Swedes could lose vacation

March 18, 2005

Swedish MPs are studying a report that stresses the benefits of a longer academic year and summer teaching, which could cut six months off a three-year degree course.

The report from the National Agency for Higher Education claims that many students are interested in fast-track degrees. But both the National Union of University Teachers and the National Students' Union are critical of the suggestion that the academic year should be extended.

Under the proposal, students could choose between studying for 45 or for 50 weeks per academic year, instead of the present 40. This would, in theory, make it possible to complete what is now a three-year degree in two and a half years.

"There are no practical obstacles to an extended study year," says Per-Gunnar Rosengren, the author of the report. "But, at the moment, universities don't have the financial incentive to instigate such changes."

The agency claims that fast-track degrees would benefit students, who would not have to use their student loans to survive the summer vacation. This is a traditionally difficult period for those who fail to get summer jobs.

Society would also benefit from the change because graduates would be able to join the workforce sooner, the agency says.

Other apparent benefits would include the better use of university facilities and equipment, which often lie unused during the long summer vacation.

In a survey carried out at Umea University to coincide with the report, 40 per cent of students claimed to be willing to sacrifice summer breaks to complete their degrees more quickly.

But the vice-chairman of the national student union, Kristoffer Burstedt, believes a longer academic year could be "too stressful" for students.

"Students, just like everyone else, need holidays," he said.

University lecturers are understandably opposed to the idea of summer teaching, which, if implemented, would coincide with time usually put aside for research.

Sweden's academic year runs from mid or late August to early June. There are normally no lectures during the Christmas holidays, but the weeks are counted as part of the course as they are intended for study.

"In August, there are many international scientific conferences and seminars," said Ann Fritzell of the Swedish Association of University Teachers. "Summer teaching would disturb the ingrained rhythm of the university world."

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