The alarm goes off at 8:55 and the groggy student wakes up to start a new day. Turns on the computer, opens the Zoom lecture and at the same time focuses on their morning routine, breakfast and so on. A three-hour lecture with a couple of hundred black screens is about to begin … again. The day continues after lunch with a small group session, in Zoom, naturally, after which the student has to study for that remote exam they have tomorrow. In the evening, the student association is organising some kind of “remote hang-out”, but the student just can’t attend those anymore. It’s been two years.
Student life is like something straight out of Groundhog Day. Except even worse, since the milieu is your own twenty-square-foot studio and you can’t even afford decent food.
Studying alone inside the same four walls also has an effect on statistics. According to the latest University Student Health and Welfare Survey (KOTT), one-third of students in higher education suffer from some level of mental health issues, almost one in three students do not feel they belong to any group related to their studies, and 13 percent of students have been diagnosed with depression in the past year.
It’s enough to make you dizzy! The most important thing right now is that we wake up and listen to the suffering students and do our best to help, but we also have a big crisis on our hands in terms of future employment and the economy. What kinds of workers are pre-tired students, whose skill of scientific argumentation is untrained and networks in the field non-existent, going to be? The answer is likely to be found in a study commissioned by the National Union of University Students in Finland (SYL) this year from the Research Foundation for Studies and Education (Otus). My own guess is that a Zoom degree is not going to be enough to maintain the level of academic education.
And what is our government doing? Nothing much, practically nothing. Individual benefits related to the pandemic, a report on the unequal regional student loan credit, and a 25% increase in the income limits of student financial aid for one year. The latter might as well have been permanent if you ask me.
The universities don’t seem to appreciate the government very much at the moment, either. They are required to increase starting places, increase the number of international degree students, and promote digitalisation and accessibility. All are extremely good and necessary things, but universities are suffering from a lack of funding, and a small part of whatever they get comes from the temporary EU recovery package.
The government still has time to rectify the situation and restore students’ faith in a better tomorrow. In April, the government’s last framework debate of this term will take place, when the government will have the opportunity to be true to its word regarding restoring education to its rightful place, implementing a therapy guarantee that is currently widely supported, and earning the title of the most climate-friendly government.
Investing in education, well-being, and the climate is a decision that can no longer be postponed. It is the only way to ensure that our society endures.
However, the state of students and higher education requires such a thorough overhaul that there’s no way everything can be changed in one year. For the entire month of January, we have been working hard on our vision of a better society until 2027 in the form of the National Union of University Students in Finland parliamentary election programme. The inadequate and inflexible livelihoods of students and certain aspects of the education system need to change in order to improve. More on these in the spring.
In addition to influencing the parliamentary election programmes, the framework debate, and cabinet budget session, this year we will also actively participate in the preparatory work regarding social security reform and the political debate on the university’s sustainable growth programme, and aid the development of the Students at Risk scholarship system launched last year.
In her last blog, my predecessor Annika Nevanpää challenged the momentum of the student movement. Challenge accepted. We will create a Finland where students enjoy themselves.
Perhaps this year, we will return to even those slightly more radical roots.
Well, who knows. One thing is certain:
O tempora! O mores! O discipulum! *
We need change.
* This sentence is a variation of the legendary saying “O tempora! O mores!” Taken from an oration by the Roman consul Cicero (106–43 BC) as he lamented the corruption into which Rome had fallen, it describes well the current everyday life of a university student. Students in higher education are the only ones who have had to study remotely for two years now.