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What is everyday university life for students like on different campuses? What challenges do students face in their studies, and what is the best thing about their own study environment? During the spring, HYY has investigated the challenges experienced by students as well as their needs for support and then relayed students’ views to the University management.

Advocay and candy

― Tell us about any problems with your studies – you will get candy while we will forward your views to the University management!

During the spring, members of the Board in charge of advocacy work on educational policy, Mathilda Timmer, Topias Tolonen and Sebastian Österman, as well as specialists Anne Soinsaari and Jenna Sorjonen have been on call at the Study Pop Up sites set up on all campuses to collect students’ experiences of everyday life at the University. We have collected students’ views from Viikki, Kumpula, Meilahti and the City Centre into this blog post.

The students on all campuses liked library services in particular, although they did wish for more facilities for studying and group work. University staff were also praised, as they do their all to help students. However, there are challenges related to study planning, course and exam arrangements and student counselling.
 
Lecture recordings and exam trouble in Viikki

Pop up advocacy in Viikki

Students praise: Investments in making high-quality lecture recordings, workshops on the personal study plan (HOPS) that provide peer support
Students criticise: Increasing number of lectures with compulsory attendance, unclear exam practices, problems with the quality of Swedish-language exam questions, delays with exam results
 
Flexible possibilities for completing courses in Kumpula

Pop up advocacy in Kumpula

Students praise: Move to the new degree programmes has been done flexibly, possibility to complete language courses as part of a course on one’s own field, up-to-date contents in studies, good facilities for group work in the library.
Students criticise: Delays with course schedules, courses clashing with each other, the scheduling problems and strain of pedagogical studies, lack of study facilities in the evening
 
Large group sizes a hot topic in Meilahti

Pop up advocacy in Meilahti

Students praise: Study facilities in Terkko, Helsinki Think Company’s events, good teaching
Students criticise: Too large group sizes in clinical teaching in particular, unclear schedules, delays with exam results, disappearance of student advisors, noisiness of Terkko

Compulsory attendance on the increase in the City Centre

Pop up advocacy in city centre

Students praise: Think Corner, Kaisa Library, student services, electronic exam room, events that increase communality
Students criticise: Increasing number of lectures with compulsory attendance, decreasing number of flexible methods to complete courses, courses clashing with each other, unequally distributed strain of studies during the year, large amount of independent work, lack of study counselling in Swedish


Flaws will be addressed in cooperation with the University management

―Besides being on call on campuses, we have met with all faculty organisations during the spring and relayed students’ views to the deans of the faculties, Vice Rector Sari Lindblom, in charge of teaching, and Director of Development Susanna Niinistö-Sivuranta, who is in charge of Student Services, Topias from HYY’s Board describes.

Lindblom and Niinistö-Sivuranta met with representatives of subject organisations in April and commented on the problems experienced by students. They promised to immediately address the delays with assessing exams that are against the University’s policies concerning degrees and studies. The increasing number of lectures with compulsory attendance came as a surprise to Vice Rector Lindblom, as this has not been the aim, and the University’s policies include nothing that requires to make attendance in lectures compulsory. However, Lindblom understands teachers’ attempts to guarantee that students learn by requiring them to attend lectures.

― The concern with the increasing amount of compulsory attendance is that it can unnecessarily delay students’ studies. Compulsory attendance in lectures has also been reflected in the decrease in optional methods of completing courses, which further complicates study planning. We have heard of several cases in which participation in a mass lecture has been made compulsory. In such cases, it is hard to see the pedagogical justifications for compulsory attendance that the Rector’s decision requires, Member of HYY’s Board Mathilda remarks.


Problems arising from lack of resources the most difficult to solve

― We have received a lot of feedback on the problems Swedish-speaking students have with receiving student counselling in their native tongue. The positive thing is that Director of Development Niinistö-Sivuranta is aware of the problem, and the University is currently looking for study advisors who speak Swedish, Member of HYY’s Board Sebastian, in charge of bilingualism affairs, states.

Delays with grading courses and students’ difficulties with getting counselling for their problems are largely a result of the University’s decreased administrative resources – in other words, of the fact that there is significantly fewer administrative staff supporting teachers and students than before. In the current economic situation, no immediate relief to this is in sight. Instead, solutions must be sought by rearranging tasks among the different actors and by streamlining processes. The same goes for the need for study facilities – the University’s facilities are not increasing. On the contrary, the trend is towards more compact use of facilities.

― At HYY, we are closely monitoring the implementation of the reduction of facilities and will try to ensure that at least the current level of study facilities is maintained. Rearranging the facilities makes it possible to reconsider their use, however, and teaching facilities should be developed by creating teaching facilities that are more adaptable and enable digital work better than at present. Students’ health must also be taken into account by looking after air quality and decreasing sitting, for instance, Mathilda envisions.

The birth rate in Finland, decreasing for the seventh successive year, has recently been the subject of concerned news items. Proposed reasons for the decline have included financial insecurity, challenges in finding a suitable partner and the social exclusion of young men (news articles in Finnish). According to the Finnish Student Health Survey conducted every four years by the Finnish Student Health Service, the birth rate among university students is on the decline, too. However, some 7.6% of the higher education students under 35 years of age in Finland who are completing a basic degree have one or more children or are expecting an addition to the family. Helsinki alone has over 4,000 higher education students with a family.

Life as a student with a family is not all that rosy – at least not financially or from the perspective of time management. It has been estimated that 60% of student families live under the poverty line (article in Finnish). Student families’ worries about their finances may affect not only the parents’ own coping and mental health, but also the mental health of the family’s children. There is strong evidence in Finland of a connection between a person’s childhood family’s problems with subsistence and the probability of them having mental health problems as a young adult. Answering the needs of students with a family is advisable for the benefit of themselves, their children and the society as a whole.

Child home care allowance forms the backbone of subsistence in many student families, even though the benefit has been rightly criticised from the perspective of equality. In Helsinki, a family can receive around 780 euros in child home care allowance, supplements included, if the youngest child is under one and a half years of age and the family has low income. For the sake of comparison, the study grant with a provider supplement amounts to 325 euros, which is still liable to taxation. While, in practice, children of low-income families have the right to free early childhood education, using this right would mean that the family loses their right to child home care allowance. As a consequence, it is no wonder that many students with a family try to care for their children themselves for as long as possible. They do not, however, have any more hours in a day than anyone else, which makes juggling child care, studies and work extremely challenging.

In autumn 2017, HYY, the National Union of University Students in Finland and the Family Federation of Finland conducted a survey for students with a family. One of the respondents described their situation in the following way:

''Combining a family and studies is like struggling to keep above the surface. You do not have the time to do anything properly.''

In the survey, we also charted what kind of support would make it easier to combine a family and studies. The thing the respondents most wished for by far was a flexible child care service that could be used on different days and at different times – one that would serve them when the parent has to attend a lecture, take an exam or study independently. Child care for the duration of evening lectures was also desired. A clear majority of the respondents wanted to keep the amount of money invested in child care at under 200 euros per month. Private or voucher-based child care services cannot answer this need. HYY believes that the best way to answer the child care needs of students with a family is a child care service that is produced by the city in the form of playgroups but functions more flexibly than the current playgroup club activities.

This kind of service could not be considered as actual pedagogical activity, but it would offer safe care and let the children get acquainted with an environment that resembles a day care centre. The service could function in the same premises with a day care centre as its own group or in premises that are entirely dedicated to it. An ideal location for a pilot would be a central place in the downtown area near campuses. A functional online reservation system that allows users to reserve regular times well in advance as well as individual times on shorter notice would guarantee the functionality of the child care service.

HYY wants all its members to feel well and be able to lead a happy life. We hope that the City of Helsinki will also support and enable young adults’ diverse situations in life and coping in these situations. After all, Helsinki wants to be the most functional city in the world. At present, children under 2 years of age who do not participate in municipal early childhood education are an in-between group from the perspective of the city’s child care services. We would be more than happy to cooperate with the city in looking for solutions to achieve a functional everyday life for students with a family!

Sofia Lindqvist
Specialist in urban, housing and health affairs who formed a family herself after completing her degree and who is eternally grateful for our fine day care system