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EXPLAINED: Just what are Sweden’s Studenten celebrations all about?

If you’ve been in a Swedish town or city during early June, you’ve no doubt been perplexed by the sudden appearance of sharply dressed young people wearing white sailors’ hats and partying on flatbed trucks.

EXPLAINED: Just what are Sweden's Studenten celebrations all about?
Photo: SSHL

For an international resident, it’s so thoroughly odd and so apparently un-Swedish that you may experience one of those double-take moments – am I really seeing what I’m seeing? Your eyes are not deceiving you – this is in fact a long-standing rite of passage for all teens in Sweden.

So, what are these uncommonly raucous rejoicings? The Local has partnered with Sigtunaskolan Humanistiska Läroverket (SSHL), a coeducational independent school set in glorious rolling countryside north of Stockholm, to reveal all – including the story behind those unmissable white caps.

Bilingual education in a magnificent setting near Stockholm: find out more about SSHL

Photo: SSHL

The traditional wait for a white cap

Teenagers all over Sweden have been celebrating the completion of their final year of secondary education. What you’ve seen in the centre of the country’s usually tranquil towns and cities is the annual explosion of relief, joy and champagne that’s widely known as Studenten. As Swedish milestones go, this one marking the graduation from secondary school (gymnasium in Swedish) is by far the most exuberant.

According to tradition at SSHL, a bilingual (Swedish and English) school for boarding and day students, the Studenten ceremonies kick off 50 days before graduation when the students announce their candidacy to sit the no-longer taken Swedish graduation, or matriculation, exams. Yes, you read that right – the exams no longer exist.

They were abolished in 1968. The now-defunct exam traced its origin to academic statutes from 1655 but was discontinued due to reforms in Swedish secondary education in 1968. What we see these days is the gleeful ghost of a day that really used to decide the futures of Sweden’s youth.

Photo: SSHL

At the candidacy event, each member of the graduating class is ceremoniously awarded abiturient caps that they may wear until their graduation to signify their candidacy for the exam. And, as you may have noticed, it’s not just white caps that are on offer. At SSHL, for example, students first receive coloured abiturient caps (with a different colour for each boarding house) to recognise their candidacy. 

SSHL’s graduation day normally begins with external examination assessors whose role it is to ceremoniously assess the graduating students. The entire graduating class is called to what is known as a Scrutinium (that’s Latin, from scrutari which means ‘to search’), where they are told by the assessors whether they have passed their ceremonial examination.

Upon receipt of a passing grade students are allowed to exchange their abiturient cap for their bright white Studenten matriculation cap. The graduates then receive ceremonial badges and farewells from teachers and staff and proceed to run out into a courtyard where their family and friends are waiting.

Interested in bilingual English and Swedish schooling? Find out more about SSHL and its options for boarding and day students

IB students: prepare to pass – and then party! 

For some students at SSHL, and other schools, graduation day is much more than a ceremonial occasion. SSHL has many children studying for the International Baccalaureate (IB), a higher education institution preparatory programme that provides access to universities and colleges in more than 100 countries.

It means more for these IB candidates – who study in English – to graduate and be eligible for university as the risk of failure is still real for them. They really do yearn for those white caps.

Photo: SSHL

Graduation day is always a big deal requiring lots of school planning. This year, due to restrictions related to the Covid-19 pandemic, SSHL had to go to huge extra lengths, staging 15 separate graduation ceremonies instead of the usual one. 

The core traditions remain undimmed, however. One of the most important is the euphoric dash out of school made by the teenagers armed with leaving certificates – known as utspringet. Each of them hurtles through a crowd of parents holding placards with the graduates’ baby photos, some of them sweet, some of them embarrassing.

Photo: SSHL

Most of the placards are decorated with a blue and yellow Swedish background. The fact that the king and queen of Sweden participated in utspring for their offspring demonstrates just how important the ritual is for Swedes.

Students from SSHL then take part in a traditional parade through the town, walking behind a trailer with a full brass band before returning to a reception in their boarding house. Due to the pandemic, this parade has not taken place for the past two years. It will return, however, as the school is determined to remain true to some of the older Swedish traditions that have been lost in much of Sweden.

Photo: SSHL

For example, rather than a parade on foot, graduates from many schools now stage parties aboard flatbed trucks. Students club together to hire floats for the day, which are decorated with balloons and birch twigs. This is a strictly no-parents-allowed truck ride, and the students proceed to mark the occasion with a display of heroically unbridled hedonism. Known as flaket, this is the part of the day that may have first grabbed your attention.

It’s impossible for any passerby to remain oblivious to the excesses of the flaket, as an endless stream of loud and (some might say) terrible party music is blasted from the floats while students dance, cheer and chug back champagne as if it were lemonade. Then they get ready for the evening ahead when they’ll go on to celebrate further in a bar and then a nightclub.

And that’s it for them – school is over and it’s on to the next step in their studies and lives. But if you’re one of Sweden’s international residents, you can be sure the ritual will stop you in your tracks again next summer.

SSHL is a coeducational school with an international profile and a strong focus on Swedish traditions: find out more about the school – and discover how your child could try life as a boarding student

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EDUCATION

‘They feel conned’: Swedish universities fight for PHDs hit by new residency rules

Sweden's top universities are to call for doctoral students to be exempted from Sweden's tough new permanent residency rules, arguing that it will damage both academic standards and national competitiveness.

'They feel conned': Swedish universities fight for PHDs hit by new residency rules
At Lund Technical University, a majority of doctoral students are international. Photo: Kennet Ruona/LTU

In a post on Wednesday, Astrid Söderbergh Widding, the chair of Association of Swedish Higher Education Institutions, said that Sweden’s universities had agreed to submit a joint letter to the government “very soon”, calling for parliament to put in place a special exemption for PHD students to make it easier to stay in Sweden after their studies. 

The parliament, she wrote, “should introduce an exemption for doctoral students and young researchers from the requirement to be financially self-sufficient”. 

Previously, doctoral students were eligible for a permanent residence permit if they had lived in Sweden with a residence permit for doctoral studies for four out of the past seven years. Apart from a slim set of requirements, this was granted more or less automatically.

But according to Sweden’s new Migration Act, which was introduced in July this year as comprehensive legislation to control the number of asylum applications, they now need to be able to additionally show that they can support themselves financially for at least a year and half.

The new law means that the rules for permanent residency are now the same for all categories of applicants, including doctoral students.

Stefan Bengtsson, the rector at Chalmers University of Technology, said that the change would mean as many as 400 to 500 doctoral students, many of whom have built up considerable expertise, might be unable to stay in Sweden.

“This makes for an uncertain future for those from outside of Europe who have applied to come to Sweden for an academic career, which is cause for great concern and disappointment among those who came here under other circumstances,” he told The Local. “Some of them may, of course, feel like they’ve been conned

But what was even more worrying, he said, would be the impact the change to the law might have in the longer term. 

“This change to the law could contribute to giving Sweden a bad reputation. This will create difficulties in recruiting internationally and damage our long-term skills supply.”

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At Lund University, the majority of doctoral students in the science and technical faculties are from outside Europe, while Söderbergh Widding, who is also vice chancellor at Stockholm University, estimated that about half of doctoral students were international. 

Söderbergh Widding told the TT newswire that the change was “a devastating death blow”, which put to waste a “previously hard-won battle to make it possible for doctoral students to obtain a permanent residency permit after four years of studies”. 

She said in her letter that the change contradicted the research policy proposition from December 2020, which stated that the “number of foreign doctoral students who stay in Sweden should increase”, and said that giving residency to doctoral students was a good way to increase this.  

Ole Petter Ottersen, the rector of the elite Karolinska medical university, told the newswire that he thought the change in residency laws would damage Swedish competitiveness. 

“This is not good for Sweden. This will damage our ability to attract and recruit talent from other countries. For a country that lies on the periphery, the goal should be to make it easier, not harder, to recruit competence.” 

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