The Norwegian Student Mini States
Stian Skarheim Magelssen
One of the themes of the 76th NOM-meeting held in the Faroe Islands was Mental Health within Higher Education. All the participating NUSes (National Union of Students) were asked to do a brief presentation highlighting how their country was working with Mental Health within the Higher Education sector. After the meeting the NSO – Norsk Studentorganisjon, was asked to write a brief article about their system for Fjølnir the magazine MFS launches every year.
We all know that living is expensive, but living as a student is near-impossible, and Norway is in no way an exception to this statement.
The modern state is supposed to take care of its citizens by making sure everyone has access to affordable housing, health care and other necessary basic services that are necessary to have a meaningful life. We know that there’s not much you would describe as particularly “affordable” for us students, and since neither the Norwegian state nor society has been able to make these services available for students, we had to crowd fund our own system of affordable services.
In many countries in Europe, the universities and colleges do their best to meet these affordable services for their students when it comes to food, housing, etc. In Norway we have quite a different system for these services. In Norway students organize themselves across all the higher education institutions in one region, into an organization we call “Studentsamskipnad”. A studentsamskipnad can be explained as a miniature version of the Norwegian Welfare state for students.
There are different variations of services between the different Studentsamskipnads, but their essence is the same. Firstly, the students both have majority and the board leader in the official board of the Studentsamskipnad. The student members and the board leader get elected by a Welfare Parliament consisting of student politicians, who in their turn gets elected by the students at their own higher education institution. The institutions and employees choose the rest of the members themselves.
Second, even though the organisation is run by a board with a student majority, it is professionally driven. There are a wide range of different services, but the model of Studentsamskipnad started out with the need for student housing in the big cities since the private marked can become very expensive and unpredictable. Next on the list was campus cafés. One thing led to another and all the basic needs of the students were met. Gyms, kindergartens, psychologists, dentists, career centres, life skills courses and courses for student organisations were established. Everything a student would need in order to study that the state could not offer at an affordable price, no matter which higher education institution you attend.
Third, the Studentsamskipnad has a joint funding between students themselves, the operation surplus of all services and funding from the state and Higher Education Institutions. Even though education is free in Norway, students pay a study fee each semester that goes to the Studentsamskipnad and the services they provide. The surplus from the services, often gym memberships, rent for the student housings and sales from the cafés, always goes back to the students through the Studentsamskipnad. And since Higher Education Institutions are required to be part of the Studentsamskipnad by law, they also fund the operation of the Studentsamskipnads.
By all these incremental changes through time, students of Norway have formed our own miniature version of the welfare state. You can say it has been a great success, but that does not mean that it should be the students’ own responsibility to make sure we get the services we require. It always has been the responsibility of the state to take care of its citizens – including students. Students are the future of our societies, and to ensure a good future of our society we must make sure that the key actors – the students – have the best opportunities to grow and become the best they can be. It’s time for the state to wake up and realise this, because we – the students – cannot do it all ourselves.
Stian Skarheim Magelssen
Executive Committee Member
Norsk Studentorganisjon - NSO