Raquel Frescia - Authorosqledaren@ths.kth.se
The Royal Institute of Technology (KTH) has recently announced that as of January 1, 2024, the L-building, a central building on campus, will no longer be accessible to KTH students. This change follows an extensive renovation of the premises, which will now instead be reserved for the Swedish Defense University (FHS).
KTH has faced criticism for how it handled the information about the lease of the L-building to FHS, which will take effect from January 1, 2024. This sudden change, only revealed when students observed staff dismantling equipment, has left many shocked and disappointed. This decision is part of a more extensive lease agreement with FHS, which extends to 2027, but KTH is actively negotiating to be able to terminate the agreement earlier.
Economic pressure behind the decision
In light of KTH's decision to lease the L-building to FHS, a deeper context emerges when one considers the situation from the perspective of the profit requirement imposed on Akademiska hus. These requirements, which are a source of significant financial pressure on state universities, may have played a role in KTH's decision to seek alternative sources of income by renting out its premises. Furthermore, increased rental costs present universities with tough financial decisions, which may include sacrificing student study places and resources to balance the budget.
The effects of such economic strategies are wider than reducing physical spaces for learning. They also create an atmosphere of uncertainty and instability, undermining universities’ ability to plan long-term and invest in future capacity. This is of particular concern at a time when rapid changes in student numbers and educational needs require flexible and accessible educational resources. The KTH students' response clearly expresses this concern and frustration.
Consequences for students
The sudden closure of the L-building means a significant loss of valuable resources for KTH's students. The building, recently opened after renovation, contains several computer rooms, classrooms and study spaces. These spaces have been crucial to student learning and collaboration. With the closure, students will face even more significant challenges in finding suitable places for study and group activities.
KTH's campus has already struggled with a lack of space, and the situation is expected to worsen with the closure of the L-building. The university also decided to close its campuses in Kista and Södertälje earlier in the autumn. This measure means that many programs will be moved to the main campus on Valhallavägen, which is expected to increase demand for the already scarce study spots.
Students and staff have expressed their dismay at the decision. Many believe reducing the number of available study places is unreasonable as the number of students on campus increases. This contradiction creates a stressful and crowded environment that can affect study results and students' well-being.
In response to the decision to lease the L-building to FHS, KTH students have started a petition to keep the L-building open to KTH students. This campaign has quickly captured the attention and support of the student body, with over 350 signatures as a clear sign of a solid and united front against the decision. The fundraiser represents a collective voice of students demanding that their educational environment and resources be preserved. This commitment from the students underscores the seriousness of the situation. It requires that the university leadership act on the widespread opposition and the potential consequences for the students’ future.
Lack of student influence
Students have highlighted a worrying need for more student influence in essential decision-making processes. Recently, the opinion was that KTH has "feigned away" the possibility of meaningful student influence. This leads to the current situation where agreements and decisions affecting students' everyday lives are already signed and implemented before they become aware of them. This type of action creates a feeling of hopelessness and marginalisation among the students, where, despite opportunities to make complaints or even report to the University Chancellor's Office (UKÄ) for insufficient student representation, it often feels like the fundamental issues remain unresolved. It has been noted that although the institution has little room for manoeuvre, that should not be an excuse to circumvent student influence.
Criticism of communication strategies
Students at KTH have also expressed significant criticism regarding the university's communication methods, especially when informing about opening hours before the examination period. The response from students in a feedback form about the winter break reveals a clear desire for better and more direct communication, with suggestions spanning a variety of channels, including email, social media, message boards and the university's official website.
This feedback highlights a frustration with the lack of and late communication, leading to confusion and disruption to students' study plans. Many students emphasise receiving information quickly, preferably through several channels, to maximise reach and effectiveness. A recurring theme is the need for clear announcements within the campus area and on relevant digital platforms.
The answers from the students at KTH point to a need for a more thoughtful communication strategy on the part of the university, one that considers not only what is communicated but also how and when. Finding out about changed opening hours at the last minute or through indirect channels is frustrating and can also negatively affect academic performance and well-being. This frustration is evident in a comment from a Ward councillor in the S section, who expressed despair at the lack of direct communication regarding the closure of the L house despite the section being directly affected by the decision. This sense of neglect is reinforced by the fact that THS had received information from KTH that should have been shared with the S-chapter. "Unfortunately, the S-chapter did not receive the information THS had received from KTH, as the S-chapter is greatly affected by the closure of the L-building," the student said, highlighting a problem with information distribution and internal communication within the university.
This case of missed or non-existent communication to relevant parties underlines a significant flaw in KTH's overall communication strategy, especially given KTH's announcement on December 22 and 27 that the study spots in the L-building would no longer be available from January 1 2024. When decisions affect so many people and have such far-reaching consequences, it is of the utmost importance that all parties concerned, especially those directly involved such as the S-section, receive the information in time, clearly, and comprehensively.
Furthermore, the situation highlights the importance of reconsidering the current model where public authorities such as Akademiska hus are run with profit requirements. Critics claim that this system often leads to runaway costs directly affecting institutions like KTH and, ultimately, the students. It is crucial for Sweden's future that the government and relevant authorities take these views seriously and work towards solutions that prioritise the study environment, educational quality, and accessibility.
KTH is facing a challenging time where decisions that affect many must be carefully weighed. It is crucial that the university management listens to and collaborates with its student body to find sustainable and fair solutions for all parties involved. KTH’s campus environment and students’ future depend on this critical balancing act.