The implementation plan of the Ministry of Education and Culture’s Vision 2030 road map was published at the end of January. It is good to see that the intention to develop the wellbeing of the staff of higher education institutions is included in it: one of the road map’s development programmes aims at making higher education institutions the best workplaces in Finland.

In addition to personnel, attention should be paid to students’ wellbeing. We live among the conflicting pressures of several factors: besides completing studies, we should be securing our subsistence, creating networks to help with our future employment and saving the world. No wonder that research indicates that one third of us have problems with mental wellbeing.*

Unfortunately, the results of the Vision 2030 work are also likely to cause our wellbeing to suffer. The new funding model for universities was prepared under the vision, and the model takes effect in 2021. The funding model rewards universities based on the number of students graduating from them as well as how the students graduate. Universities will receive the most funding from the state for students who graduate in target time, whereas they receive the least funding for students completing their second degree.*

This means that universities will soon have new financial incentives to get students out of them as soon as possible. This will surely influence everyday studying a lot, too. In the Student Union, we hope that student-friendly methods would be used to encourage the completion of degrees – we are in need of investments in our wellbeing, not sticks. Appropriate investments would include sufficient study psychologist services, flexible methods of completing courses and a study environment free of bullying. High-quality study counselling also helps us graduate. Thankfully, development work for this has already been begun at the University of Helsinki – a good example of this is the students’ own Guidance Corner, which opened this February!***

Besides the promotion of study counselling and student wellbeing, another issue that is becoming topical for higher education institutions is making the changing of fields of study smoother. As the state is making it more difficult to complete a second degree through the funding model for higher education institutions as well as the quotas for first-time applicants, it is important for students to be able to change direction during their studies. Few of us know what we really want to study or what kind of job we want when we are older at the time of applying for our first student place.

Let us work together as a university community to ensure that we at the University of Helsinki adapt to the funding model in as student-friendly a way as possible!

Aleksi Rytkönen
The writer is one of three persons in charge of educational policy on HYYs’ Board.

* The FSHS’s Finnish Student Health Survey 2016:

** Press release by the Ministry of Education and Culture on the new funding model for higher education institutions, 17 January 2019 (in Finnish),, and a statement on the matter published by student unions in autumn 2018:

*** The students’ own Guidance Corner opened in the Kaisa House in February 2019. In the corner, students are provided with low-threshold guidance and advice related to issues such as wellbeing, job-seeking and digital skills.





The Student Union of the University of Helsinki turned 150 years old this year. The Student Union has now reached a mature age, but it also has an eventful youth behind it. As early as the 19th century, students were involved in building this country, creating its standard language, flag, identity and the Maamme national anthem. Students fought on both sides in the Civil War and did their part in establishing the country’s political and economic system after the war. In the 1950s, students started to become worried about the situation in developing countries and were involved in bringing development cooperation to Finland.

Student radicalism flourished when the Student Union turned 100 years old. The Old Student House was occupied because the Student Union was considered to have become disconnected from students’ everyday life. The Student Union was considered an important but remote community. Unlike 50 years ago, during this Anniversary year the Student Union has emphasised the need for strengthening communality and the need for equality. Different ways of keeping all students involved have been considered.

The Student Union is like a small municipality within the city. It gathers students from all around the country and the world together and provides them with a community, a safety net and fun activities. Communality can also be thought of on a larger scale, as part of the urban community and Finland: social exclusion and deprivation are challenges faced by growing cities. Mental health problems among young people have increased, loneliness has become more common and the segregation of residential areas has begun. There is a pronounced need for communality and, for this reason, it is important that students’ communality in our city expands outside our own community, too.

The new era does not call for us to isolate ourselves within our communities – we need to do things together and take responsibility for problems that are not in our own backyard or just around the corner, too. This requires us to redefine neighbourliness and what is considered common. Communality must be viewed on a larger scale than as just a feature of our own community. The new era must be seen as readiness to take action against injustice in society and as people power used to defend education and human dignity.

The Student Union must continue to boldly be radical and ready to both cause disapproval and shake up existing power structures if they are in the way of progress. It must have the courage to act for those in the weakest position in society and those whose lives are characterised by a lack of prospects and deprivation. The Student Union must participate in common activities aimed at building a better city for all and dare to have grand visions, demand the impossible and realise it.

When I imagine the next 150 years, I see a Student Union that uses its communality as a resource for promoting equality, sustainable development and education. I see a Student Union that actively defends values that are important to students in the city and in society. I see a Student Union changing the world.

Suvi Pulkkinen

The writer is the Chair of the Student Union of the University of Helsinki. She has studied sociology and politics of education at the University of Helsinki and was active in various organisations and in the Student Union during her studies.

Kuvassa Noora Paakki nojaa kaiteeseen vanhan talon portaikossa

I am sure you remember the feelings you experienced when receiving the following message: ‘Congratulations, you have been accepted to study!’ The emotions may have been thrillingly exciting, with maybe even some fear mixed in – but ultimately surely excited, happy and satisfied. After your studies began, however, the realities of how challenging and straining studying can be entered the picture. The extreme stress of studying cannot be denied, and life management skills take a large role in all the confusion.

Both external and internal expectations often grow during studies, and your ability to tolerate and manage stress gets put to the test. The amount of brainwork you must do also increases and your life management skills face a real test. Not to mention if you are also working simultaneously with studying: over half of the students in universities and universities of applied sciences work while studying. In addition to these issues, other factors related to your situation in life, conditions and individual characteristics influence the strain you feel during studies. All in all, this mixture forms a real challenge to holistic wellbeing.

When thinking about these challenges that people face during their studies, we should think about ways to alleviate the strain and to make a challenging period in life slightly easier. Does the old saying ‘work hard, play hard’ still ring true? I believe it would be more fitting to say that working hard requires you to take a harder look at your wellbeing.

There are many ways to look after your own wellbeing and coping. The old saying I mentioned is often linked to substance use as a means of relaxation. It is an undisputed fact that parties and substance use are a part of student culture, but substance use among students today has decreased, whereas the number of non-drinking students has doubled since 2000. Substance use has not been observed to alleviate strain in the long term, only occasionally and in the short term. For this reason, you should turn your attention to other methods of stress management. 

Instead of short-term methods to alleviate stress, the methods proven to work the best are those that you can use in everyday life – during the day, in the evening or during weekends. In addition to this, it has been shown that leisure-time activities as such do not necessarily help you recover. It is the related psychological connections, such as relaxation, self-fulfilment, feeling of control and taking your mind off everyday life and work, that increase coping.

Everyone should think about and recognise the methods to alleviate strain and stress that work for themselves and give them back the resources they have spent while studying. Could some of the following methods to escape the routines work for you?

  • Physical activity or gaming
  • Enjoying nature
  • Crafts
  • Cultural or art hobby, such as movies
  • Time spent together with friends, family or pets
  • Writing or photography
  • Doing sudokus or crossword puzzles
  • Necessary, aimless lounging around or being idle

Please remember that hard work requires you to take a harder look at your own wellbeing. For this reason, you should focus on the things that help you recover and provide you with genuine relaxation during all the confusion of everyday life.

Noora Paakki
Programme planner, Nyyti ry
‘KUPLA – Students reforming substance use culture’ project

Student health survey 2016.
Sonnentag & Fritz 2007. The Recovery Experience Questionnaire: Development and validation of a measure for assessing recuperation and unwinding from work. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 12, 204–221.
Statistics Finland: Education statistics – Employment of students 2015.

A knocked-over glass of juice is what ended up being the last straw for me. Like any day, I was grabbing food at the Unicafe in Porthania when I accidentally knocked over my glass. Looking at my lunch soaked in juice, I burst into a hysteric cry.

There had been a serious crisis in the organisation I was chairperson for at the time. The situation also drew the media’s attention and answering their questions was surprisingly exhausting. I was very worried whether anyone would ever dare to attend our events again or become an active in our organisation.

My friend whom I had come to have lunch with escorted me to a nearby table and sat me down. The Unicafe cashier took away my ruined meal and brought me a new one - and a pile of tissues. This complete stranger and my friend both asked, in the sincerest of ways, two things: “Is everything okay and is there something I can do?”

HYY’s #everythingokay campaign aims to reduce the stigma around mental health issues and the fear for seeking help. Up to 30% of university students suffer from mental health issues. We all have a mental health and it is completely normal that at times you feel better and at times worse, that’s something I want to emphasize. The most common diagnosis for students is depression but in addition to that we all might experience milder symptoms at some point: sleeplessness, anxiety, isolation, stress and problems with self-confidence. Although these are considered milder symptoms, they can, just as much, cause issues on your mental health and thus are just as much a reason to seek help than other symptoms or causes.

The Finnish Association for Mental Health offers trainings for mental health first aid. HYY organised such training last spring where the focus is on offering the participants readiness to help out and help people seek professional help. It was a weekend-long training held by Päivi Kohta who works as a specialist for Nyyti ry. We gained a lot of information on different mental health issues during the course. What I especially took away from the training was how important it is to talk about mental health issues out loud. It’s important for both helping out the person suffering from them but also to reduce the harmful stigma around these issues.

It is typical that preliminary symptoms are overlooked or not recognized. Early intervention is an important message from other people that no one has to survive alone and that there is nothing to be ashamed of. Early intervention can also reduce the time it takes to get help and eventually recover.

The book Haavoittuva mieli – tunnista ja tue translated from the Mental Health First Aid Notebook describes the steps of mental health first aid, that can help with supporting someone:

  1. Approach, assess and help with the crisis situation, ask if everything is okay
  2. Listen with an open mind and without judgement
  3. Support and offer information and knowledge
  4. Encourage the person to take care of themself
  5. Encourage them, if necessary, to seek professional help

When helping others, you have to also take care of yourself since helping others should never weigh too heavy on the helper. It should also be noted that there is no real or absolute linear structure to helping out. There are no exact “right” ways to do it or “right” things to say. An important thing to realize is also that asking a person about how they are feeling will not deteriorate their condition. Talking about suicide will not encourage a person to attempt it - it’s the other way around. By asking, you showcase sincere concern and caring for the person.

I still can’t remember whether I paid for that lunch but I do remember how I was treated. That same day I sought professional help. I first got a phone-appointment and then a crisis appointment to see a psychologist. Being able to talk with a professional helped me deal with what had happened and how I was feeling.

Organisation activities can, at its best, increase wellbeing. Student organisations and nations offer a place where students can do meaningful things for their community, improve their own skills and create close friendships. On the other hand, at its worst, organisation activities can cause exhaustion too. You, me, any one of us can ask our friend “is everything okay?” or “I’ve noticed that everything is not okay, is there something I could do?”.

Laura Wathén
HYY Board Member 2018, Chair of the Board 2019

Laura Wathén

Source: Kitchener, B., Jorm, A., Kelly, C., Lassander, M., & Karila-Hietala, R. (2015) Haavoittuva mieli – tunnista ja tue. Mielenterveyden ensiapu 2. Suomen Mielenterveysseura.

HYYn viestintäharjoittelija Saana Lehtinen ison alppiruusupensaan edessä

Only 66% of higher education students consider their mental wellbeing to be good, reveals the Student health study conducted by the Finnish Student Health Service (FSHS) in 2016. According to the same study, around one third of students have psychological difficulties.

The increase in mental health problems experienced by students is alarming. When you consider all the factors related to students’ situations in life that cause them strain, however, it does not seem that surprising that some students’ mental health is affected. Constantly worrying about study progress and whether you have enough money, for instance, is exhausting. Many students work part time along their studies, which adds more stress to everyday life. Weekdays are spent in lecture halls and exams, weekends at work. When many permanently employed people are enjoying their Christmas vacation, students are often working or sending applications for summer jobs, with the application process beginning earlier each year. The boundaries between leisure, work and studying are blurred. Sometimes, everyday life becomes so exhausting to students that they need a vacation from it.

I became exhausted after a couple years of studies in my dream field. Before this, I had moved hundreds of kilometres away from my home city, Helsinki, to pursue my previous student place, become disappointed with my studies, read for entrance exams once again, received a new student place and moved back to Helsinki. I was grateful and happy of my new student place. I wanted to make the most of student life and got involved in subject organisation activities in addition to studying intensively. Besides the studies and organisational activities, I had a physically demanding part-time job where the days occasionally stretched out to ten hours. Other sources of stress were constantly present in my everyday life, too.

In retrospect, I can see the reasons for my burnout clearly, but in the initial rush my new student place had given me, I could only wonder how I could be so anxious with everything I had achieved. I slept less and worse all the time and ate irregularly. One morning, I was so tired that I did not remember how to use a door handle and when I was introducing myself to a new acquaintance, I panicked for a moment as I could not remember my own first name for a few seconds.

When everyday life is causing you anxiety, you should take action early enough. You should not hesitate to use the mental health services of the FSHS. They exist for you.

Students have the possibility and permission to take sick leave just like anyone else. If you do not have enough resources for working and studying, you can apply for Kela’s sickness allowance. Student aid is not paid while you receive sickness allowance, and you need a medical certificate to receive the allowance. The amount of the allowance is based either on your taxable earnings or the study grant and is always at least as much as the study grant. To avoid an interruption in the payment of benefits while you are waiting for a decision on the sickness allowance, you can continue to receive student aid until the decision has been made. After you have been granted the sickness allowance, Kela will automatically stop paying you student aid. When your sick leave ends, you must apply to have your student aid reinstated yourself.

You do not need to stop studying entirely when you are receiving sickness allowance – higher education students may study a maximum of three credits’ worth per month.

In situations related to the lack of study ability, students may call the FSHS’ number for treatment need assessment – you will receive further instructions on reserving a time there. The need for a sick leave is assessed at an appointment with a general practitioner. If needed, the general practitioner will refer the student to a psychiatrist who assesses the need for a longer sick leave related to mental health reasons. If the student has a job and their incapacity for work is related to a part-time job done alongside studies, for instance, they can also contact occupational healthcare on matters related to sick leaves.

Studying is demanding work that causes strain. You should learn to recognise the limits of your wellbeing and ensure that leisure time lets you recover instead of wearing you out.

The sick leave gave me a breather during which I gradually got back my normal sleep pattern. This, in turn, gave me resources I had long been lacking. During my sick leave, I learned how to create new kinds of routines in my everyday life and to explore which things help me cope and which sap my strength. Nowadays, I keep exhaustion away with a simple recipe: at least seven hours of sleep per night, a regular meal schedule and enough time for friends.

Psychiatrist Tarja-Sisko Saastamoinen from the FSHS was interviewed for the text.

Saana Lehtinen
HYY’s communications intern

Further information:

November 30 is the Day for Free Education. Free education with high quality by international standards was long one of the cornerstones of Finnish society. Free education in higher education institutions came to an end last year when tuition fees were set for students from outside the EU and EEA countries.*

The tuition fees predictably decreased the number of new students. The number of international students in Finland had increased for the entire 2000s, but the trend was reversed after the implementation of tuition fees. This is not a desirable development, as Finland should be an attractive option for international experts for the sake of our entire society.

Throughout the history of higher education, internationality has been its lifeblood – and this applies to Finland, too. International students give Finnish students opportunities for internationalisation at home as well as diversify the student community in Finland. International students also bring along valuable networks and skills. For the internationalisation of companies, students’ language skills, networks to other countries and understanding of different cultures may be significant advantages.

Expanding the financing base of higher education institutions was used as a justification for the tuition fees. However, there were only 277 students who paid the full tuition fee in Finnish higher education institutions last academic year, as the majority of those liable to pay the fee received a grant from the institutions. Some higher education institutions have reported a profit from the fees, but their implementation has also caused costs for the institutions. The grants, administration and development related to the tuition fees all demand resources. Many higher education institutions are making significant investments in international marketing and student recruitment using various means that are definitely not free.

The advantage that Finland has had in the eyes of international students has long been free high-quality education. Our current international students have told us that in addition to the reputation and quality of the education, their choice to study in Finland was influenced by free education. We should keep hold of both of these trump cards. The challenges often faced by students who have chosen Finland concern a lack of language skills, finding friends and getting employed.

We asked international students to tell us about their thoughts on tuition fees and studying in Finland. You can read about the students’ experiences below. The comments come from different kinds of students: those who pay the entire tuition fee, those who have received a grant and those who are citizens of EU and EEA countries. We have also included a comment HYY received in spring 2018 from a person who had been admitted to study and was now asking for advice after not receiving a grant. In the autumn, they told us that they had not found a way to pay the tuition fee but got accepted to study in Germany where there are no tuition fees.


“I've been accepted to Master's Programme in Neuroscience in University of Helsinki, which I'm really happy for. But unfortunately, I wasn't awarded a scholarship. Considering the amount of tuition fee and very low currency of Turkish lira, neither me nor my family don't have the possibility to pay that big amount of money. I've been searching for other scholarships for a long time both in Turkey and abroad and on internet portals like scholarshipportal, but I can't find any to cover this amount.

I will cover all my living and other expenses by myself. But unless I find a funding for covering my tuition fees, I won't be able to come to University of Helsinki sadly. It's been my dream for many years and I worked very hard for this, and now when I'm chosen with a good ranking (6th out of 20th), I really want so much to be a part of this programme and your university and the student union.”


“I think the tuition fee is a huge burden for me as well as my family. Actually, I think it's a huge burden for each student from non-EU countries. And due to this reason, I believe  some excellent students give up or  lose their opportunities to study here. I am trying my best to study now and hope that I can get the second year scholarship. I have to find a part-time job which may take up a lot of time and also make me feel so tired every week. Anyway, it's my own choice and I will get over it. But I think it would be better to cancel the tuition fee for us.”


“I could not have come to study as a master's degree student if I needed to pay tuition fees for two years. I feel like it limits the people from outside EU to come to study in Finland, where it used to be an option without tuition fees.”


“The tuition seems to be quite high for international students. While no tuition fee was implemented until two years back, and I did not expect UH to fix such a high fees just for international students.”


“As an EU citizen, couldn’t be happier. I thank the people of Finland this opportunity, which I’ve tried to repay many times.”


“I do not pay tuition fees but 15,000 euros a year is extremely expensive and without a scholarship I would probably not attend this university, unless we had more funding/work opportunities.”


“I’m a master student from Japan in European and Nordic Programme under Faculty of Social Science. I am interested in Finnish history, specifically the period between 1939-1945, and topics revolve around the remembrance of the war, and how current time is affecting its interpretation. I was one of the first batch of students after the introduction of tuition fee at this university. I came to Helsinki because of my interest in it, and Helsinki offered English master’s programme in Nordic Studies.

Student life is so much better than it was in a small private university in Japan. Despite some issues with studies and bureaucracies, mostly because my programme is a new one, as well as general system change in all parts of the university, I feel that education offered here is great. Outside studies, students are treated in a way that promotes independence, while having channels to seek support when necessary. I quite like it.

Coming from Japan, tuition fee itself is not new. But personally, I did not like the bureaucracy with scholarship, which was meant to help mitigate the negative effect. The whole process for awarding the scholarship seemed to have been done in a way that weakened the desired effect. Most of the recipient did not show up in 2017 without redirecting it to other candidates, and second-year grant was selected based on earned units and grade only, giving some significant disadvantage due to the selection timing and individual curriculum structure. Considering these issues, I have to say scholarship system has a lot to improve if university wants to have the effect they initially desired.”


"I think tuition fees put Finland at odds with its value in equality. Although it can be argued that money cannot buy the experience, the reality is I can get an educational experience at any place not just Finland. I wouldn't say I regret my decision but, overall, I feel that if I had been given a second chance, I will choose to come only with a scholarship."


“After having done my bachelor degree in physics at the University of Amsterdam I realized that I am interested in pursuing research in Mathematical Physics. Thus, the University of Helsinki was a natural choice since the Mathematical Physics group at the Faculty of Mathematics is one of the best in the world.

I am currently a recipient of the “be one of the best scholarship’ program. Given that the scholarship program was introduced at the same time as the tuition fees for non-EU master students, I as a scholarship recipient am largely unaffected by the introduction of tuition fees.

In the long run the introduction of tuition fees for non-EU international students will likely decrease the number of non-EU students at the University of Helsinki; however the introduction of the scholarship program would plausibly increase the amount of high quality non-EU students hence the net policy effect is yet to be determined.

Having been in Finland and at the University of Helsinki for slightly more than a year I must say that I have enjoyed my stay to the fullest extent. The interaction between faculty members and students is quite informal thus giving the students an excellent opportunity to get involved in research early on in their careers as well as be a part of the decision making process at the university. Furthermore, the presence of many student organizations allows one to experience the unique student culture in Finland.”


“I was doing my exchange studies for two semesters in 2017 and working for a company since April, 2017 and did some research work during the summer of 2017. I had an indefinite work contract for 2018 and I applied for my residence permit renewal as work permit for which I was supposed to get permit type A. As mentioned permit A sets you free from those fees. However, the company went bankrupt and I only knew in December, 2017 almost when I was about to get the permit which was awaiting decision then. So I started working full time at the university starting January 2018 until the present time and did some independent studies while waiting the decision and the master's acceptance.

The permit took 9 months to process. I got a B permit and they asked me to pay the fees for which I had to manage to provide the money before august 31st and I was working so hard to save money. I was enrolled with all my studies for the program completed beforehand and for what I had to pay I only have the master thesis to be done in a very short time so I can graduate by the end of 2018 and get a refund for the spring term. This is not how I wanted my thesis to go and any delay will cost too much.

Being a student at the university of helsinki is a good experience. The flexibility of studies and being able to learn what you are interested in and having variation in teaching methods proves to be successful. Also as a staff member pursuing my interest in research it is an encouraging environment for research.I had been working in the private sector as a web developer for 6 years before coming to Finland and I found my skills appreciated here.

My thoughts about the tuition fees is that they are not fair. It would be more fair to pay for courses you are taking and some fees for the study place and other fees for courses and other services than having them in a chunk of 15 000. In my case 15 000 just to do my thesis which I am doing as part of my job.

I like being in Finland and I had to start over in terms of career and life and I plan to continue living here and continue my PhD studies. The delays with migri and the fear of being kicked out are a constant stress that all other people from outside EU are suffering from even though they are students and researchers. The constant struggle and the fear of not being able to extend your stay cuts the focus on the goal for being here. Life would be much easier if we had equal chances to be able to focus like everyone else who don't have to worry about these things and that will make a big difference."


More information:

Hannele Kirveskoski
Specialist (subsistence, international affairs)
050 543 9608

Anne Soinsaari
Specialist (higher education policy)
040 8291 256

Last spring, we demanded that students should be included if the country’s next government decides to begin the comprehensive reform of social security. At the same time, we asked students to tell us their views and share us their experiences on what social security means to them. We asked what student aid and social security in general mean to students, what they think of basic income and what kind of expectations they have for the comprehensive reform of social security.

The survey was open from May to September 2018, and the link was shared in HYY’s social media channels and our newsletter for members. We received plenty of answers that aptly describe students’ everyday life and subsistence. The answers also demonstrate that students have a lot to say about social security and that they should get their voice heard if the comprehensive reform of social security is begun.

For many respondents, student aid – alongside possible general housing allowance – was an important source of income and enabled studying. The cuts made to student aid last year influence the everyday life of many students. Several respondents hoped that studying would be possible without student loan. Currently, taking out the loan for basic needs in life is practically unavoidable for many. On the other hand, some saw the student loan as a positive thing. As an alternative, some students raise their income level by working part time, occasionally or during the summer.

The household-based nature of general housing allowance, the low level of study grant and the income limits of student aid were considered problematic in many answers. The answers reflected despair and scraping by but also gratitude towards the Finnish social security system. For many, it has provided the opportunity to get into higher education studies, and the society’s support to students is considered important.

HYY, the Aalto University Student Union (AYY) and the Research Foundation for Studies and Education Otus are also making a survey on students’ subsistence this autumn. Student – keep an eye on your email and respond to the survey if you are invited to do so! We will communicate about the results of the survey in January 2019.

Below are some picks from the students’ answers to HYY’s survey on the significance of social security. 

What significance does student aid have for you?

What is good about the current benefit system for students? What is bad about it?

What do you think about basic income, and what would it mean to you specifically, were it implemented?

What does social security in general mean to you?

What do you expect from the social security reform, and what kind of reform would best support students and studying? 

What significance does student aid have for you?

‘Great significance as I wouldn’t have the opportunity to study without student aid. Even with student aid, it is extremely challenging to be below the poverty line for years.’

‘Student aid is very important to me, because the study grant helps me cover a part of my monthly expenses. Without the aid, I would have to work, which would be really tough for me as studying itself is already hard for me because of the depression I have had for a long time. I think it is wrong that the study grant has been cut and students are urged to take out loans. Students who suffer from depression like me, for instance, do not necessarily want to take out a loan out of fear of having to suspend their studies if their mental health problems get worse. Stressing about your financial situation only makes mental health problems worse and increases them, increasing the treatment costs for society at the same time.’

‘It used to be a crucial support allowing me to focus on my studies. After the months of student aid ended, working has slowed down my study progress.’

‘It guarantees I have a roof over my head and a warm meal once a day. When the student aid last decreased, I had to take a part-time job, which delayed my studies by a year but also negatively affected my grades and student life.’ 

‘Many working people see studying as slacking off, even though my studying days were the most mentally taxing period in my life. Deadlines, exams, theses and study success are all pounding in your head. While struggling with studies, you should also find the time to exercise, see your friends and far-away family, network, advocate students’ interests in subject organisations, for instance, take care of a possible relationship and maybe even clean the apartment once in a while – just like anyone else.’

What is good about the current benefit system for students? What is bad about it?

‘The fact that students are practically forced to take out a loan if working is not feasible creates uncertainty for the future: What if I do not get employed for one reason or the other – how will I pay back the loan? What if my salary is so low that I will continue to struggle in working life just as I have been struggling while studying?’

‘The study grant and general housing allowance are fairly adequate if you live alone and manage to get a relatively cheap apartment. However, it is not possible to put any money aside from it, and you are constantly nervous about your studies drawing out for some reason and the months of aid running out. As for myself: I do not have the money to have any hobbies or go to therapy. Large purchases, such as new glasses (around €200–300), have to be carefully considered.’

‘Living costs in the Capital Region are completely unreasonable, and it simply is not possible for students to cope with housing and living costs with benefits alone. In my opinion, getting into debt and forcing student loans upon students cannot be the primary alternative. Even though many say that the student loan is a free loan, it obviously is not. In addition to this, Kela’s interpretations are problematic – all these interpretations on cohabitation, etc. must definitely be weeded out. It is unreasonable to require someone to provide for another person. Financial matters and questions of providing for others are personal issues, and roomies, for instance, can never be considered liable to provide for each other. It is also incomprehensible that the spouse’s income affects a student’s benefits in a two-adult household.’

What do you think about basic income, and what would it mean to you specifically, were it implemented?

‘I definitely support basic income. Basic income would make getting an education possible for many who can currently only dream about it. Basic income would be a crucial change that would provide a radically more positive direction for my life.’

‘I do not think Finland is ready for basic income yet, as more extensive, comprehensive and realistic experiments are needed, and they need way more funding than the first experiment had. The first experiment was altogether completely insufficient and only based on political interests. That is not how it should be done.’

‘Basic income is interesting and, in my opinion, definitely worth trying out and studying. Basic income would provide a certain kind of security in the present-day working life, which is tinged with uncertainty and odd jobs. Basic income would lower the threshold to become an entrepreneur, for instance, with at least some kind of income guaranteed by the society. Basic income would also be a good support for surprising situations in life, such as illnesses and mental health problems. Anyone can end up empty-handed and anyone’s resources can run dry. Basic income would provide security for such situations. Basic income would also increase regular citizens’ feelings of respect and gratitude for the Finnish state and society.


What does social security in general mean to you?

‘If I had been born anywhere else than in the Nordic countries, I would never have been able to study at a university because of my family background. I am very grateful that in Finland I have been covered by a social security system that has supported me and my family even in my childhood but especially during my studying days, making higher education studies possible for me.’

‘To me, social security means an opportunity to feel that I am a part of this society and to succeed in life even though I come from a poor family.’

‘Social security is a safety net. It separates us from many other countries in the world – in a positive way. I am proud of it, and when it undergoes cuts, I am really ashamed and angry. Structural poverty causes senseless human suffering, which social security attempts to prevent. Social security is one of the reasons why I still want to study/live in Finland, even though many other reasons have got me thinking of moving abroad.’

What do you expect from the social security reform, and what kind of reform would best support students and studying? 

‘Remember that cuts to the income and benefits of students with a family make children suffer, too.’

‘I expect decision-makers to really get to know the everyday life of students and the challenges faced by them. Combining work and studies is definitely not without its problems at times. And getting a job while studying is not all that certain. In my opinion, a benefit system that is as flexible as possible would be the most functional one. After all, there are so many kinds of people and situations in life among students.’

‘I expect the reform of social security to improve the financial situation of students and thus their total wellbeing. Increasing the amount of study grant, for instance, would already have a significant impact on students’ life.’

‘I expect the system to become more efficient, but I hope that senseless changes will not be made. Nothing should be taken away from students if we want young graduates to continue to build Finland on the labour market. Having long-term vision is important.’

When I started my studies at the University of Helsinki in 2015, I knew next to nothing about the advocacy work conducted in HYY. To me, HYY was, above all, an organisation whose member I became when I registered for the academic year, providing me with the student calendar I proudly put in my bag – assuring me that I had actually been accepted to study. In addition to this, I saw the Student Union as Alina Hall in the New Student House where I got my first taste of academic dinner party culture already at the beginning of my fresher autumn.

During my years at the University, my understanding of what HYY is and all the things done in the Student Union has grown deeper little by little. As a member of the board of our subject organisation, Media ry, I learned to look outside lecture halls and student parties. I became interested in and excited about advocacy work and started to learn more about the Student Union’s activities.

The Student Union does much more than just organises events, provides the premises for subject organisations’ get-togethers and annually gathers around 4,000 students to compete in the unforgettable Fresher Adventure. HYY advocates students’ interests so diversely that you should be aware of the work it does and the influencing opportunities available to every student.

All advocacy work is not always visible from the outside. From a student perspective, it may often seem like everything just goes on as before. In reality, though, HYY’s active advocacy work has successfully prevented several changes that would have weakened students’ position. In 2015, for instance, the Student Union managed to prevent the removal of the investment subsidy for student housing production. Had the subsidy been removed, the rental level of new student apartments would have increased by 10%. Without the Student Union’s resources for advocacy work and the work it has done, the conditions for students would now be significantly weaker than they are.

It is well-known that students have tight finances. HSL’s student discounts and whether they will remain on the current level have recently been discussed widely. Did you know that HYY had a crucial impact on the uniform 50% student discount being taken into use in 2006? Exchange students have been entitled to the same discount since 2010. Currently, HYY is working hard to retain HSL’s student discount as high as possible and to expand it to cover students over 30 years of age without any separate conditions.

Throughout its history, HYY has made efforts to increase affordable student housing. It was a central figure in lobbying the City of Helsinki to increase its annual production goal for student housing. As a result of this advocacy work, the city increased its goal for student and youth housing production to 300 apartments in 2012 and the goal for just student housing production to 300 apartments in 2016. These changes will alleviate the apartment shortage faced by students.

In addition to the above, HYY strives to make combining studies and life with children possible. Since the early 2000s, Little HYY has been offering temporary, affordable child care for the children of students. With the help of the child care service, parents have been able to participate in exams and lectures as well as to study independently. Unlike municipal early childhood education, using Little HYY’s services does not remove the right to receive child home care allowance. Working together with the University and the City of Helsinki, HYY is currently developing a flexible, part-time child care service that is more extensive than Little HYY and would not remove the right to receive the allowance.

Thanks to HYY, I can also afford to enjoy the theatre and art museums as a student. HYY cooperates with institutions such as the Finnish National Theatre, the Ateneum Art Museum and the Helsinki Art Museum, all offering discount tickets and days of free entrance to students.

However, what has convinced me of students’ influencing opportunities and the value of the work done in HYY the most has been working as a communications intern in the Student Union. The people working around me have an enormous amount of vision for issues such as student housing, subsistence, equality and developing teaching as well as the passion and skills to advance matters. I want to use my vote as a statement and as a wish for this to remain the case in the future, too.

Saana Lehtinen

The writer is HYY’s communications intern and a fourth-year student of media and communication studies. In her work, she is a daily witness to the devoted and competent way people work in the Student Union to improve students’ status.

‘The Chair of Kronos has traditionally run as a candidate in the Representative Council elections on HYAL’s list’, the Chair of HYY’s Board at the time told me in autumn 2007. It was a comment that defined my life and use of time for the following eight years. After three active and rewarding years in my subject organisation, I was leaving the history students’ own positions behind me. Luckily, I had active and more experienced people encouraging me and explaining why I should join the Student Union’s activities and what I could learn from them.

The Student Union won me over. It was fun to run an election campaign with a good team, new things in HYY were interesting and politics felt worth influencing. Reforming the operating grant model for organisations and relocating our premises when the third student house was completed took over my free time quite efficiently – and I was not even sorry for it. Learning new things and influencing matters in HYY were inspiring by themselves.

I was already somewhat familiar with organisational affairs and influencing study affairs from my subject organisation. However, the Student Union managed to surprise me with its diversity: we got to build a more sustainable city, campaign for the climate act and debate with top researchers on the funding of education. We were able to safely learn new things in a group where someone always knew a bit more about their own theme and knew how to instruct us novices. At the same time, we got to constantly develop the things we learned and apply them on the organisational field.

The importance of communication was also emphasised: organisations did not care how many nights the Representative Council members spent negotiating in the meeting rooms of the New Student House if we did not tell them about the victories we achieved. Being in active contact with your own field – the communities on whose mandate you were acting in HYY – was an indicator of the success of all activities. This was a vital lesson for my later working life and political activity.

After the years spent in HYY, me and many of my independent friends continued advocacy work by joining parties. On many evenings, we have reminisced about the past and compared the things we learned in the Representative Council to our current responsibilities, in larger and smaller parties. We have often concluded that out of all the election campaigns we have run, none have so far beaten the organisation of our Representative Council campaigns. Later, as a vice council member of the Helsinki City Council, I have also come to appreciate the structured and civilised manner of discussion in HYY’s Representative Council.

The Student Union offered me another degree and cornerstone of competence to accompany my master’s degree. My degree in arts is now complemented by everything acquired during my years in HYY: negotiation and lobbying skills, skills in campaign and project management and, most of all, the vast network of skilled, familiar people from HYY who now act in different sectors of society. Because if anything, HYY taught me how to cooperate. To trust and to earn the trust of others. To accept and take responsibility. To envision and work hard at the same time. If you are still thinking whether it is worth it to join, I encourage you not to hesitate. The adventure in HYY is sure to pay itself back!

Katri Korolainen 

The writer spent the best years of her youth at the New Student House. She acted as a member of HYY’s Board in 2009 and its Chair in 2010 as well as the Chair of the National Union of University Students in Finland in 2011. She is also the former Secretary General of HYY. Currently, she is acting as the Director in charge of communications and advocacy work at Nuori kirkko ry.

[Unfortunately, the links embedded in text are only in Finnish]

When I think of a random weekday from the past year, I often imagine myself sitting in various places: as a student representative in the meetings of administrative bodies or at the Student Union’s office. Besides this, I spend my time on studying, which often translates into sitting in lecture halls or in front of my laptop at home. What all these aspects of student life have in common is an abundant amount of sitting – students spend an average of 9–10 hours per day sitting.

It is no coincidence that students spend a great deal of their time each day sitting. Just imagine a regular lecture hall and teaching situation: students are often sitting for several hours listening to lectures, with only short breaks in between. Besides the fact that, pedagogically, such a teaching situation makes students passive, it does not encourage students to move sufficiently for their wellbeing, either. Lecture halls in universities generally do not have opportunities for standing up, not to mention having exercise breaks. The day continues with lectures that require more sitting, the days turn into weeks and at some point we realise that we cannot study or stand up for university democracy because of aches and pains in the upper back. Who will accumulate the credits for the University or bring student perspectives to negotiation tables when an increasing number of students are suffering from constant pain in their neck, shoulders and back? The situation is not made any easier by the fact that the University staff is facing the same problems day after day – based on empirical observations in meetings, constant sitting is tormenting the staff of the University just as much as it is students.

Because of worries like the ones described above, Sunday 16 September was a pleasant day: I got to think about rolling my feet and the centre of gravity during my step for the first time in a long while when preparing for a run. Running shoes had been fetched from storage and the exact length of the heel-to-toe-drop in millimetres forgotten when the Student Union of the University of Helsinki invited students to participate in the ‘Espoon Rantakymppi’ 10-kilometre run for more versatile study facilities and a study culture that encourages people to sit less. A total of 13 students arrived from different subject backgrounds, and even though the Aalto University sponsored 1,700 members of their university to participate in the run, we did not lose out to them in terms of impact: our campaign garnered attention from university managements all across Finland, and talks of reforming and developing teaching facilities to become more ergonomic rose to the surface once again at the University of Helsinki. In addition to this, the stunt increased the interest of the management of the University of Helsinki in sponsoring members of the University community to participate in running events, which would serve to increase our community spirit besides encouraging people to exercise.

In addition to all of the above, our group of runners were in great spirits throughout the event, and the running went smoothly, too. During the run and the preparations for it, I felt that the audience was encouraging me to exercise and to break the everyday routine of sitting – I would love for every single student and member of the University community to experience this in the future when hanging out at the University or attending meetings and lectures.

Vice Rector Tom Böhling, in charge of campus development and the wellbeing of the University community, has, in a recent interview, taken it upon him to create an environment in which it is as easy as possible for the personnel and students to do their job. This is an ambitious goal, and it has been a pleasure to note how the new rectors have showed a desire to invest in the wellbeing of the members of the University and the construction of communality. The first step towards everyday routines that include more exercise at the University is to decrease sitting, and the solution to this is reforming both the facilities and the culture. The Finnish Student Sports Federation (OLL) has collected tips for taking breaks from sitting for both teachers and students.

Our running campaign was only the beginning – now we are challenging everyone at the University of Helsinki to a literal uprising from sitting by adding one act that decreases sitting into their weekly routine. Only healthy members of the community will retain the joy of learning and creating new things.

Topias Tolonen
Board Member (Higher Educational Politics, International Affairs, Communications)