The Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) conducted the latest Finnish Student Health and Wellbeing Survey (KOTT) this spring. The previous KOTT survey was conducted in 2016. KOTT accumulates extremely important and topical data on the well-being and state of health of students of Finnish universities and universities of applied sciences On June 6 2021, THL published corona-related results from the survey, whereas the remaining survey results and their analyses will be published later.
What do these results tell us, as a summary of the responses of over 5,000 university students? A total of 70 percent of university students feel that studying has become more difficult during the COVID-19 pandemic. At the same time, however, one-fifth of respondents say that studying has become easier during the pandemic and their free time has increased. More than half of respondents said they had become more lonely during the pandemic. This increased loneliness more often affects those living alone compared to students who have families. Approximately 40 percent of students feel that their financial situation has deteriorated at least somewhat during the pandemic. Reasons for this include the worsened employment situation due to the pandemic, which particularly affects work alongside studies and summer jobs. One-third of respondents say that their use of intoxicants has decreased during the pandemic.
The 2016 KOTT results contained indications of exactly the same issues that have systematically affected the well-being of university students. That is, low income, lack of social relationships, and difficulties regarding progress in their studies were major concerns for students five years ago as well. In this regard, in addition to the preliminary results of the KOTT 2021 survey, the COVID-19 pandemic has underlined above all the extent of the inequality between students in terms of their different life situations.
What is happening currently and what is being done for the health and well-being of university students by political decision-makers and in services and universities? In April, the Finnish Student Health Service (FSHS) received a grant of EUR 5 million from the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health in 2020 through the government’s supplementary budget to establish activities in universities to combat depression and to increase the availability of chat services. Among other things, special grant projects run by student unions and universities will be continued with funding of at least EUR 4 million, with a focus on student welfare and guidance. In June 2021, FSHS launched a project to promote the mental health of university students for the 2021–2025 period. The project aims to strengthen the promotion of students’ mental well-being in the everyday activities of higher education institutions.
University students received nothing from the government’s recent mid-term policy reviews. The structural defects in the system that affect students’ well-being – which was also worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic – cannot be repaired by ad hoc and insufficient measures. Among the key measures to be taken would be to improve student guidance and support services, for example by increasing the core funding of universities. The first KOTT 2021 results that have been published now support the work that the student movement has done since the results of the KOTT 2016 survey. Resolving difficulties related to students’ income, social relations and progress in studies requires a determined effort in political decision-making, student services, and the everyday life of universities. We at SYL are looking forward to the next KOTT 2021 results.
Social Policy Adviser