In Sweden, students have the right to direct influence over their education, and this influence is enacted mainly through student unions.
Student unions are independent associations that work on behalf of students. The student unions are independent of universities and university colleges and have their own organisation and finances. The unions represent the students in evaluation of the education and decision-making within the universities, holding a share of the votes in decisions of the university and thus directly influencing education. Some large universities have several unions.
Student unions are usually governed by a general assembly of elected representatives. Student unions represent the interests of the entire student body, not only their members.
In addition to representing students, unions also generally provide some services and benefits for their members. These range from advice and counseling, to running their own newspapers and their own facilities, such as shops, restaurants, or clubs. Some unions have housing programmes for their members. Some unions hire ombudspersons for students and doctoral students, who work with cases where students need counselling and help in relation to the university.
As a doctoral student, you may sign up to a student union. As a member, you pay a membership fee, per year or per semester and you get access to the services offered by the union. You also get to vote and run for elected positions in the union.
An important service that can be accessed by membership to a union is housing. However, not all unions have housing programmes. The ones that do typically have a queue system, where chances of getting a place increase with time – therefore you should join as soon as possible and place yourself in such a queue.
Swedish National Union of Students (Sveriges Förenade Studentkårer, SFS) is an association of student unions at Swedish universities and colleges. SFS has about fifty member corps which together represent approximately 350.000 students and doctoral students. You can find a list of the member student unions here.
SFS has the task of representing the interests of members and students. SFS represents students with different backgrounds and from different types of education, therefore SFS has a unique opportunity to speak for the student group as a whole. This means that SFS is regarded as an important interlocutor for decision-makers who decide on issues concerning higher education and students, such as the Riksdag and the government.
SFS-DK is the doctoral students committee in SFS. The aim of SFS-DK is to enable SFS to influence the development of research education, research and the general conditions of doctoral students in Sweden. SFS-DK works on improving the doctoral education and doctoral students’ conditions in Sweden. You can find more information about SFS-DK here.
You should keep in mind that trade unions and student unions both advocate for your rights as a doctoral student to a good study and work environment, but they are not the same. It is possible to become active through either and advocate for improvements of doctoral students’ conditions.