Uppsala Universitet: 'run by students, for students'

In my first week here, a pair of Swedish students gave the University of Uppsala a glowing endorsement. They told me that Uppsala, with 40,000 strong student population, was a University ‘run by students, for students’

By Lucca Di Virgilio, Uppsala University, Sweden.

The Carolina Building. This is the main library of Uppsala University which sits on a hill overlooking the city.

In my first week here, a pair of Swedish students gave the University of Uppsala a glowing endorsement. They told me that Uppsala, with 40,000 strong student population, was a University ‘run by students, for students’.

After an agonising process of scrutinising this claim, I must say, begrudgingly, it would be misleading to characterise the Univerity of Uppsala as anything other than a sort of student-utopia with the phrase ‘run by students, for students’ it’s unofficial motto.

In this University town, that is close enough to Stockholm to visit at the drop of a hat, it is clear to me that the student always comes first. In the two subsections that follow I will show how when it comes to student-wellbeing Sweden has got it right.

Social Life

The postulations of the snus-taking Swedes have particular resonance when it comes to Uppsala’s social life.

In place of having societies, Uppsala University has student-run nations instead which, in exchange for a small fee, offer an eclectic range of sporting, musical and artistic pursuits. The nations are different sizes, from the towering and impersonal Stockholms nation and Västmanlands-Dala nation to the smaller yet friendlier Kalmar nation of which I’m a member. Although students stopped being required by law to join a nation in 2010, joining a nation offers myriad benefits. Not least, day-to-day entrance to nation bars, cafes and restaurants which are heavily discounted and weekly club nights. Being a member of a nation grants access to any nation-run activity across campus and allows international students to participate in the fabled Gasques which are traditional dinner parties culminating in Swedish hymns and dances.

Though the nations were created as homes-away-from-home for students coming from different parts of Sweden historically, their exclusivity has broken down with age. Now they have become a quintessential part of Swedish university culture which attracts thousands of international students each year. Indeed, students breathe the life and soul into the nation’s by working as part of the administrative or catering team where they can accrue points which can be used to apply for free residence at the nations. Though work at the nations is usually on a volunteer basis, consistent contritution to the nation opens the door for student to friendships and housing opportunities in their final year.

Naturally, the larger nations offer a greater range of events job opportunities and scholarship prospects as the recipients of most funding, nonetheless for the home-sick mancunian, the smaller ‘alternative’ nations have the most to offer in the way of concerts, jazz-nights and music sharing meet-ups.

As you’d expect the club nights in a small Swedish city are a far-cry from the broad palate offered in Manchester, most of the nation’s club nights feature the same dance-floor filling tracks you’d expect to hear on Capital FM. Nonethless, there is a indefinable charm to the way students flock to the clubs, in freezing cold or blistering wind, on any day of the week when they’d probably have a much more enjoyable time listening to the radio at home. Perhaps, it is the student-run ethos of the club nights which inspires students to come out in droves?

Student accomodation in Uppsala adds another dimension to the social life at the finger tips of students. By far the largest and most popular student area is Flogsta, a suburb that is the same distance from campus as Fallowfield is from the SU. The complex itself is a thriving community of students who live in twelve person flats in seven storey blocks. Though aesthetically they are strikingly similar to Owens Park Tower, these flats are all self-catered, come equipped with an ensuite and cost a little over 4300 SEK (£327) a month with heating included. The fact that these flats are not owned outright by the University means that the building-complex also plays host to families who rent privately from the landlord.

Flogsta on a cold morning.

The international presence in Flogsta is overwhelming and each flat is a petri-dish of cultures and nationalities. In my own, there are undergrads and postgrads from Mozambique, Germany and Japan to name a few. The heterogeneity of the accomodation offers the opportunity to educate yourself about the different cultures, try different cuisines and make contacts all over the globe.

The mix of cultures, absence of any security presence and size of the student population creates wild possibilities which I hope to go into greater detail about in later posts. But, perhaps the most apt example of the solidarity and freedom of expression found in Uppsala is the Flogsta scream, everyday at 10pm students in the Flogsta flats join in arms to scream from their windows and balconies to allieviate the pressure of academic life, which, conveniently, I will discuss now.

Academic Life

Freedom is as much of a factor in the academic arena as it is in the social arena of Uppsala University. Each department is devolved and has complete control over its syllabus. The autonomy of departments extends to the architectural design of the university, with each department having its own building with cafes, libraries and study spaces for students. Last year, 29% of the University’s profits of $75 million USD were reinvested into the improvement of undergrad and postgrad courses taught in each department. Clearly, the upkeep of the academic environment is high up on the university’s list of priorities.

For Humanities, Arts and Languages, the course structure is vastly different from Manchester. As oppose to studying three modules per semester, students undertake generally a module each month or two comprising 7.5 or 15 credits. And attend one to three 2-hour lectures a week plus the occasional non-compusory seminar. Though this system is not without its qualms, it nonetheless allows for very independent learning which affords students the time adjust to Sweden and time to join in at the Nations.

Student well-being is also at the heart of the University examination system since students can retake exams if they fail or miss the first exam they can retake without penalty. Though this system trades off the competitive edge UK University students attain by having one proper shot at a good grade, it mitigates the liklihood a student is having an ‘off’ day when exam season rolls around. Perhaps this is only possible due to the simplistic grading system used in Uppsala consisting of Pass/Fail and Pass with Distinction. Swedish exams are traditionally an hour or two longer than UK exams too, which gives students room to breath in a claustrophobic exam hall

Bike racks are commonplace across the city. Pictured here is one outside of Uppsala Central Station.

The academic life of any student in Uppsala would not be complete without a second-hand bike. Uppsala certainly does not break the mold of the Netherlands and Scandanavian cycling culture. The ubiquity of cycling lanes and bike racks throughout the city makes buying a bike seem like a prequisite for fully embracing the student life. Bikes are easy and affordable to buy from one of the many second-hand bike shops in Uppsala or the Flogsta facebook page between 600-1000 SEK. And even easier to maintain as most cycling shops offer free repairs and servicing.

In light of these points, it is clear that the centrality of student well-being to Uppsala University is as clear as the Swedish sky.

A Comprehensive Guide to Housing Whilst at Lund University

A group of people posing for the camera

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From https://www.facebook.com/LundsMemes/?epa=SEARCH_BOX

For me, finding accommodation for my time at Lund University, initially, seemed like a never-ending endeavour. I would say this is the only negative experience I have had so far with my time in Lund. However, I do also feel that potentially my year was particularly bad. Therefore, I have tried to accumulate all the information I feel is useful and relevant when looking for housing and accommodation for your time in Lund.

As some background on my experience of housing: when I flew out to Lund, I did not have anywhere to live and was staying in a hotel for the first two weeks. So, my first piece of advice is to book somewhere to stay for the first few days/weeks whilst you are getting settled. This could be a hostel (Winstrup Hostel is popular), Airbnb, Bopoolen, Blocket or a hotel. I would recommend doing this early as lots of places get booked up. Also, if you do find somewhere to stay after booking a place to stay, you can always cancel it. However, it is still useful to have somewhere to stay when you arrive in late August as most tenancies do not begin until September, so you would need somewhere to stay for that time anyway. I did not do this as I expected to find somewhere and then paid a higher price for a hotel. Additionally, within the hostels there are often many exchange students staying there so can find friends through this too.

About a week into being out in Lund I found a place in Åkarp, outside of Lund. It is about 5 minutes on the train or 20 minutes by bus. I found it on a site called Boopolen. I did not like this very much as Lund is a very concentrated place, so I felt once you were out of Lund you were out of it. The trains and buses were not very frequent (trains twice an hour and buses 2-3 times an hour). Also, both the trains and buses stopped running to Åkarp at 1am ish, which also meant I had to catch ~£30 taxi home on my own after nights out as a result of missing the last one. Following 2 months here, I found a place on AF Bostader in Lund where I am happy and going to stay for the rest of my time.

  1. Lund University’s Accommodation

Lund University (LU) provides some accommodation for its students. This is distributed through a lottery system and is very competitive to the point I hardly know anyone who stays in these halls. This is aside from a place called Ideon. This used to be a hotel until the summer and this year is just international students who were given it on arrival day. Other than this, I am not sure what the LU halls are like. LU has a guarantee agreement with some universities so their students are prioritised. They are all within Lund so are convenient and I believe are all pretty nice, as most student halls in Sweden are. I know some students from previous years were offered a place within some LU accommodation following some people dropping out throughout the course of the year also.

2) AF Bostader

AF Bostader is also a housing lottery. You can only get a place in their lottery as a student of Lund and being a member of StudentLund (which is how you also become a member of the student nations). No one I have met this far truly understands how this system works; however, I will explain as much as I think is correct. During a week in July, when you sign up for AF, you will be given a time (e.g. mine was about 22:17) through a lottery system and this time is your place in the housing queue. So, the earlier your time is, the higher chance you have of being given accommodation during the novisch period (the so-called fresher period, when AF have set aside so many rooms for ‘novisch’ students). Through AF, you can get a ‘corridor room’ (like a normal halls) or a flat for one or several people. The flats are more competitive.

Once you are in the housing queue, you can sign up for 3 rooms each day, or until the rooms have expired and been given to someone. If you are first in the queue at midnight on the day that the room expires, the room is yours and will receive an email regarding it the next morning. These, like LU accommodation, are very competitive. There is a general rule of being on the waiting list for 6 months before being able to obtain a room. Mine was only 3 months, however. If you are active whilst in the queue, changing rooms when you have a higher place in a different queue, you will take less time. I think this is why mine took less time. Also, I was kind of desperate so wasn’t picky about where I was living, as long as it was in Lund.

One of the reasons these halls are so competitive is all Lund University students can live there. For example, in my corridor there are students who are close to finishing their degrees as well as students who have just started. As students can live in the same room for their whole university careers, rooms will not necessarily be furnished, so this is something to bear in mind when looking for accommodation. This is the case not only with AF but anywhere you look. If it is furnished, generally, it will mean there is a bed, desk, wardrobe as well as cutlery, crockery and kitchen utensils. It is, therefore, quite good to go for a furnished room, not only because then you do not have to buy a bed but also because you do not need to get plates and stuff, which makes it cheaper and less hassle at the end of the year when moving out.

The picture below is what the queue looks like.

Something to note is the ‘party’ halls are Delphi, Parentesen and Sparta. Vildanden is known to be quieter and further out, but that only means it takes 15 minutes to get places rather than 5 minutes, like the rest of Lund. This is because, like I said previously, everything is very concentrated in Lund so as long as you are in Lund, you are not actually that far away from things so I wouldn’t let this particularly tempt you towards one or the other, as it is good to just get one!

These pictures are from my room in Vildanden. It is en-suite, has ethernet connection (as most AF rooms are) and about 4545 SEK per month (around £365).

A bedroom with a bed and desk in a small room

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A bedroom with a bed and a window

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3) Nations

LU has 13 nations associated with it. These are good places to meet people as they do brunches, lunches and general activities as well as being where the majority of Lund’s clubs are. They also have some accommodation but you can only try for accommodation in the nation that you are a member of, and you can only be a member of one nation. There is generally 6 months waiting list for these also. However, some do put some rooms aside for new students, like Kristianstads nation.

There is also Smålands nation which is not directly linked to the university which you can be a member of, in addition to another one. Smålands seems to have pretty regular rooms available that are also a reasonable price and in a good location.

3) Bopoolen & Blocket

Förstasida

Bopoolen is a website, specifically for students, to find accommodation. This is where I found my first place to live in Åkarp. These tend to be apartments sharing with other students or living with the flat owner. It is not unusual for students to live with just normal people in their spare rooms, in their converted basements or something similar. My previous place was a large house, where three other students and I lived. We lived upstairs in the house, which had been converted to a flat, with its own kitchen and bathroom and the homeowner, our landlord, lived downstairs. This was a better set up, in my opinion, than some others I had seen whilst looking for somewhere to live, such as being in the room next door to the landlord. However, I also have friends who have done this and really get on with their ‘landlords’ and it has worked out well for them. It all depends on what you want and are expecting. To find these places, there are adverts on the site and you have to email or ring the landlord. These, again, are very competitive and one advert can have 10+ people coming to look at the housing. They also depend on what the landlord wants from their tennants (long or short stay), whether they took a warming to you etc. Therefore, I would recommend emailing everyone or as many as you would feel happy with. As a result of the high demand for places, it is not uncommon for people to not respond to you also as a forewarning. Also, you are able to email Bopoolen themselves to ask for accommodation if you are feeling time is getting on, but I think this is only really done once in Lund.

These adverts are often outside of Lund, like mine was, and can be in nearby Malmo. I think if you are in the situation of living outside of Lund, I would say it is better to live in Malmo as it is a city and there are frequent trains as well as trains throughout the night to and from Lund. Also, there is also an university in Malmo so there are students there too. Alternatively, someone from Manchester this year is living outside of Lund and not in Malmo and he is loving that. It all depends on you and who you live with.

Bopoolen’s website is useful to look at generally as it has a list of housing sites which are legitimate as well as ways to avoid fraudulent sites/people. Being defrauded can occur as people know that students are in need of places to live. I would not say it is very common and should not happen if you use common sense.

https://www.blocket.se/

Blocket is a similar case in regard to the type of accommodation that is available on it. It is a website for selling things generally. So, there are people selling second hand bikes, sofas and apartments as well as renting them. These are not necessarily specifically for students, so that is something to be aware of too. The same emailing process takes place with this website too.

4) Other ways of getting accommodation

  • Greenhouse

http://www.newgreenhouse.se/

Greenhouse is an eco-friendly accommodation about 15 miles outside of Lund. It is supposed to be quite social as everyone is there together as well as quite cheap.

  • Arrival Day

On arrival day this year, 20th August for reference, there was a housing lottery. This is for international students who did not have accommodation and took place between 9am-10am. Everyone who was there was given a number and then numbers were chosen like a lottery after the hour and these people were given accommodation. So, it also may be useful flying out to Lund prior to the actual arrival day. The accommodations distributed included LU and Greenhouse. We were not informed about this until about 2 weeks before leaving so I had booked my flights and was not able to participate.

There are lots of people there who are there to help you, whatever your situation is, so just talk to anyone and they will try to help or point you towards someone who can. Also, on arrival day you can book some activities for the first few weeks to get to know people, like dinners or sports days.

  • Facebook Groups

There are lots of groups on facebook which advertise housing in Lund also. Some of these are specifically for students and some are general. Again, there is the precaution to be aware of scammers on these as there is not the safety that comes with the other websites. To name a few there are:

  • Lund Student Housing
  • Lund Housing
  • Lund Sweden Accommodation
  • Lund Apartments for Rent

  • Airbnb

There are also long-term Airbnbs you may be able to find to stay in for a few months.

Some things I think are important to note:

  • Your flatmates are not necessarily your friendship group, as is often the case in the UK. This is to do with people of all years living in the same corridor so there is not the same want to get to know each other. I would not take this as a wholly negative thing however, particularly as, an international student as there are so many ways to get to know and meet people. A lot of this takes place in the first few weeks (the novisch period). I would recommend signing up for as many mentor groups and novisch events as you can because it gets you meeting people. There are also the nations novisch week and the Erasmus Student Network (ESN) which does lots of trips and activities.
  • It is good to try and obtain any accommodation until Christmas or for a month/s as the initial craze to get housing will have dropped by then, making it more likely for you to find somewhere later. It also means you have your own space for your stuff, which is important for yourself when you are settling in.
  • Lots of exchnage students leave after one semester, at Christmas, so more rooms will become available around this time.
  • When you come out to Lund it is not unusual to have nowhere to live, if this is you, you will not be alone!
  • Don’t let where you live stop you from socialising and going out.
  • If you don’t have anywhere to live, it can be hard to try getting to know people and socialising but the housing will work itself out, make sure you make the most of your time!

The Academic Lifestyle at Lund University

Lund University and the University of Manchester have quite differing teaching and assessment regimes. I am now able to see advantages and disadvantages to both and why it is a great experience, if there is the opportunity, to try different styles outside those you are comfortable with and used to. Lund University offers a wide range of module choices which cover a lot of topics and agendas. As a human geographer and international student, I have to take at least 15 ECTS per semester from the Social Sciences School. If I wanted to take modules from outside this School, this would be allowed but I would not be a priority. However, there is still such a diverse range from Social Sciences where you can learn about subjects that you have not previously studied or potentially go into more depth about ones you have.

The way that the academic year runs is different from Manchester for a start. Each semester has two study periods within it, each of which runs for about half the semester. So, for example in the first semester, the first study period runs from the start of September until the end of October (ish) and the second period starts at the beginning of November and finishes just before Christmas. The semester as a whole also runs for a longer period of time. For 2019, the Autumn semester ran from the 2nd September until the 19th December for me and you have no real breaks during this time, i.e. there are no reading weeks. This can make the semester feel really quite long in some ways, especially at the beginning when Christmas seems very far off. However, the first study block has just finished for me and I cannot believe how quickly it has actually gone! The second semester this academic year is running from the 20th January until the 5th June. However, the precise dates depend on the specific modules taken.  

Lund University’s Main Library

Across the two semesters, you are required to attain 60 ECTS, the equivalent of 120 credits at home. This means 30 ECTS are taken per semester and generally 15 per study period. At Lund University, this is undertaken largely through 2 x 7.5 ECTS or 1 x 15 ECTS. This mean of learning enables you to have a strong focus on your module choices and keep up with the high amount of reading which comes with studying a social science. The amount of reading is balanced by the few lectures there are each week. I have on average 2 or 3 lectures per week. Additionally, the volume of reading is needed for the essays (for my module choices, there is one due about every fortnight) and is then reinforced by the seminars. Seminars are mandatory and, if they are missed, a ‘make-up’ assignment must be completed instead. The seminars normally take place prior to the assessment hand-in date to help with the writing of the assessment. This study pattern means that the assessments immediately follow the associated teaching and reading.

Something to note on the readings given also is that not all of them are online. Having said that, most pieces will be either online or in a university library, but nevertheless some classes may expect you to buy some books. However, I would say to always check UoM’s library search before spending your money as they have had most I have looked for so far!

Lund University’s Sociology Department

Alternatively, there are a few options of studying one 30 ECTS for the whole semester. I do not think that I would recommend this as you would be doing only one module for the entire semester with no other work to do, so it may seem repetitive even if you enjoy it. Additionally, if you discover you do not enjoy the module, you are then studying that one single module for the whole 16-week semester. As well, Lund does not have a ‘pick-up/drop period’, where you can trial different modules, so you have to do what you chose. I believe there are some cases where you can change but it is not the ‘done’ thing. Of course, this is subject to how you learn best and what you think will work best for your learning. The way in which assessments are graded varies too. All assessments I have had have either been marked on a sliding scale of A-fail (A being the highest and E the lowest passing grade) or pass/fail (G/U in Swedish).

A Lund University tradition is the ‘academic quarter’. I believe this is not unique to Lund but essentially it means that, when classes say they begin on the hour, they actually begin at a quarter past. So, if a class starts at 10:00, it will actually begin at 10:15. Supposedly this tradition is from when students knew the time from the cathedral in the middle of the city. When the cathedral’s bells rang at o’clock, the students knew they needed to get to class for quarter past. As a result of the academic quarter and a break in the middle of the classes, the time passes very quickly. This is a particular perk if lectures are at 8.00 am or 5.00 pm, the times classes can run from. Something to note is that classes run all day on Wednesdays; there’s no half-day. Also, as far as I am aware currently, there is no real break for Easter.

Although I can see many advantages to the shorter and more intense study periods, I would also say that there is something of a feeling of temporariness that follows it. In itself, the temporariness can have advantages and disadvantages if you do not enjoy your course for example (or a lecturer!).

Lund University’s Human Geography Department

What I Learnt During my First Week at Lund University

#1 General

Lund is a beautiful small city in the South of Sweden. I think the ability to appreciate the landscape of Lund was helped through the equally beautiful weather that was received during my first week in Lund, not going below 23°C and getting as high as 31°C. This was certainly not expected nor packed for, but nevertheless greatly appreciated. The city is made up of many greenspaces and old buildings, with many having their own unique personality to them.

Ebbas Skafferi

The population of Lund is less than 100,000 people, with, on average, there being 40,000 students also in the mix. The people of Lund are very helpful and welcoming, all of whom (or at least thus far) have impeccable English skills, which has made the daunting task of moving to a new country so much less so.

An interesting point about Swedes that I have been told repeatedly since my arrival is that they love to sing, this has been proven to me as within 8 of my welcome activities I have been told to sing and/or sung to.

A useful thing to know about Sweden also is that you get charged an extra 1 SEK if you buy a plastic bottle for the environmental cost, so it is always useful to carry a bottle around as all water is drinkable too. Also good to know, is that any cans or bottles you accumulate can be taken to certain recycling points where you can get 1 SEK per item recycled.

#2 Lund University

The university, just like Lund itself, is very pretty. The buildings are beautiful, some of which are hundreds of years old and covered in vines and greenery.

Lund University’s Main Building
Lund University’s Main Library

Lund University has put on many welcoming events for international students in order to help them feel settled and meet people. Personally, I have over 3 weeks of orientation events. The events and activities are inclusive, diverse and plentiful. They range from Swedish classes, sports days, boardgames, club nights, pub nights, mentor groups, IKEA trips, a pub-crawl to Copenhagen and more. Lund has many international students, inclusive of bachelor, master and exchange students there are over 2000, I believe. However, many exchange students here are only studying in Lund for one semester. In fact, so far, I haven’t met any exchange student who was not British and who is studying for the year.

#3 Transport

Despite Lund being a small city, it still has a very good and reliable public transport system. Buses and trains run regularly until about 1am and begin again around 5am with multiple routes that can get you to where you want to go. Additionally, the buses and trains use the same ticket which is useful if you have to catch a bus and a train to get somewhere for example. The tickets are purchased via a newly introduced app, ‘Skånetrafiken’, which works throughout the region of Sweden, Skåne. The ticket prices are fairly average, costing 18,75 SEK (~£1.59) for a single, 52,50 SEK (~£4.50) for a 24-hour ticket and about £30 for a 30-day ticket. However, this is not the best way to get around Lund by any means. The best, most time-efficient and popular is by bike. The ease and cost of getting a second-hand bike, in addition to the many cycle lanes makes the bike the superior mode of transport even for an unexperienced cyclist like myself. The population of Lund, and the students of Lund University in particular, use bikes to get anywhere and everywhere in the city, whether that be to class in the morning or getting home after the club. It’s what is done.

#4 Alcohol

Prior to coming to Lund, I didn’t expect there to be quite so many different rules surrounding alcohol. Sweden, as a whole, is relatively strict with alcohol. Any alcoholic drink that is stronger than 3.5% is only sold in monopolised government shops called Systembolaget which are far fancier than your classic off-licence. The employees are dressed smartly in waistcoats, shirts and bow-ties. Lund has 3 of these shops in total. They shut no later than 7pm, normally earlier and particularly so on Saturdays where they are closed by 3pm. Price-wise, I would say alcohol from Systembolaget is generally not that much more expensive than at home, however if you are buying a drink from a bar, which is not one of the nations’ bars/clubs, it is pricey. Low-percentage alcohol and alcohol-free drinks can be bought from normal supermarkets across Lund though.

There are other interesting laws regarding alcohol here, for example you are not allowed to cross a road with alcohol in hand and if you are caught doing so it is punishable by a fine. Also, despite the legal drinking age being 18, you are unable to purchase alcohol from stores until you are 20. But you are able to purchase drinks from bars and clubs etc. from 18. Lund perhaps is more lenient with alcohol relatively to the rest of the Sweden as it is one of the only places that you are able to drink outside as this is illegal elsewhere. As a result of this, it is not uncommon to see people sat in the park having a social drink during the warm weather.

I think all of these laws demonstrate the drinking culture that Sweden has, where alcohol is there to be enjoyed and appreciated rather than anything else.

#5 Food

The classic takeaway food here, whatever time of day it may be, is falafel, usually with garlic, chilli and yoghurt sauce on it. There are many places across Lund, and nearby Malmö, which have been recommended to me as great for falafel which I plan on making my way through during the course of my year here. Fika is another part of Swedish food culture which I fully plan on throwing myself into. This is a coffee and cake (or something of the variety) break. It occurs twice per day in work schedules and is taken as a granted thing to do by colleagues. Fika has had its part in many welcome events here.

Fika Time

I would say that food from supermarkets has been the notably more expensive category than home. The big shock came to me when I expected Lidl to be much cheaper than other shops, but it is just a bit cheaper really. I have ranked what I believe is the best value for money (starting from least expensive): 1)Netto 2)Wallys 3)Lidl 4)ICA 5)Coop.