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.
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.