Student housing crisis ‘worse than ever’

With record-high enrollment at many Swedish universities this year, the lack of student housing is greater than ever as students look for a place to live at the start of the fall 2011 term.

According to the Swedish Agency for Higher Education Services (Verket för högskoleservice – VHS), a total of 270,000 students have been granted enrollment for programmes at Swedish universities and colleges this year.

As a result, students find them facing an even more acute shortage of housing options than in years past.

“The situation in Lund is extreme and it is even worse this year,” Tova Bennett from Lund University-based student housing organisation BoPoolen, told The Local.

“It’s very tough. If you haven’t placed yourself in the queue already, it is almost impossible to get an apartment.”

Bennett explained that a lack of student housing as “always been a problem” in Lund, home to one of Sweden’s oldest and most prestigous universities, but that the situation is even worse this year.

“We have 8,5000 rooms or apartments in Lund and 35,000 students. This means that it is really hard for someone to get somewhere to live, especially in the centre of town.”

While BoPoolen was set up to help students find accommodation near the university, Bennett suggests that students may have better luck if they widen there search to include locations outside the town itself.

“It is a relatively small town but there are many small villages just outside the town where students live and it is easy to either cycle or commute into the university each day” she said.

“I would recommend that all students act as early as possible, use services like our own and try to contact other places privately, to try to find a second-hand contract.”

The problem is exacerbated by the increasing numbers of students entering further education as a result of the baby boom in the 1990s, the largest in Sweden since since the immediate boom following World War II.

Those children are now in their early 20s and entering an already crowded system.

Universities are finding themselves deluged with applications, which in turn is putting even more pressure on the accommodation services.

In Uppsala meanwhile, the number of enrolled students increased by 1,500 people and there too it is evident that the problem is worse than last year.

“Last year was tough, but even more so this year,” Markus Jonegård of Uppsala-based Studentboet, a service set up by the university to help students rent accommodation privately, told The Local.

“The best advice we can give is to do a lot of the work yourself, get your name on as many lists as possible and contact as any organisations as you can. The more active you are the better, especially for those coming this fall.”

He added that Studentboet is working closely with the university and the local council to find solutions.

“It is obvious that there is not enough accommodation for students, but it is a difficult problem for everyone. The council works very hard and it is too easy to just say they should provide more accommodation,” he says.

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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)