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'It's an endemic problem': Why PhD students in Sweden are waiting months to get paid

Richard Orange
Richard Orange - [email protected]
'It's an endemic problem': Why PhD students in Sweden are waiting months to get paid
Delays getting a Swedish bank account can leabe PhD students out of pocket. Photo: Astrakan/Scandinav/

When Nico Meffe arrived at Lund to start his doctorate, he didn't expect to wait three months to get paid. The Local spoke to him about Swedish universities' reluctance to transfer funds to foreign accounts.


Meffe, from Toronto in Canada, arrived in Sweden a few weeks before his contract was due to start, hoping to use the time to sort out his residency, bank account and more, but when he visited banks in Sweden, none would give him an account within a reasonable time.

He then discovered, to his frustration, that the university was not willing to pay his salary into a foreign bank account. 

"The money gets transferred to my supervisor and then he is supposed to transfer me the money, but apparently he was told that because of international money-laundering laws and stuff like that, he couldn't transfer it to a non-Swedish account," Meffe said. 

It ended up taking four stressful months before Meffe managed to get issued a Swedish personal number and open a bank account so he could get paid, during which time he had racked up hundreds of thousands of kronor in debt, maxing out all his Canadian credit cards and drawing heavy interest payments.

"I'd worked a few years in the private sector before coming here, so I had savings and I was able to live off my credit cards and stuff like that. But frankly, you know, there's a stress factor in literally not knowing when you're going to get paid," he said. "And I probably paid hundreds, if not thousands, of Canadian dollars in interest payments." 


He was also lucky that his younger sister worked in Copenhagen in a relatively well-paid job, and so was also able to lend him money, but he worries about other students who have faced the same problems without any savings or support.  

He said he had first approached Handelsbanken. 

"They said that with just a passport and a letter from the university saying that they were going to employ me that it was going to about five months or more to open up a bank account," he said. "They were just going to have to do a lot of processing to confirm my identity.

"I'm frustrated as I feel like the university could have given me some sort of warning about this," Meffe said. "They could have said, 'you have been accepted to this PhD position. By the way, this is how the banking system works here. Please make sure that you have some money saved'."


According to Dominic Mealy, a board member of SULF Lund, Sweden's union for university professors and researchers, Meffe's problem is extremely common but has only come to the union's attention relatively recently, after he and others in the union began looking into it. 

"We have found that new employees that were non-Swedish were often experiencing big delays in receiving payments, sometimes very long delays. And we've also established that it's an ongoing issue in other universities," he told The Local. 

"It's an endemic problem and it's a complex problem which entails a failure on the part of the university sector to get the information that they should provide to new employees. There is also a more systemic problem around confusion on the part of banks about what they can and cannot do, and also perhaps shortcomings in the current organisation of Swedish personal numbers." 

Mealy is now pushing to get the issue on the agenda at the SULF national conference, so that properly informing new researchers of the bank account issue and helping them overcome it can become something universities have to do under collective bargaining agreements with unions.

He has also arranged meetings with the HR department at Lund University to discuss how they can improve the on-boarding process for new employees so they receive better information about how to minimise the delayed payment issue. 


Mealy has discovered that if newly arrived students first try to get a coordination number, rather than wait for a full personal number, which is what Lund University wrongly recommends, it was usually possible to open a bank account more rapidly. 

"It does seem like there is a way around it based on the current rules and we're going to try and inform our members. In the short term we're aiming to work with the university to improve information for faculty administrators as well as for new employees. In the long-term we are hoping to apply pressure at a national level to address these issues." 

In the years that this problem has existed, PhD students' supervisors have often solved the situation informally by lending students money to tide them over, as happened in Mealy's own case. But he has also heard of extreme cases where those affected had had to leave the country. 

"I've heard of instances of people for whom, despite efforts on the part of their departments, the situation has gone on for five months, and they've had to return to their country of origin," he said. "This seems to have occurred in instances, in particular, of people who are from outside the EU." 


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Elisa 2024/03/16 18:57
Not only do PhD students and new employees need to get a person number before opening their bank account, they also need to get their ID Kort. So add 2-3 more weeks, depending on what part of the country you live in. Making it even more difficult, until you have that ID Kort, you can't get a Swedish phone SIM card, and thus can't participate in many other Swedish activities.

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