Student welfare is akin to a joke, the mental health crisis is deeper than ever, and the need for support remains unmet. At the same time, Finland requires more and more highly educated residents to address the lack of skilled labour and meet the needs of the future. This equation is challenging yet solvable. To not only point out challenges, SYL wants to offer a solution:
Providing students with employment relationships with the universities.
Studying is called the work of students for a good reason: as members of the scientific community, students also produce new information and pass it on to various players in society when employed after graduation. We regard employment as an excellent remedy to many problems.
1. Sufficient pay
In Finland, everyone has (or at least should have) the right to get by on what they earn, and as we all know, students are not getting by at all. This arrangement would solve that problem, as well. The Ministry of Education and Culture could transfer the budget item for student financial aid directly to the universities’ core funding, allowing universities to pay the salaries of these new student employees. The meal subsidy could also be changed to a lunch benefit. This would also prevent students from becoming indebted, as work is not paid for with debt but with money.
2. Occupational healthcare to the rescue
Employers are also obligated to provide occupational healthcare, including preventative services, which are currently conspicuous by their absence due to resource-related challenges. The Finnish Student Health Service is very well equipped to provide this service. The healthcare fees incurred by higher-education students could be charged from the employers, helping students (whose income is already low) save precious euros.
3. From mental health crisis to genuine well-being
In addition to employers being obligated to have a plan for early intervention, the administrative burden would be much lighter if the person getting sick was an employee instead of a student. No one is obligated to ensure the well-being of students, whereas employers are to ensure that of their employees. Moreover, while there is much room for improvement in student support services, employers are obligated to provide work coaching and help employees develop their professional identity and become part of the work community. SYL’s suggestion of including a well-being indicator in the model for university funding could gain new momentum if measuring well-being also helped reduce the amount of sick leave taken by employees.
4. Healthy working hours and sufficient leave
The heated discussion over student holiday entitlement could also be finally ended: even though students are not entitled to any holiday, employees are. We propose that students get 2.5 days of annual leave for every 5 credits earned. Holidays contribute to recovery and thus also help students to learn and complete their studies on time. Monitoring and adhering to working hours would help ensure that students do not have to earn a living in addition to studying full time, working an alarming number of hours – or at least doing so without appropriate overtime pay.
5. Proper infrastructure to support work
Many students can only dream of appropriate, health-promoting workspaces, functional equipment, and other facilities necessary for studying. When students are employed, these would be taken care of by the employer, as all employees must be provided with the above-mentioned prerequisites for work. Of course, we here at SYL are aware of the fact that universities, which are already underfunded as it is, are not best equipped to deal with something like this, but hey, perhaps having over 130,000 new employees would help solve that problem, as well! And what is more, while waiting for such workspaces, we students can at least take advantage of the home office deduction, working in our cramped studio apartments.
This restructuring, changing the status from student to employee, is easy to carry out, as current systems can be utilised as part of the reform. We propose that the terms of employment be negotiated between students and universities as soon as possible and that they be agreed nationally at the union level. SYL is ready to invite university representatives to our office at Lapinrinne to negotiate the terms of employment – who knows, perhaps already the next student admissions will be job interviews!
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