In the aftermath of the Government’s mid-term policy review we have come across a great deal of disbelief on social media about how the student organisations have the nerve to thank the Government for this “ludicrous p*ss-take regarding students with children”. These heated posts refer to the thank you letter that was sent to the Government in the name of SYL, SAMOK and Väestöliitto’s campaign to include a 75-euro provider supplement in the financial aid for students.
The provider supplement has been on the agenda for SYL’s income advocacy work since the spring of 2015, when the provider supplement was included in SYL and SAMOK’s campaign A Promise for Education. Already back then, the student organisations believed that the state of the public finances made it impossible to demand any major additional changes to higher education or students’ income. The main goal of the campaign A Promise for Education was to avoid cuts, and the provider supplement was the only part of the campaign where we asked for additional funds for the administrative sector of the Ministry of Education and Culture.
After the Government Programme was published, SYL began instead to oppose the cuts to the financial aid for students and tried to minimise the damages caused to students on a low income by these cuts. We were able to reduce the total sum of the cuts to the student financial aid by several million euros, and in line with the wishes of SYL and the student unions, students were included in the general housing allowance scheme, which will particularly improve the financial situation for students on low incomes who live in areas with high levels of rent.
The cuts to the financial aid for students were finalised in November 2016 and they will come into force this coming autumn. At the end of 2016 SYL and the student unions deliberated upon their goals for the Government’s mid-term review, and decided that seeking a provider supplement would be the logical next step for the advocacy work for this Government term. Demanding a provider supplement also appeared more important than ever before: students with children will lose more of their benefits next autumn than other groups of students when the conditions for the housing benefit change and the government guarantee for student loans is increased.
The SYL office has been working hard in cooperation with the student unions, SAMOK and Väestöliitto to improve the financial situation of students with children. There have been dozens of meetings, phone calls and emails, as well as a communication campaign in relation to the posts.
When this long-term goal, which SYL has been actively lobbying for, is finally becoming reality, we should thank those who made this decision. This does not mean that SYL has forgotten about the cuts to student financial aid, or that we are not aware what a difficult financial situation students with families are in currently, and even more so from next autumn. It does not mean that SYL has sold its goals or principles that were defined in the policy paper.
What would an advocacy organisation look like if they first demand more money for the benefits system, only to complain that the decisions are insufficient when they receive what they have asked for, and also bring up previous cuts which have nothing to do with the mid-term review? In order to preserve our impact, it is vital that SYL as an organisation and SYL’s officials as individuals are seen to act in a reliable and consistent manner.
Will the provider supplement resolve the difficult financial situation of students with children? No. But only a fool would claim that reducing the cuts to student financial aid from 86 euros to 11 euros would not make a difference. We should also note that for those mature students who receive 300 euros per month as a study grant, the provider supplement will cover the entire cut to the financial aid, and leave a bit on top.
As a result of the Government’s mid-term review, the financial aid for students will now contain a brand-new element. This element is one that SYL has been trying to introduce for a long time. Now that the provider supplement exists, it will be easier to influence its amount. Even at 75 euros, the student movement should be proud of the provider supplement.
Social Policy Adviser