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.
‘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.’
‘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.’
‘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.
‘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.’
‘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.’