‘Avoid studying in large cities’: minister

Sweden's housing minister suggested on Wednesday that students should avoid enrolling in universities in big cities where housing is scarce, drawing sharp criticism from a number of quarters.

'Avoid studying in large cities': minister

“The housing market should be one of the variables when one chooses a course of study and a university city,” Christian Democrat housing minister Stefan Attefall told the Metro newspaper.

“The problem has been a fundamental one for a long time and has gotten worse. It’s a failure for Swedish housing policy.”

Attefall advised students to consider universities located outside of Sweden’s larger cities, where the demand for student housing far exceeds supply, when deciding where to enroll.

He also hinted that availability of student housing may become a factor in how the government distributes the number of available spaces for students at the country’s universities.

The Stockholm Chamber of Commerce (Stockholms Handelskammare) issued a sharp rebuke of Attefall, arguing that a failed housing policy shouldn’t affect the government’s education policies.

“It would be extremely unfortunate if the government chose to punish higher education in Stockholm in this way,” the Chamber’s head of policy, Fredrik Johansson, said in a statement.

Rather than hinder Stockholm’s efforts to become an academic centre by urging students to study elsewhere, the government ought to instead ease restrictions on subletting and the setting of rents, Johansson argued.

Student groups also took issue with Attefall’s comments, urging him to take appropriate action.

“We’re tired of municipalities and the government blaming each other over the issue of student housing,” Lars Niska, a vice chair with the Uppsala Student Union, said in a statement.

“As the responsible minister, Stefan Attefall needs to make an effort to address the structural barriers for building housing in Sweden.”

According to Niska, there are already signs that students are choosing not to enroll at Uppsala University due to concerns about the lack of housing, something he called “a real shame”.

The Social Democrat group at Stockholm City Hall also criticised Attefall for his “alarmingly anti-Stockholm” stance.

“The housing minister urges students to apply elsewhere and threatens to take away spots at universities in Stockholm,” said Social Democrat city council member Tomas Rudin, in a statement.

“When the government speaks so clearly, it ends up weakening Stockholm as a knowledge-based city.”

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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)