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DEBT

Stockholm tops Swedish student debt league

Residents of Stockholm continue to carry the highest levels of student debt in the country, according to new figures from Sweden’s student lending agency, CSN.

Stockholm tops Swedish student debt league

Swedes with the highest student debts are concentration in counties which are also home to Sweden’s larger cities.

Overall, Stockholm residents owe an average of 143,034 kronor per person ($21,700), compared with a national average of 128,209 kronor per person.

In contrast, residents of Jönköping County in central Sweden have the lowest student debt load, owing an average of 107,545 kronor per person.

“Debts have increased somewhat in most counties during the last year. The exception are Västmanland and Blekinge, where debt has fallen,” CSN’s Lars Hillerström said in a statement.

Overall, Swedes owe the agency a total of 186 billion kronor.

According to Hillerström, the number of people who have taken out student loans has increased in recent years.

“It’s due to a combination of a weak economy and the fact that the government decided to increase the number of available spots,” he said.

In addition, CSN reports that low interest rates in recent years have resulted in more people with student loans choosing to devote a larger part of their loan payments to paying down the principle.

Currently, the interest rate charged on student loans in 1.9 percent – the lowest rate ever.

“This has primarily helped people with relatively small student loans. But it’s even had an effect more generally,” said Hillerström.

While Swedish universities don’t charge tuition fees to Swedish citizens, many Swedish students choose to take out loans to cover living expenses while they pursue their degrees.

Aid is also available for high school students as well as those pursuing adult secondary education.

In 2009, CSN spent roughly 13.4 billion kronor in grants and 11.6 billion kronor in loans.

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EDUCATION

Students face years in Swedish housing queue

Swedish and foreign students are set to start university in the coming weeks. But the experience will be marred for many as a report suggests thousands face up to a two-year wait for student accommodation.

Students face years in Swedish housing queue
Not all students will be moving into their own student room in Sweden this autumn. Photo: Jurek Holzer/SvD/SCANPIX

Conducted by Studentbostadsföretagen, the trade association for groups that own and manage student residences in Sweden, the report paints a desperate image of the housing shortage in Swedish university towns, with most expected to spend at least a year, if not longer, in the queue for student accommodation.

Prospective students in Uppsala in central Sweden face the longest waits: up to 102 weeks. But according to the report the figure is exaggerated because it is possible to sign up for the queue from the age of 18, at least a year before most Swedes begin their studies.

The situation is the most dire in the capital. Stockholm-based students have to queue at least a year for a room with a shared kitchen and common areas in a hall of residence, and on average three years to get their own student apartment. In the meantime they will be forced to explore other options such as living with friends, subletting or finding a short-term rental contract.

Studentbostadsföretagen have previously warned that in 2015, 20,000 people are likely to start their first term without formal accommodation, 3,000 more than five years ago.

Martin Johansson, Secretary-General for Studenbostadsföretagen, called for better coordination between education policy and housing policy on Tuesday.

“A link so that universities have a dialogue with municipalities about how many students will be coming in the next few years. (…) [The future] does not look very bright when we require a further 20,000 homes in the long term and just above 2,000, at most, are being built a year,” he told TT.

GUIDE: How to steer Sweden's crazy rental market

Lund in southern Sweden has introduced a new system giving priority to new and international students. A third of the autumn admissions will therefore be allocated to a place to live before or as soon as they arrive in the university town. But others are expected to queue for a year for a room in a shared corridor and two years for their own apartment.

Gothenburg on the west coast also reports average waiting times of more than a year (60 weeks). Even students heading to smaller Swedish towns, such as Växjö in the south or Luleå or Umeå in the far north, can expect to spend at least a year in the housing queue.

“Meanwhile, the number of students is increasing over time and the government is investing in creating 15,000 new places [at universities] for students in the next three years. That means that even more homes are needed,” said Johansson.

But it is not all doom and gloom. If you are about to move to Sweden, or have just moved here, check out The Local's handy guide to the top tips for how to navigate the Nordic country's intricate housing system.

An accommodation adviser in Lund told The Local in July that apart from joining the student housing queue, new arrivals should also consider couch surfing or sharing a room with several others when they first arrive in the city, before seeking out longer term sleeping arrangements.

“It is difficult for students. They all arrive at the same time. It is hard to get your first place but it is easier when you've been here a few weeks and have got to know people,” said Susanne Hansson, an accommodation co-ordinator who works with both Lund University and the local municipality.

Sweden's Prime Minister Stefan Löfven has promised that 150,000 new homes will be built in Sweden each year from 2016, focusing on affordable apartments for low earners and students.

“We have a have a great housing shortage in Sweden. Housing is a key part of the government's labour strategy,” he told a press conference in March.

“A housing shortage is one of the biggest obstacles to growth, such that people cannot move wherever they want,” he added.