Students with children in exchange programmes

The mobility of Finnish students has been declining since the cuts in education in 2015. The goal of the Finnish government to increase the number of international students by 2030 is a major step towards a more international university community. However, we also need investments in the international skills of Finnish students. We live in a global world and skills learned during exchange programmes, such as languages and an ability to operate in a multicultural environment, are extremely important for work and life as a whole. However, as things stand, exchange programmes are not accessible to all student groups.

More than 12 per cent of higher education students have children. Many of them are unable to leave their family for months to study abroad, and taking their family along is by no means an easy option. It is prohibitively expensive for most students with children – even just living in Finland, these students find it hard to make ends meet.

It would benefit society as a whole if the skills and experience that students can gain through internationalisation were part of every student’s degree. Everyone should have an equal opportunity for this regardless of their personal circumstances. This would benefit work communities as well as individuals. This is why it is important for society to try to ensure equality of opportunity for all students.

During the 2021–2027 Erasmus+ period, a student with at least one child under the age of 18 is entitled to additional financial support. In a long-term student mobility programme, the additional support is 250 euros a month on top of the Erasmus support. Obviously, this sum is not enough to support an entire family abroad, where the expenses may actually be much higher than the student’s home city in Finland.

The grants for students with children in particular should be increased. In addition to financial support, we should invest in services for students with children in the receiving countries. This would also apply to students with children who come to Finland on an exchange. Daycare services in particular are difficult to arrange for short periods, and the language barrier can also be a problem. One solution could be to hire a domestic worker or an au pair for students with children. Another problem abroad may be that the student and their family lack a daily support network. That is why should consideration must be given to how at least some part of the support network of students with children could be brought along.

Alternative international alternatives should also be planned, such as shorter exchange programmes. A new option could be to expand hybrid mobility periods in which studies could be continued remotely at home following a short exchange period. Virtual mobility also provides good opportunities for courses in preparation of an exchange period, for example to learn some of the target country language, and these should be made better use of.

The mobility services of institutes of higher education are often ill-suited to the needs of students with children. These needs must be identified better, and these students must then be given the necessary assistance in applying for whatever support services are available. If we genuinely want to improve internationalisation, all student groups must be taken into account, meaning that we must invest more in the necessary support services.

Suvituuli Lundmark
Board Member, social policy (student health care, well-being, equality), development policy and climate
+358 (0) 44 906 5003

Jenna Rautionaho
Board Member, international students and ESU
+358 (0) 44 906 5005

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