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STUDENT

Student housing shortage worse than ever

The student housing shortage appears to be worse than ever for the upcoming autumn session, Sweden's National Union of Students (Sveriges förenade studentkårer, SFS) reported on Friday.

Student housing shortage worse than ever
Photo: Christian Örnberg/Fastighetsbyrån/Scanpix (file)

The housing shortage has now spread from larger cities, with a lack in smaller university and college towns becoming apparent as well. SFS does not have any clear statistics, but from what it has observed, it has presented a dismal prognosis.

“The pressure on universities is very hard,” said SFS vice-president Elisabeth Gehrke. “There are those who have housing guarantees, but we suspect that some of the guarantees will be smoke in the autumn.”

Gothenburg is one of Sweden’s largest student cities. However, the shortage of student accommodation is now acute, especially for those who will study at Gothenburg University, Göteborgs-Posten wrote.

The SGS Student Housing Foundation has no more apartments left to allocate and already has 18,000 people on its waiting list. Most have succeeded securing accommodations through other means, such as renting rooms in private homes, for example, but remain on the waiting list.

The situation is equally dire down the road at Chalmers University of Technology, which has five available apartments for every 1,000 applicants, the newspaper reported.

Both the municipality and the university have calculated that it needs at least 2,000 new student apartments in Gothenburg, the report said. Chalmers, for example, open 100 new apartments in the new year.

The housing shortage has long been a problem for students in larger university cities, but SFS has seen how it has become worse in recent years in smaller towns.

“Many small institutions of higher education pledge a housing guarantee, but now a certain number of them have seen a 20 percent increase in demand,” said Gehrke.

She pointed out that the lack of small and cheap housing is problem among young people in general. However, for institutions of higher learning, recruitment is problematic when students cannot apply for the courses they want at the risk of being homeless.

This leads to a situation where the top universities end up recruiting students from wealthy or academic backgrounds, with a strong network of contacts and where they can receive advice on possibly even help buying a home if necessary.

“It creates alienation and segregation. Is it fair that only students with wealthy backgrounds should have access to certain educational institutions?” asked Gehrke.

Studies in Uppsala and Lund also show that the housing shortage has an impact on academic results. Those who constantly worry about their housing situation find it more difficult to concentrate on their studies.

As such, it has become an economic burden for colleges and universities that depend on the performance grades of their students.

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UNIVERSITY

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)

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