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Student democracy worth protecting

In the past few weeks, I have had the privilege to meet the newly elected Student Council of the KTH Student Union (THS). The Student Council is elected by the chapters and constitutes the very backbone of the democratic order on which THS is based.

Student involvement in the Student Union, chapters and associations is important to KTH. Not only is it the primary driver for student influence, it is also an important factor in creating a shared study and work environment for the students, one that’s both inclusive and enriching.

For more than ten years now, membership of a student union has been optional at state-run universities, having been mandatory for a long time. This means that student unions now have to actively recruit their members, and doing this obviously depends on having a well-run operation.

THS managed well in the transition to optional membership and today has a far-reaching field of operations beyond active student influence. This includes important reception activities, careers support, and a wide range of social and academic activities for students. It is good to know that THS is there as a close collaboration partner to KTH.

I have mixed emotions when I think back to student council meetings at my own alma mater, further north in Sweden, where our discussions were dominated by political debate and argument well into the small hours. At the time student union politics was strictly party political, and the council’s work was governed accordingly. Discussing matters that were relevant to university studies was far more uncommon.

Student Union Council work at KTH today seems to be quite different, with a clear focus on promoting academic success and developing KTH’s and the Union’s operations.

Positive collaboration is a guarantee of quality development in KTH’s operations in general, and education in particular. Like all other universities, KTH supports its Student Union with more than we receive in state grants. That is problematic.

A student union should be independent of the university in which it operates. A well-intentioned proposal is therefore being submitted to the government: why not double national funding for student influence from SEK 55 million to SEK 110 million? Government funding for student influence must increase to levels equivalent to before mandatory student union membership was abolished.

This will benefit everyone.