In July, when most of Finland is on holiday, a large number of university students support themselves through summer jobs. Summer work by students is vital to both students and the job markets. From the perspective of students, the situation is challenging. The National Union of University Students in Finland, SYL, asks Finns to ponder why students are the only group in Finland with no right to holidays and the related financial support.
During the spring and autumn terms, around 60,000 to 70,000 students receive their primary source of social security, the student grant. Around 11,000 students do so during the summer. The student grant is only available in the summer if a student is able to complete a certain number of courses during the summer months. However, not all courses suitable for certain degrees are available during the summer, which means that the small number of supported months are not worth wasting on summer studies. For many, seeking work is the only option.
On the other hand, finding work can be difficult in cities with large numbers of students. The struggle to find summer work starts in early spring, and students in search of summer jobs even queue up for work below degree level. Many university students spend their summer in work which makes no use of their studies. This is hardly a rational use of resources from the perspective of society.
Those who, despite tremendous efforts, cannot find work at all, are in an even worse position. If they have already used their student loans for supporting themselves during the winter months, they may be forced to apply for social assistance.
Students are subject to strict criteria with regard to social assistance. To receive it, they must prove that no suitable summertime courses are available, that they have applied for work, and that all of the student loans to which they are entitled have been used. In other words, students are required to use loans intended for subsistence while studying, in order to support themselves outside their periods of study.
The situation has been somewhat eased by the introduction of student entitlement to general housing allowance since, unlike the student grant, this is available during the summer. However, the allowance is so small that it rarely covers the whole rent, let alone other living costs. Students need to eat, too.
One third of university students suffer from mental health problems. This is no surprise, since sufficient rest between stressful periods of study is a basic requirement for coping. On the other hand, without student labour it would be difficult to arrange holidays for permanent employees while continuing to run companies throughout the summer. From the perspective of students, this is hardly a fair or just state of affairs.
Although rest and holidays are regarded as basic rights for all other groups in society, students are expected to get by year-round without a rest. It’s high time that society recognised that students are people like everyone else. This problem would be solved by introducing a universal basic income. Everyone is entitled to sufficient income – also during the summer.