Eero Järnefelt's painting on Flower Day celebrations in 1848.
Students as builders of society – HYY 1868–2008
The 140-year history of the Student Union includes construction projects, political turmoil, reflections of structural changes in society and business operations.
The University moved to Helsinki in 1828 after the Great Fire of Turku. Along with new regulations, Turku Academy was renamed the Imperial Alexander University of Finland. There were approximately 340 students in the first academic year of the University. The division of student nations was passed on from Turku Academy and it remained slightly changed in Helsinki.
In the early years, university students gathered at the University or in teachers' homes. However, the students longed for a ”free atmosphere” and began to rent specific apartments for their meetings. The most famous was Pihlflyckt building on Hallituskatu 5. A steady increase in rental costs and lack of space prompted students to plan their own building.
Student House Plan
On 15 March 1858, about three hundred university students convened at a general meeting under the direction of Master C. G. Estlander. At the meeting, it was decided to build a house which would be solely managed by the students and which would be a place where students could meet and hold festive events. In the following years, the general meeting was convened almost every year to promote the construction project. In 1863, rules were drafted for the meetings and in 1868, general student meetings were legalised.
The student house (nowadays the Old Student House) was partly financed with donated and collected funds and partly with debt. The inauguration ceremony took place on 26 November 1870. The inauguration was festive: it included music, speeches, poems and, naturally, the ball. To cover the costs that were higher than expected, the Student Union had to collect an additional fee from university students during the following four academic terms.
The founding of the organisation
Due to political reasons, ”the right of the studying youth to present themselves as a corporation” was abolished in 1871. A committee was founded to manage the affairs related to the student house, a library and other financial affairs. The student nations could annually appoint two members to the committee.
Since 1880, university students have been legally allowed to convene in general meetings as a corporation. The Student Union became an organisation, the Student Union of Finland, which unified students who were divided into student nations. The Student Union constructed Student Nation House for student nations and business premises in 1910 (the current New Student House).
After the operations of the National Union of the University Students in Finland (SYL) were established, the Student Union of Finland was renamed in 1927 as the Student Union of the University of Helsinki. For decades, the student union affairs had been decided in general meetings but in 1932, decision making was transferred to the Representative Council of sixty members elected through the elections. The immediate administration of the corporation was carried out by the Board and its subsidiary committees as well as separately hired officials, such as librarians and treasurers.
Political activities in the 20th century
In the 1920s and the 1930s, the student union activities mostly focused on Finno-Ugric nations and conservatism. In addition to the Nordic Countries, the activities were oriented towards the Baltic Countries and Estonia, in particular. The student union politics were dominated by the Academic Karelia Society, but the temperance movement was also visible.
After the war, the atmosphere in the Student Union changed. Rural depopulation became more common and there was severe housing shortage for university students. The Student Union constructed two residence buildings to relieve the shortage, A and B buildings to Leppäsuo in 1947. In 1952 and 1968, two more buildings, A and C, were constructed to Domus Academic region.
For students, the 1950s was an era of opportunities and ideals. Rationing and reconstruction after the war were finished. There were jobs matching the education of students. In the 1960s, there was an oversupply of educated labour in some fields.
In the 1960s and the 1970s, the Student Union was characterised by the questioning of values, politics and internationalisation. The Left, however, never reached the majority in the Representative Council. Finnish students joined their European colleagues by taking over the Old Student House in 1968 and founding a cultural centre there.
The next major change occurred in the Representative Council elections in 1981 when an independent party rose suddenly as one of the election winners. The next election already had candidates from the Green party. In the 1990s, faculty and subject organisations were significantly more supported among the students. In the 350-year anniversary of the University, students took over the university administration building in order to draw attention to students' opportunities for influencing in university administration and students' legal rights.
The self-governing status of the Student Union has always been defined by law or regulation. The University has supervised the appropriateness of the activities but has not directed its activities in detail during the independence of Finland.
Real estate and business operations
The business operations of the Student Union began in 1955 when Kaivotalo building was completed and when its wing was completed in 1959. When designing the underground of Helsinki, it became clear that a metro station with ticket halls would be constructed near Kaivotalo. The Student Union clarified the opportunities to organise a more efficient passage from Aleksi to Kaivokatu and the opportunities to utilise more effectively its unused building rights in the block. The center real estate project which included a department store and other business premises was completed in 1980.
At the beginning of the construction work in 1978, the Old Student House burned down badly. As a result of renovation and fire repair work, the Old Student House was modernised structurally and technically, respecting the centuries-old milieu.
THe business operations of the Student Union were centralised to the HYY Group in the 1980s. At the end of the same decade, the Student Union carefully began in the tourism business. On the next decade, it was the most important source of revenue along with real estate. In the 1990s, the look of student restaurants and the product selection were renewed to correspond to the 21st century and the festive restaurant operations began. Unicafe restaurants are cozier than its predecessors and there are more meal options. In addition, the products and the procedures are more ecological.
The Student Union has significantly developed the functionality and the comfort of living in Domus Academica region in Leppäsuo by renovating the house B in 2000 and the house C in 2004. The latest project was the renovation of basement facilities in houses C and D and the construction work of the third student house in 2007.