The last few years have been hard for many students, and I am no exception. Remote learning, isolation and loneliness have hit students harder than the general population. Contrary to my expectations, though, for me 2021 was much easier and more enjoyable than 2020. This realisation made me think.
It was easy to come up with one major reason for the difference: as early as January 2021, I knew my livelihood was guaranteed for the whole year.
This was because I worked as a full-time trustee on the board of my student union throughout 2021. Admittedly, the pay wasn’t great, but it was better than the state financial support paid to students, and above all, it was secure. Out of the €1,000 salary, I paid the amount of rent left over from the general housing allowance, food, and the portion of the cost of therapy not covered by the Kela subsidy. In 2020, by contrast, I studied full-time for the whole year. The pay from the student union job was not significantly higher than the student allowance and the full student loan. But it did bring financial security, which was the most important factor in my being able to cope and to make the most of everyday life as a student. To me, this is a valuable insight that applies to other students too.
It is often overlooked in discussion of student income and benefits that their uncertain nature causes stress. There are many conditions attached to students receiving student financial aid, the main one being adequate progress in their studies. If the student cannot accumulate a certain amount of study credits, they must report the reason for this to Kela, and in the worst case, the student financial aid they receive will be withdrawn. This is a requirement that gnaws at you every time you take an exam, register for a course or deal with financial matters. The processing times for review of financial aid payments by Kela are long and nerve-wracking. At its worst, the precariousness of the income that students are dependent on causes enormous strain, anxiety and stress.
The results of the basic income experiment (2017–2018) show that students who received this unconditional financial aid, as Kela noted, “described their wellbeing more positively than respondents in the control group. They were more satisfied with their lives and experienced less mental strain, depression, sadness and loneliness.” It is also significant that the recipients of the basic income had a more positive perception of their cognitive abilities, i.e. memory, learning and ability to concentrate.
Aren’t these precisely the effects that are most desirable for students, especially when we are worse off than ever before? A secure income that is sufficient to live on would allow students to concentrate fully on what is most essential – their studies. Hopefully, this will also be taken into account by the committee in charge of the upcoming reforms of the social security system.