Considering a year off from studies? Keep these things in mind

At the beginning of the academic year, some higher education students may be thinking about taking a year off.

This may be due to the drawn-out period of remote studies during the ongoing pandemic, reduced learning ability, or difficulties in getting by financially. The past year in particular was unreasonably tough for many higher education students. The beginning of the academic year can lead to anxiety, as it’s time to register for the coming year.

However, taking a break from studies is not a simple matter. There are many things to consider.

1. Absent or present?

It is possible to take the whole academic year off by suspending your studies completely, i.e. by registering as absent. This will lead to a number of restrictions, such as not being able to complete any courses during the year or to receive monthly student financial aid, or use the services of the Finnish Student Health Service (FSHS). In addition, absentee students cannot be student union members during that period.

Another option is to register as present but without completing the normal volume of courses during the year. In this case, you will still be able to study, use study-related services and avail of other opportunities. When registering as present for the academic year, students must pay the student union membership fee and the FSHS healthcare fee, even if they are not studying full-time.

2. Control of student financial aid

Even if a student takes a sabbatical from their studies, the income limits for student financial aid still apply. Student financial aid is controlled based on income through periodical reviews during the calendar year. Earned income, benefits or other income that are taken into account in income-based control of student financial aid may therefore result in the student having to repay some or all of the student financial aid received during the study period to the Social Insurance Institution of Finland (Kela).

3. Student financial aid period in effect during sabbatical also

The study time entitling the student to financial aid is calculated from the date the student accepts the offer of a place in the study programme they applied for. Years of time off between the date of acceptance and the completion of studies are generally counted as part of the overall study period, even if the student did not complete any courses during their absence. The only exceptions to this are semesters during which the student undertakes military or non-military service or is paid daily family or sickness allowance for 40 days or more. A period of absence that does not meet these criteria can therefore lead to loss of the right to student loan compensation by Kela.

4. Keeping within the time limit of the right to study

The duration of the right to study granted to the student to complete their university degree is restricted and depends on the degree in question. If the student plans to take leave from studies for a certain period, there is a risk that the remaining duration of the right to study may not be enough for them to complete their degree. However, the duration of the right to study is not shortened by absence due to military or non-military service, family leave or illness.

It is possible to apply for an extension to the right to study. Universities generally grant this, provided that the student presents a credible plan for completing their degree.

5. Student financial aid can be claimed, but must be returned

Students who have registered as present for the coming academic year can take out student financial aid during the academic year even if not actively studying during that time. However, the student financial aid must be returned on the student’s own initiative if the requirement for having earned a minimum number of study credits during the academic year is not met. If the student does not return the aid on their own initiative, Kela will send a request for clarification and may terminate the student financial aid when payment of the aid is next reviewed. Kela may also terminate the student’s entitlement to student financial aid earlier than this if it considers that the student has claimed student financial aid without the intention to study.

To make sure you will not end up losing your right to student financial aid for whatever reason, it is a good idea to inquire from Kela in good time about the risk of it being terminated.

6. Absent students ineligible for FSHS services

FSHS services are not available to university students who have registered as absent.

If a student had paid the healthcare fee even if they have not or will not register as present for the coming academic year, Kela will refund it at a later point.

7. Curricula subject to change

Educational institutions update their curricula from time to time. If the curriculum changes, the university will aim to enable studies to be continued without any problems. For students taking a year off, however, a change in the curriculum can cause difficulties, and they will need to familiarise themselves with the new curriculum when they return.

8. Most student discounts not available to absent students

Students who have registered as absent cannot receive a student card or electronic student ID for the academic year. Most student discounts and other benefits are not available during this time. For instance, subsidised student lunches, student discounts on the use of public transport, and many discounts offered by private companies become unavailable for the duration of the student’s absence.

Sakari Tuomisto
Social Policy Adviser (student finances, housing), on parental leave

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