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Has the lynchpin snapped?

Mats Ericson, chair of SULF
Mats Ericson, chair of SULF

In 1999, the Council for Higher Education published a report entitled Is the lynchpin getting rusty? As the first point in a ten-point programme for first level university education reform they wrote: “The resources for first level education should urgently be reset to the minimum level recommended in the National Enquiry report of 1991”.

The publication Continued Expansion – Continued Erosion, issued by SULF 2012, found that from 2001 to 2011, the erosion of educational expenditure amounted to between 29% and 43% depending on field. For the humanities, social sciences, law and theology, the gap had remained at about 22% during the period and was unchanged thanks to the “quality reinforcements” governments of different colours had made in this field. Real improvements in the form of increased teaching time, according to universities and the Swedish Higher Education Authority, had not usually materialised as the additional funds had only just been sufficient to keep pace with cost increases.

What has happened since 2011? A slight increase in appropriations for these subjects in 2012-2013 but otherwise no new real fund transfers to higher education in recent years. On the contrary, erosion has continued. The Government has, however, in its new Budget Bill, proposed a new “quality enhancement”, in this case not only for this field but also for the areas of education and internships. This is good, but these funds are only proposed until 2018 and will then be discontinued. Short-term policy thinking again!

Perhaps the most serious, long-term problem for the education sector is that for decades, in virtually all other areas of education, there has been ongoing erosion of funding of around 2% per year through the system known as the salary and price adjustment. I myself have been teaching at the technical faculty for almost 30 years and can clearly see how allotted instructional time for students has gradually decreased, and pressure on teachers has correspondingly increased. Our students have less and less teacher-led instruction and we teachers are forced to teach and administer an increasing number of courses every year. If it took 60 minutes this year, for example, to teach a student Einstein’s relativity theories, how many minutes do our education politicians believe that it will take next year? Not 2% faster, the opposite actually!

In that the Government is imposing this on most areas of education, budget erosion continues and the media tell us that the state will take out SEK 6.5 billion in additional profit from Akademiska Hus property company whose earnings requirements are already far too high. The Government not only gives short-term crumbs to those who have the least. Savings continue in other areas of education and through their property company Akademiska Hus, they claw back large sums of money that their other hand has awarded as education grants.

What is the consequence of this scatty policy? Students do not get enough education. Meanwhile, teachers and other staff are increasingly pressured in their work situation. In the hunt for reduced rental costs we are herded together in open plan offices or, euphemistically, in ‘activity-based workplaces’. Many SULF members are on their knees. More and more of the lynchpins have begun to snap. Time to call a halt!

Mats Ericson, Chair of SULF

Leader in Universitetsläraren nr 6 2015

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