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Student unions hit hard as membership drops

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14:05 CEST+02:00
Student unions at Sweden's universities have been hit hard financially since compulsory membership was abolished on July 1st despite more than a billion kronor of support from universities.

Several student unions have seen their budgets fall by half since the abolition of mandatory fees, resulting in the scrapping of a number of their activities, newspaper Dagens Nyheter reported on Monday.

Many unions receive financial support from their universities or colleges in order to continue operations since the abolition of mandatory membership.

As a result, unions have become depend on the universities, which is a problem, said Beatrice Högå, chairwoman of the Swedish National Union of Students (Sveriges Förenade Studentkårer, SFS). The organisation's mandate includes monitoring the rights of students and ensuring that instruction remains at a high quality.

"We will now scrutinise the educational institutions while receiving financial support from them at the same time. This is something that threatens independence. State subsidies are unfortunately not enough to carry out a quality job," she said.

As a result, the unions are unable to spend as much time addressing student questions when they have to focus on recruiting members, according to Högå. However, the organization has not taken a position demanding the reimposition of mandatory student union membership.

"We think that the abolition should have been done in a more responsible way. We needed a longer adjustment period to ensure the influence of students continues to work. That is what we are defending," said Högå.

According to Minister for Higher Education and Research Tobias Krantz, the abolition of compulsory membership is an important matter of principle.

"Students should have freedom of association. They have the right to decide for themselves whether they want to join a student union or not. In addition, I am convinced that the power of student influence and legitimacy will increase if it is voluntary and not through coercion," he said.

As a result, the unions now have to find new ways to attract members, said Krantz.

"When I travel around the country's universities and colleges, I see that many are working creatively and are engaged in developing activities and attracting more members voluntarily. Many are positive to this and want to find new solutions," he said.

"The unions must think about how they can be more attractive to students and others who can give money to them," he added.

He rejected, although not entirely, the possibility of increasing state funding for student unions.

"We have just implemented the reform, so obviously we will follow developments closely," he said.

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