The Finnish government’s mid-term review is approaching.
SYL published its objectives for the mid-term review on 9 March, and they are connected by one thought ‒ the right of students to study and get their degree as healthy members of society. The right to commit full-time on studying, the right to take a break and get help when needed. Finland needs healthy students when rebuilding the world after the coronavirus. Thank you in advance to everyone who became aware of the plight of students and called for our rights in this nation through concrete actions.
However, we have a ticking timebomb on our hands, one that began ticking years ago, long before corona. This was reacted on in the government programme that promised a more flexible and accessible higher education system, the promotion of well-being and the accessibility of mental health care services, and reinforcing the role of core funding for higher education.
There is a lot of talk about the accessibility of education, the restoration of the honour of education and its role, and in the mid-term review, these words will be put to the test. Now is not the time for cuts. We simply cannot afford to make any more cuts on the backs of over-stretched students. We are the student generation that suffered through the cuts to education and the couple of years of correspondence courses during the pandemic. There is not a single drop more you can squeeze out of us.
I would not like to use such youthlike rhetoric, but I have to: We are the youth and the future. Think about what that future will look like if it is worn down before it has even exited the assembly line that is their university. Neither encouragement nor praise will help.
Some people might be shocked at the price tag of our demands. What we want are actions before they become too expensive for our society to handle. If we do not defuse this ticking timebomb, it will blow up in our faces further down the line.
The gap in core funding for universities needs to be remedied: we call for 10,000 euro allocated yearly for every new available student place.
More duties, more students, more expenses. Our universities do their best to put different visions and reports into action and to increase the number of available student places, but in order to implement them, we badly need a stable, yearly core funding instead of incidental grants. Without it we can talk about effective cuts to the funding, and it should be obvious that the cuts will ultimately strike somewhere else. Whether it is support and guidance services, the ratio of teachers to students, the quality of education, or something else ‒ we are not going to be looking at it for a moment longer.
During the next few years, the plan is to increase the number of available student places to 10,000. Although the 4,800 students that started last year did get one-off funding, the money neither covered all the expenses nor is it of any use in the future due to its non-recurring nature. These future 10,000 students also deserve quality education, and Finland cannot afford to cheapen its degrees.
We must invest in the coping and well-being of students.
During the past few weeks, I have been glad to follow the discussions that have finally given the mental health crisis of students the attention it deserves. It is a real crisis that has been building up and finally escalated along with the coronavirus.
We can approach the solution to the crisis from several angles. We will need a therapy guarantee, but above all, we need low-threshold, short-term mental health services, and we need more psychotherapists. At the moment, psychotherapy education costs tens of thousands of euros, even though an investment of six millions a year would make the education free and therefore more accessible. Getting help may also be slowed down by the conditions of the psychotherapy supported by Kela, in case the maximum number of visits or the maximum treatment period have been reached. That is why one measure for the pandemic is to temporarily facilitate financial support for therapy. Fixing the core funding for universities will also make it easier to offer support and guidance services that help the day-to-day well-being of students.
It should be clear what will happen if no immediate solutions are found to the mental health crisis. There is no time to wait around for a treatment time guarantee.
Student social security must enable full-time studying.
One of the primary sources of stress for students is their livelihood. Not only do students work hard all week with their studies, they also have to get into debt in order to eat, while still probably having to go to work. As for work, it is one the significant factors slowing down studies. It is time to return the study grant at least to the level it was before the cuts, that is, 335 euros.
Not only is the student social security small, but it also involves extreme bureaucracy and multiple conditions. Students must monitor the progress of their studies for many reasons: getting student financial aid requires at least 20 study credits, and if you want the student loan compensation, you have to earn 50 study credits per year. The requirement is 5 study credits per month, but if you do not want to run out of financial aid months, you have to earn 6.25 study credits per month. If you earn fewer than 6 credits a month while studying for your bachelor’s degree, the aid months will run out and continue during the master’s studies, since the aid months are tied to the degree.
Aid months must also be counted due to earned income. Earning too much in your summer job may backfire during autumn, because you can only earn 650 euros in addition to the student aid months and 2,000 euros during the summer months before you have to start paying the grant back. And then there are the income limits on general housing allowance you have to follow.
All so that students can start approaching to the poverty line (unless they get a job in addition to their full-time studies or decide to get their exam slower because of the job). Still wondering why students are stressed out by livelihood?
So let us not sit and wait for corona to disappear.
Corona will not mysteriously disappear on its own. We cannot forget everything around it and trust quick fixes more than they are worth, since the problems are far too multidimensional, structural and chronic for that. There is undoubtedly pressure to stay within the prescribed framework, but we cannot ignore other crises in favour of the pandemic. Do not let the virus gain a foothold in education as well.
Do not let corona obscure the meaning of education, since education is the way out of this.