5.3 Youth representation bodies
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There is no national level youth parliament in Sweden operating under the auspices of public authorities. There are however initiatives taken, either by youth civil society organisations or local authorities, to arrange youth parliaments on a more or less regular basis. There is however no information available on roles and responsibilities, or the funding, of these initiatives.
The Swedish model is to not force young people's involvement and participation to follow some specific forms of organisation. Instead, national and local governments encourage young people to, out of their own preferences, develop suitable forms for participation.Therefore there are no national guidelines, laws or regulations concerning youth councils or other youth advisory boards in Sweden.
The municipalities (290 in total) are responsible for a broad range of policy areas concerning young people. Structures for young people’s participation and influence, such as youth councils, youth forums, youth delegations or youth parliaments exist in many of the municipalities. These structures are settings for dialogue between young people and municipal decision makers, but how they are organized and which themes they focus on varies from municipality to municipality.
Some youth councils promote their own questions, others have an advisory function to politicians and civil servants, some act as a formal referral body and some might have all or several of these functions.
A survey from 2019 revealed that less than a half, 47%, of the Swedish municipalities have a youth council (MUCF 2019). The number has been declining, as an earlier study from 2010 showed that 63% of the municipalities had some sort of platform for youth participation (Ungdomsstyrelsen 2010).
Most youth councils and other youth advisory boards work independently at local or regional level, and are thus not members of any national organisation.
Some – about 50 local youth councils – are members of the Swedish Association of Youth Councils (Sveriges ungdomsråd). The Association of Youth Councils is a civil society organisation of network character that gathers together youth councils and other advisory groups for young people from all over the country. The Swedish Association of Youth Councils was formed in 2003, by young people, in order to develop better opportunities for cooperation between local youth councils. Cooperation and networking are the main functions for the association.
The Swedish Association of Youth Councils is politically and religiously independent and welcomes all young people that are interested to get involved. In 2016, the number of young people between 6 and 25 years of age, active in the local youth councils, was about 1 100. Of the member youth councils, some work in close connection with local politicians, but this is not a requirement. Most youth councils run their own projects, including organising social and cultural events and activities.
The Swedish Association of Youth Councils received a government grant of SEK 1.2 million (115 000 euros) in 2019.
Students in Sweden have the right to be represented when decisions of importance to their education, or to students’ situation are taken. Both teachers and students have the right to be represented and to appoint members to the university board, according to the Higher Education Act (Högskolelagen).
A student body that wants to have the status of a student union can apply to the university/university collage according to the student union ordinance (Studentkårsförordning). The university/university collage shall examine if the student body meets the statutory requirements for student unions, in accordance with the Higher Education Act. There may be several student unions in one university.
The Swedish National Union of Students (Sveriges förenade studentkårer, SFS) organises 47 student unions at universities and university colleges throughout Sweden. These unions have their own statutes, within the frame of existing laws. Together they represent approximately 275 000 undergraduate students and Phd students.
SFSs main task is to represent and promote their members’ interests in education, research and student welfare issues at national level. Through its participation in the European Students’ Union, ESU, SFS also represents its members and Swedish students in the international arena.
Role and responsibilities
A student union is an association of students at a particular university or university college, and may not cover more than one university or university college. A student union must have as its principal objective monitoring and participating in the development of education and the general conditions for studies at the university.
A student union must be democratically structured and able to represent all students, regardless of whether they are members of the union or not. Membership in a student union is not mandatory for students, but all students in the university or collage should have the right to be members of the union, if they meet the requirements for membership, according to the Higher Education Act.
Student unions monitor and participate in the planning of the education given at each institution, usually divided into education issues (such as quality of education, orientation, pedagogy, content, coordination, etc.) and social issues (such as housing, health, library and computer resources, work environment, etc.).
Other common responsibilities concern labour market issues, internationalisation and issues related to equal rights and diversity. Organising social activities and sports activities for students, working with student media and organising reception activities for freshers are areas of high priority. Today, the universities have the overall responsibility for student health care, but in some cases student unions still provide student health care.
Student unions are funded by government grants, combined with membership fees and other grants from, for instance, the local business sector, local government or the university. Funding arrangements vary between unions.
The Education Act and the curricula both state that democratic values should be as important as knowledge in education. The Education Act’s wording on participation in schools is in turn based on Article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.
In accordance with both the Education Act and the Work Environment Act, students are entitled to formal democratic influence through student councils and student safety representatives. Class councils and student councils are examples of ways to organise the rights of participation that are stipulated by the Education Act.
Forms for student influence in schools
There are two main ways for students in primary and secondary school level to organise their interests. One is through each class choosing a representative for a student council. Another is having all interested students become members of the school’s student body (elevkår), where they elect a chairman and a board, in accordance with ordinary civil society tradition.
Student bodies are based on a voluntary membership, and all activities are initiated by the members, independent of the school management. This can be compared to student councils, where the initiatives usually come from school management. The principal leads meetings and student representatives are appointed from each class.
Composition, role and responsibilities
Student´s National Association (Elevernas riksförbund, former Sveriges elevråd SVEA) – organises student councils at secondary and upper secondary school levels. Elevernas riksförbunds role is based on five areas: pupils’ rights, student council development, education, influence and national meetings. They offer training for local school student unions in order to increase students’ knowledge of their rights. They represent students’ voice in school policy debates.
Sweden’s Student council (Sveriges elevråd) organises local student councils at upper elementary school level. Both the local councils and Sweden’s Student Council are governed by its members through democratic processes.
The Swedish Association for School Student Union’s (Sveriges Elevkårer) organises school student councils at secondary and upper secondary school levels, the difference is that they organise individual students instead of local student councils.
School student unions can, each year, apply for a government grant that the Swedish Agency for Youth and Civil Society (MUCF) distributes to youth organisations. The grant can go towards ongoing activities, such as costs for an office, administration or employees, but also activities at local level. Each organisation shall annually report to MUCF how they have used the grant by submitting a financial report and an annual report.
In 2019, Sweden’s student council – SVEA received a grant of SEK 1.8 million (173 000 euros), Sweden’s student council SEK 1.92 million (184 000 euros) and Swedish Association for School Student Unions SEK 10.2 million (978 000 euros), according to MUCFs Annual report 2019.
The National Council of Swedish Children and Youth Organisations, LSU (Sveriges barn- och ungdomsorganisationer), is a coordinating body for 83 independent Swedish children and youth organisations. It aims at constituting a forum for matters of common interest in youth organisations and providing a network for national as well as international organisations dealing with youth cooperation.
LSU is funded by an annual government grant (SEK 5.8 million for 2021, about 580 000 euros), combined with membership fees and other grants for different projects.
In Sweden, before the Government takes up a position on the recommendations of a commission of inquiry, its report is referred for consideration to relevant bodies. These referral bodies may be central government agencies, special interest groups, local government authorities or other bodies whose activities may be affected by the proposals. LSU is customarily appointed as a referral body for proposals affecting young people. As the proposals are public documents, anyone can make comments, whether or not they have formally been designated as a referral body. If a number of referral bodies respond unfavourably to the recommendations, the Government may try to find an alternative solution.
LSU appoints youth representatives to international high-level meetings and committees, primarily within the UN and the EU. In order to become a youth representative, one must be between 18-25 years and be nominated by one of the LSU's member organisations and then appointed by the LSU board. A large part of the assignment is about communication and to make the political processes more transparent and easily accessible for those who want to know more. At present, LSU has representatives in:
- The Nordic Committee for Children and Young People
- The European Steering Committee for Youth (CDEJ)
- European Economic and Social Committee
- The EU Commission's structured dialogue
- The Swedish National Commission for UNESCO
- UN Climate Change summit, COP
- UN High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development
- UN General Assembly.