The study associations
In Sweden, there are currently 10 national study associations that are eligible to receive grants from the Swedish National Council of Adult Education. Together, they offer educational activities across the country, with a combined presence in every municipality.
Last year, the study associations organised over 260,000 study circles, engaging over 1 million people in various educational activities. Additional activities drew another 918,000 people and the 379,000 cultural events offered by the study associations attracted close to 20 million visitors.
Music, art and media were the most popular subjects in 2018, with more than 7.5 million study hours, followed by languages and history with 2,068,585 hours.
Three different forms of Folkbildning
Courses offered by the study associations are divided into three categories: study circles, cultural events and “other folkbildning”. However, the basic premise is the same, participation must be voluntary, and the activity must be open to everyone.
A study circle is a small group of people who meet regularly, to learn something new together or to increase their knowledge beyond their current level. Learning in a study circle can be achieved in many different ways. Some study circles are organised like mini-courses, but with extra focus on informal exchange and peer-to-peer learning. Other study circles are simply groups of friends getting together to explore an interest. There is a wide range of subjects on offer, and with a plan for progression, you can apply to start your own study circle at any time. For this reason, a study circle can be anything from a band learning new songs to a course on art history. For some study circles, you pay a fee, but for others you can get reimbursements for books, material and other associated costs. And you always get help and guidance on pedagogy and methodology. For more information, visit the local branch of the study association best suited to you.
A cultural event is just what it sounds like, something cultural organised as a single event. Every year, the study associations host or help to host thousands of concerts, public seminars, plays, guided art exhibitions and other cultural activities. Together, the study associations are Sweden’s largest live music arranger, putting on thousands of concerts every year. In some remote areas, the study associations are the only provider of cultural events. No matter if you want to enjoy local culture or organise an event of your own the study associations can help.
This is simply folkbildning that doesn’t fit the requirements for study circles or cultural events, for example, courses with a high number of participants or activities with just one or two get-togethers. With this format, it is possible to experiment and offer alternatives for a specific context.
Assignments and commissioned projects
All the activities listed under the previous heading must be open to everyone but must also be completely voluntary. The idea is that a non-formal and vibrant framework is vital for democracy. For that purpose, the government offers sizeable grants to the study associations, without precise, detailed control of what they result in. There are overarching aims and objectives for the grants, but the unconstrained nature of the provisions creates opportunities for true cultivation of democratic values. In addition to these core activities, however, the study associations also undertake specific tasks, such as limited assignments or commissions. For instance, the study associations sometimes offer educational activities for asylum seekers and immigrants or tailor-made courses for municipalities, based on their local priorities. Some study associations also invest in folk high schools (independent adult education colleges) or offer other forms of education. Additional activities such as these are not part of the grant based folkbildning described above, i.e. they might not be open to everyone, or even voluntary, but they still use the same pedagogy and methodology.
The various associations
Currently, there are 10 study associations in Sweden, originating in different parts of society. Some are over 100 years old, while others were started no more than 10 years ago. All study associations have member organisations, such as political parties, youth organisations, NGOs and universities. Because of this, study associations have links to many different target groups and they also work closely with their member organisations to offer tailor-made learning. Below is a list of the 10 study associations, as well as a summary of how they describe themselves. Find out more by following the links to their respective webpages.
A study association focused on sobriety and lifestyle, as well as citizen participation and civil society. NBV wants to help people grow by assisting them in developing their interests and dreams.
With a focus on “church and society”, Bilda offers courses, study circles and cultural events with the aim of bringing people together. Bilda offers activities where participants from different backgrounds can find support and inspiration to work together. This study association also runs a study centre in Jerusalem.
A study association with humanistic values and a clear focus on the individual participant. Here, people improve their skills and learn together with others. Medborgarskolan believes in lifelong learning and that hobbies can develop into knowledge. The key to achieving this is mutual respect and an understanding of individual needs and prerequisites.
With roots in the Swedish labour movement, it is vital for this study association to spread knowledge about democracy and civil rights. ABF also wants to ensure that everyone has equal access to learning and culture.
One of the largest study associations in Sweden, with no ties to any political or religious interests. The activities on offer have a strong focus on animals, nature, environment and culture.
Tackling existential matters, as well as human relations, citizens’ rights and sustainability, Sensus creates arenas where learning and culture coincide. Working closely with member organisations, participants and other organisations, Sensus covers a range of different fields and disciplines. Everything from study circles to leadership development, vocational training and dialogue groups are on offer here, as well as study circles for music groups, choirs and theatre ensembles.
With activities all across the country, this study association focuses on the equal rights of all human beings. With the idea that learning is achieved when people are able to use their own ability to form their lives – together with others – Vuxenskolan envisions a society where each citizen can grow through new insights, new knowledge and equal participation. The founding member organisations are Centerpartiet (Centre Party), Liberalerna (Liberals) and Lantbrukarnas Riksförbund (Federation of Swedish Farmers).
This study association was started by six organisations representing cultural interests, throughout Sweden – united by a vision to make culture available to everyone. Naturally then, the focus is mainly cultural activities such as singing, music, dance, theatre/drama, film and art.
One of the youngest adult education associations in Sweden – focuses on diversity, religious philosophy and human rights. By strengthening the Swedish-Muslim identity, Ibn Rushd aims to help form a society where everyone can participate on equal terms. Taking a firm stance against racism and standing up for minorities, Ibn Rushd works for positive change and understanding – through mutual respect.
An adult education association derived from the needs of the universities and the ambition to share knowledge and research with a broader audience. Today, Folkuniversitetet offers a wide selection of courses and lectures. Still working closely with Swedish universities, but also operating several European schools, Folkuniversitetet also provides commissioned courses for the public sector.
Swedish Adult Education Association
Not to be confused with the Swedish National Council of Adult Education, the SAEA (Swedish Adult Education Association) is the interest organisation working on behalf of the 10 study associations, with the aim of “strengthening the position of adult education associations in society”. On their webpage, SAEA provides translated information about the 10 study associations in several different languages. Visit www.studieforbunden.se to find out more.