The corona virus turned the lives of Finns upside down in March. That Government’s first corona virus bulletin of mid-March seems like ages ago, although we’ve only been in this situation for just over a month. Many of the younger generation may remember the depression of the 1990’s or the 2008 financial crisis from their childhoods, but have never experienced a national crisis of the kind we now face.
Educational institutions in 191 countries have had to close their doors. Finnish universities are working hard to ensure that the situation has as little effect as possible on the daily work of researchers and students, and to help students pursue their studies and researchers to get on with their work. The exceptional situation caused by the corona virus is a test of the resourcefulness and solidarity of the Finnish university community: for example, many universities have extended their Open University course offering free-of-charge to all students. It is important that we pull down barriers and build bridges at a time when face-to-face encounters must remain at a minimum.
The Social Insurance Institution and ministries have made important decisions to alleviate the financial situation of students. Student grants, for example, may continue to be paid even if a student’s studies are delayed owing to the corona virus. The financial situation of students during the summer will be eased by granting them social assistance and unemployment benefit. Student restaurants may sell subsidized takeaway lunches and many restaurants are delivering them by car.
At SYL, we are also working hard to ensure that the exceptional situation has as little effect as possible on students’ lives, benefits and rights. Because we cannot meet decision-makers face to face, we will call them by phone and organize remote meetings. We have, for example, discussed problems faced by international students, flexibility in student grant arrangements, equal treatment in terms of student intake, the consequences of cancelled traineeships, summer work and exchanges, and the conditionality of student loan compensation.
I have been full of admiration at how the student organization has got down to work to solve challenges in education and student life. Students will not simply give in under these conditions. Student unions have come up with very creative solutions to maintain a sense of community and student life during the corona virus outbreak. The best example is obviously May Day; in many places it was organized in the traditional way, but through remote connections.
In the situation we now face, with the pandemic posing a threat to people everywhere, it is increasingly important to invest in education, research and expertise. Education ensures well-being and resilience in society, in which strong faith in our fellow humans will help us to overcome setbacks. The student movement has proved this once again.