Leading up to the parliamentary elections, the National Union of University Students in Finland (SYL) writes blogs about various parties’ election programmes, weighing the pros and cons from students’ viewpoint. Third on our list is the Centre Party.
The Centre Party takes a stand for free education in its “Onward! Taking responsibility for all of Finland” election manifesto, but the electoral goals do not lead students away from the poverty line.
Kudos for advocating free education and the abolition of the quota for first-time applicants
We give the Centre Party undivided praise for their pledge that education leading to a degree must be free of charge for every Finn. It’s great that the Centre Party recognises the importance of genuinely free education. In addition, the party deserves praise for its goal of abolishing the first-time applicant quotas in the application for higher education. SYL also hopes to see this initiative included in the government programme.
We value the regional diversity of Finland’s higher education network. Nevertheless, the Centre Party should formulate its electoral goals related to education policy as more than just an extension of regional policy. Ensuring the viability of university centres alone is not enough to provide a vision for the future of higher education.
We are critical of the Centre Party’s promise to increase the number of starting places without any mention of additional funding for higher education. The increase in starting places needs to be fully funded, and higher education institutes need more core funding.
Is student financial aid a regional policy for the Centre Party?
There is not a single word in the party’s election manifesto about student welfare – nothing. The Centre Party seems to have completely forgotten the serious problem of students’ income, including the fact that the total amount of student loan debt has more than doubled since 2017.
To be fair, there was a mention of the regional student loan subsidy in the section on student income. According to a draft bill drawn up last autumn, around two hundred recent graduates would benefit, and only after they have finished their studies. To improve students’ livelihoods the proposal is futile.
A missed opportunity?
The Centre Party are well placed to become a formidable advocate for students, having had the Ministry of Science and Culture portfolio for the past four years. Students have received a raise to the income threshold for student financial aid and a raise in the meal subsidy, which were welcome and much-needed reforms. We have already expressed our thanks for these reforms in the past, and the party still deserves them. Nevertheless, the party’s election manifesto has little to say about student welfare. Does the Centre Party want to set itself up as a yes-man for other, better-prepared parties in this matter if it again finds itself in negotiations to form the new government after the elections?
Investing in students’ income is an investment in education. Education-related objectives can only be achieved if students have sufficient and secure income to support themselves in their studies.
Few but important election promises for students with children and foreign students
The Centre Party’s election manifesto is heavy on family-oriented policies. We applaud the party for recognising the need for more flexible early childhood education, which is particularly needed by students with children. Study times at university are often irregular, and the need for childcare can vary greatly from week to week. In SYL’s 2018 survey of students with children, flexibility in early childhood education was chosen as by far the most important area for improvement.
Finland genuinely needs international students and expertise. Concrete action is required to address these needs, one of which is the need, identified by the Centre Party, to grant five-year work and residence permits to foreign students who have graduated in Finland. A good start!
- A missed opportunity to take the lead on higher education policy
- Students are left hanging on the poverty line
- No mention of additional funding for higher education
- Higher education leading to a degree must be free of charge for all Finns
- Abolition of the quota for first-time applicants
- More flexible early childhood education for the children of students
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