“During spring, Oras studied hard and lived frugally, since they did not want to use the student loan in their precarious life situation. Oras worked out their options for covering their expenses during summer. Oras was not successful in finding work, and there are no summer studies offered that would further their degree. The only alternative for them was to take out their student loan, even though Oras has been avoiding it as long as possible.
How did this happen? Oili, Oras’ friend from university, received social assistance last summer without taking out their student loan?”
Kela took over the granting of social assistance last year. At the same time, Kela unified the principles for granting it as the principles had been different in different regions. In general, Kela has applied a more rigid interpretation, and the new principle on social assistance for students during summer is no exception.
Let us get down to basics: The primary benefit for students is the study grant, which consists of student financial aid and the government guarantee for a student loan. According to Kela, income that has to be repaid is not interpreted as income to be considered in the sense outlined in the Social Welfare Act. The only exception to this is the student loan. In other words, students are not eligible for basic social assistance until they have taken out their whole student loan.
According to this new interpretation by Kela, this applies also in summer, even when there are no available studies. This means that for students to be granted basic social assistance during summer, they must first:
- take out all their remaining student loan, as well as in addition to the normal application, also provide Kela with
- an account of the jobs they have applied for, including a specification of the jobs, and
- an account of why, during summer, they cannot complete studies that would further their degree.
It is unreasonable to force an individual into debt just because they happen to be a student. Times have changed, and students nowadays really cannot take for granted that they will be able to find a summer job. The student loan is a good form of complementary income, but it is unconscionable if it is considered a basic element of income. I dare say that the principle Kela is implementing will not save the state much money, but what it will most certainly accomplish is to cause more trouble for people who already have problems with their studies, finding a job and their livelihood. As a result of a recent change, a payment default is no longer an obstacle for being granted a student loan. This only underlines how widespread the problem is.
If Kela does not change its interpretation, political decisionmakers must make sure that the legislation is changed so that students cannot be forced into debt, at least not during summer when options for studying is usually very limited. Until then, we urge students to apply for supplementary or preventive social assistance from their municipality. SYL appeals to the municipalities: please compensate for this unfair situation and save the students’ summer!
SYL board member