Obligatory student union membership — a survey
This is a summary in English. The report is available only in Swedish.
On 1 July 2010 obligatory student union membership was abolished pursuant to a decision by the Riksdag in 2009. The Government bill on which the decision was based — Frihet och inflytande — kårobligatoriets avskaffande [Freedom and influence — abolition of obligatory student union membership](Govt. bill. 2008/09:154) — stressed freedom of association as the main argument for this abolition. According to the Riksdag´s decision the main aim of a student union is to monitor and participate in the development of courses and programmes and study conditions at a higher education institution. In addition the higher education institutions were given greater responsibility for student welfare issues.
The Riksdag has also decided to grant greater autonomy to the higher education institutions, including, for instance, the right to decide on their own internal organisation from 1 January 2011.
It is difficult to predict how these changes, from obligatory to voluntary student union membership and increased institutional autonomy, will affect student influence and how the student unions function. To shed light on these changes and their consequences the Swedish National Agency for Higher Education is conducting a survey of how the student unions functioned before abolition of obligatory membership. This can provide a basis for a later appraisal. The web questionnaire sent to the student unions was based on the question “What did things look like before the student unions began to adapt to a situation in which membership was no longer obligatory?"
The 36 student unions that have responded to the questionnaire include large unions with more than 30,000 members and small ones with only around 100 members. They share certain common features where their functions are concerned. All the student unions claim to have devoted their efforts to monitoring courses and programmes and many have been involved in reception programmes for new students as well as cases concerning individual students with a focus on educational and labour market issues.
The responses of the student unions show that student influence has functioned very well at the central institutional level, somewhat less well at faculty or corresponding level and even less well at departmental level. Descriptions of how informal contacts between the student unions and central administrators have functioned also reveal variations at different organisational levels: contacts have been more extensive and regular at central than at departmental level.
Four unions, just over 10 per cent, claim that their operations have depended entirely on membership fees. Just over 60 per cent of the unions state that they have received substantial revenues from their higher education institution and half of the unions receive revenues from companies. Local authorities have also provided financial support for their activities.
The student unions responded to the questionnaire in June 2010. At that time four unions reported that they had still not received official notification from the higher education institution of which student associations were to have the status of student unions. Six unions reported that the institution had still not decided on extra funding for student union activities.