“Are students and education really held in such low regard in Finland? Something must be done.” This is how I remember thinking four years ago, exhausted by my entrance exam spring. The previous government programme had just been published.
The entrance exams went well enough that I got to start my fresher year in autumn 2015. During the past four years, I have had the chance to see student advocacy work as well as do it myself. In the student movement, the election spring is not a sprint that lasts a couple of months – it is preceded by several years of advocacy work. We have conducted this advocacy work together with other student unions, and the work has been coordinated by the National Union of University Students in Finland and the Union of Students in Finnish Universities of Applied Sciences.
The student movement had three main advocacy themes in the elections: education, subsistence and the climate. Each of the main themes was further divided into four demands. In this blog post, I will briefly outline how the government programme of Antti Rinne’s new government takes these demands into account. You can read about our demands in more detail in the blog posts we published during the spring: Paula Karhunen wrote about student- and university-friendly higher education policy, Anna Lemström criticised the lack of security surrounding students’ subsistence and Aleksi Rytkönen demanded impactful climate policy.
THIS TIME, THE EDUCATION PROMISE LOOKS LIKE A GENUINE PROMISE
What we demanded and what we got:
Basic public funding for universities must be increased and the university index implemented on a permanent basis.
A win of sorts! Additional funding will be given to higher education institutions. To secure universities’ educational and research work, we will get the long-awaited university index, for instance. This will increase the annual funding for universities by tens of millions of euros. On the other hand, the increased funding is only enough to cover around half of the cuts made by the previous government.
Education leading to a degree must be free – to absolutely everyone.
Pretty ok! The programme includes an entry stating that ‘higher education leading to a degree will remain free’ but the tuition fees for students from outside the EU and EEA countries have not been removed. The effect of tuition fees will continue to be monitored.
A programme on equality in education must be created to promote the accessibility of higher education.
Win! Creating an accessibility plan has been included in the government programme. I truly hope that we students, as well as experts and higher education institutions, will be heard at all stages of preparing the plan.
CLIMATE CRISIS WILL NOT WAIT!
What we demanded and what we got:
Finland should achieve carbon neutrality by 2030.
Win! The government’s aim is for Finland to achieve carbon neutrality by 2035. We were five years more ambitious in our demand, but fortunately the government is not too far behind.
More ambitious climate policy in the European Union.
Win! ‘Ecologically sustainable EU as a global climate leader’ is one of the five objectives for European policy in Rinne’s government programme. The measures used to try and achieve this goal include better emissions trade and having the EU achieve carbon neutrality by 2030. In addition to this, the government wants the EU to strongly commit itself to implementing the UN’s Convention on Biological Diversity.
Establishing climate and environmental education as part of the curricula at all levels of education.
Small win: The government programme includes the formulations ‘promoting environmental and nature education’ and ‘taking into account sustainable development and climate education, digitalisation, financial and working life skills as well as sexual and equality education as themes that cut across different levels of education’. This means that the government considers climate and environmental education important, but ‘promoting’ and ‘taking into account’ seem like unnecessarily vague measures.
IMPROVEMENTS ARE MADE TO STUDENTS’ SUBSISTENCE – ON AN INSUFFICIENT SCALE
General housing allowance must be made personal in such a way that the incomes of the people you live with will no longer affect the amount of allowance.
Possible win! Rinne’s government intends to establish a committee to work on the social security reform. The committee will also cover general housing allowance, which the government ‘strives to develop towards a more personal direction’. The government programme has a separate entry on students’ housing allowance: the problems of students’ shared living arrangements and general housing allowance as well as the needs to fix these problems will be investigated.
Analysis: Both me and the entire Student Union are happy that the problems of general housing allowance and shared living arrangements in particular will be investigated. The issue here is what the investigation leads to. The best way to solve the issue would be to make housing allowance personal, with only the income of the person applying for housing allowance affecting the amount of allowance. Developing the housing allowance towards a more personal direction could refer to this.
The level of the study grant must be increased by 100 euros per month.
(Too) small win: The plan is to tie the study grant to the index and increase the provider supplement of the student aid.
Analysis: We can be happy about the increase to the provider supplement of the student aid and the student aid being once again tied to the index. However, this is not enough – according to a report commissioned by HYY and AYY, half of students live under the at-risk-of-poverty threshold, and students are getting into debt at record rate just to cover their everyday expenses. Moreover, many of the parties taking part in the government promised an increase to the study grant before the elections. The formulation of the government programme is a disappointment to students and does not do much to improve students’ subsistence.
Students must be included in the comprehensive reform of social security.
Win: The government will launch the social security reform, which will be prepared in a committee established for the purpose. The committee will be tasked with investigating and preparing measures to harmonise basic security benefits that are at around the same level.
Analysis: Based on the government programme, it would seem that students will be included in the comprehensive reform of social security. The role of the student aid in the reform is still open.
The best way to reform the social security system is to move to gratuitous basic income.
(Too) small win: Rinne’s government intends to conduct a negative income tax experiment by utilising the results of the basic income experiment.
Analysis: A negative income tax would mean that the earned income tax of low-income employees, pensioners and entrepreneurs could be negative – in other words, they would be paid some money on top of the earned income. In the government programme, this is referred to as the earned income benefit. This is not the same as basic income because basic income is paid to everyone, whereas the earned income benefit is only aimed at people with a low income. Based on the government programme, students would not be included in the earned income benefit experiment. This is wrong, as students would also greatly benefit from the results of the experiment.
As a whole, the government programme looks good from a student perspective, although it could be better. The formulations of the programme include several causes of joy for us. It is good to see that the government intends to work to mitigate global warming and secures the operating conditions of higher education institutions with additional funding. However, we must continue our advocacy work, especially to improve higher education students’ subsistence.
In the end, only actions matter. In four years, at the latest, we will be able to assess how student-friendly Rinne’s government actually was.
Chair of the board of HYY