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.