an exam can be carried out in an infection-safe way,” confirmed Sweden's Minister of Higher Education, Matilda Ernkrans.

Meanwhile the political pressure eased on the Social Democrat-Green coalition government to ensure the test could be held before the deadline for applying to the spring semester of university, when the Liberal party joined the centre-left in voting no to pushing for an autumn sitting. Last week there was a majority for a yes vote on the Swedish parliament's education committee, consisting of right-wing parties Moderates, Christian Democrats, Sweden Democrats and the Liberals, but after the latter switched sides the committee voted no.

The Mdoerates blamed the government for not acting sooner to help the exam go ahead, by for example allocating more money and investigating the possibility of using more venues.

“There is one person who is to blame. That's Matilda Ernkrans,” said the party's education spokesperson Kristina Axén Olin. “The government has handled it really poorly and now it is thought to be too late and impossible.”

Ernkrans argued that she and the government had done everything they could, including making sure that test results from previous years will be valid for eight years rather than the usual five, as well as allocating extra funding to make it possible to hold more than one exam next spring.

Swedish vocabulary

cancel – ställa in

test/exam – (ett) prov

second chance – (en) andra chans

government – (en) regering

semester – (en) termin (note the false friend – the Swedish word semester means holiday)