Increased government funding needed to improve student influence

It is of utmost importance that students have real potential for contributing to and influencing the development of higher education. To remedy the most acute problems, UKÄ (Swedish Higher Education Authority) proposes increasing government funding to improve student influence.

A well regulated system

Today's system for student influence is well defined in terms of both rules and regulations and in day-to-day operations, but it is based on voluntary participation by the students.

A new survey and analysis by Swedish Higher Education Authority show that student influence overall works well from the perspective of both the higher education institutions (HEI) and the student unions.

Varying conditions for the student unions

In most cases, HEIs say they are satisfied, while the student unions are dissatisfied in some respects with how well student influence works at their institutions. Even so, the Authority would like to stress that the current system for student influence is not particularly representative.

The Authority sees that many unions became more dependent on the HEIs once membership became optional, their potential for achieving their objectives varies, and they work under varying conditions. We have also identified democratic and financial issues with how student influence is promoted and a need for more information.

Democratic problems

In the current system, the student unions appoint student representatives to various advisory and decision-making bodies at HEIs. Democratically, it is problematic that voting rights in union elections are limited to only member students. Today, about 42 per cent of students are union members, and only around 10 per cent of these choose to vote.

The survey shows that HEIs support student influence by contributing an estimated SEK 97 million annually. Many HEIs also purchase various services from their student unions, and in total they spend about SEK 15 million annually for these services. Additionally, student unions are also funded through membership fees (SEK 31 million) and through government funding specifically for supporting student influence (SEK 32 million).

Financial contributions from HEIs vary. Some unions also have access to sponsors. This, together with significant variations in membership rates, results in differing financial standings between unions.

The Authority’s survey also indicates that there is a lack of knowledge about applicable rules and regulations in some student unions and, to some extent, even among university staff.

Increased funding needed

It is of utmost importance that students have real potential for contributing to and influencing the development of higher education. To remedy the most acute problems, UKÄ proposes increasing government funding to improve student influence.

At the same time, the government should encourage HEIs and student unions to develop ways of increasing student involvement in improving higher education. We also recommend that the government find appropriate ways to inform student unions about the system for student influence.

It is important to carefully follow how student influence develops in the coming years to determine if there is a need for a new national re-examination and revision of the system.