The actual municipal election day is a little more than two weeks away. Already yesterday, the more enthusiastic voters were able to press their sharpened pencils to the advance voting ballot. Voting aid applications are on fire, and the search for candidates is going strong. The focus before the election is on how an individual voter can find a candidate that suits them. On the other hand, the question could also be turned around: what can candidates try to look for regarding voters?
Students are well-prepared for the election. Student unions have written down the students’ most important advocacy targets regarding municipal policy in their municipal election platforms. The more important targets include employment policy, transport policy, and urban planning. These are the themes I will dig into in this blog text. I recommend that candidates take notes!
Students are a significant voter group. There are 13 universities around Finland, each of them a key factor for the vitality and the future of the area. Vaasa, Rovaniemi, Jyväskylä, and Joensuu have, relatively speaking, the highest number of higher education students: Students make up more than 10 percent of the population. Students represent vitality and dynamic movement that keeps the city alive. Without students, the city does not breathe.
Young adults are a rather mobile age group. Sitra’s demographic study reveals that people under 35 years make up more than seven out of ten of all internal migration cases, whereas people past 35 years only move house about one in four of all cases. Young adults move to a new city or municipality to study, but once they graduate, they also tend to move away.
Higher education graduates move primarily to Uusimaa, giving it a positive net migration consisting of higher education graduates. Large student cities such as Turku, Tampere, and Jyväskylä lose the greatest number of young higher education graduates to the Helsinki region. It is very important for student cities to invest in employment policy and develop the city in such a way that it offers enough diverse job opportunities to the recently graduated.
Creating more options for student internships both in the public and the private sectors in the area already during their studies will add to the holding power of the city. Many students find themselves a post-graduate job through an internship during their studies. It is safe to assume that students remain in the city for the duration of their studies, but after graduation, there is no incentive for them to stay without a job corresponding to their education.
In addition to employment policy, students also care about transport policy, since students are a significant user group for public transportation. Students also get around a lot on bike and on foot. Promoting private car use downtown is not a central goal to students, who would rather use public transportation whenever they go bag shopping.
Keeping students in mind when planning public transportation and pedestrian and bicycle ways is part of building a functioning city. Good connections between campuses, student apartments, and services are invaluable to students. Student discounts in public transportation are an important factor in enabling student mobility.
Transport policy in the form of urban planning is also interwoven more generally with everyday student life. Promoting student housing, in particular, requires a student-friendly approach to urban planning. When it comes to housing, affordable student housing close to the campus and relaxing of the parking standard are ways to build a genuinely student-friendly city. SYL Board Member Akseli Rouvari’s blog post explores the goals for student housing more extensively.
What all of the previously mentioned factors have in common is the fact that students are a diverse bunch. There is no simple package deal that would serve all students in equal measure. Student diversity is a source of wealth and resources for the city. Students are its future and its key to success. It pays to listen to students and tap into their know-how.
Several Finnish cities pursue the title of the most student-friendly city, but few have taken any real steps to earn it. However, the municipal election presents the chance to elect decision-makers with a genuine interest in building a student-friendly city. A city that supports you both during your studies and after graduation.
So, municipal candidates, do you have students’ best interests at heart?