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Helsinki is an absolutely wonderful place to live in – for us students too. However, our home city is plagued with one problem that threatens to make living here extremely difficult at times. This problem concerns living itself: it is damn expensive to live in our city.

The situation is not really getting any better: apartment rents in the Capital Region in particular continue to rise. Looking at income distribution across generations, young people have clearly been on the losing side in recent years. According to the Opiskelijan kaupunki (‘student’s city’) study, housing costs in the Capital Region can amount to up to 70% of a student’s disposable income

What can we do? The general consensus is that living only becomes affordable with the construction of a great deal more apartments into the city. This is something that, for instance, all the mayor candidates in Helsinki agree on. Why, then, is living in Helsinki so expensive if there is an obvious solution to the problem?

There are many reasons for this. On average, the suburbs of Helsinki have been constructed sparsely. On the other hand, the so called Nurmijärvi phenomenon (in which people move to the sparsely populated areas surrounding Helsinki) has turned on its head: people increasingly want to live downtown again, while politicians have been slow to wake up to the need of massive extra planning.

The higher education students in Helsinki strongly favour increasing housing production. The housing problem can be solved in a twofold manner: Firstly, we need an increase in housing production and, secondly, issues related to housing should be simpler than they currently are.

The construction goal for apartments annually built in Helsinki must be increased from the current 6,000 to 8,000, and at least 2,000 of them must be rental apartments with ARA support – and these figures must be held on to. At least 300 student apartments should be completed annually. We need bold supplementary construction, compact city blocks and urban boulevards.

Housing issues and construction must also be made simpler. In 2013, there were over one million square metres of empty office premises in the Capital Region. As many as 25,000 people could live in that space. New family apartments must be designed in a way that allows them to be easily adapted for cohousing. The parking space standard must be loosened: building parking spaces is expensive, and the development of traffic in Helsinki should be based on public transport, walking and cycling – not driving cars.

We are now returning to the question posed in the title: how can we achieve all of this? It might not happen at the drop of a hat, but one perfect opportunity is right around the corner. The election day of the municipal elections in on Sunday 9 April.

Make sure your vote is going to a candidate who wants to increase housing production significantly and make housing issues simpler.

Joel Lindqvist and HYY's Urban Team, our volunteer group for urban advocacy
Joel is a member of HYY’s Board working hard on the municipal elections. He lives in a five-person commune in a wooden house.

You use a dozen different mobile applications, but making a functional Excel worksheet seems like an impossible task. You can easily find streaming services for American TV series, but finding the route to online science journals seems like an insurmountable challenge. The media hypes the thriving gaming industry, but your role in game stores is only that of a client. Does this sound familiar?

In a recent issue of Yliopisto (2/17), Lecturer in Information and Communication Technology Ari Myllyviita bemoans how the concept of the digital native is misdirecting the educational world. People who have spent their childhood and youth in the Internet era do not necessarily have particularly good ICT skills. Conscious effort is needed to teach digital skills in basic and upper secondary education if we wish to see these skills develop.

As long as this is not taken care of, the problem will be visible in universities too. Trends such as digital humanism and anything utilising big data will never reach their full potential if students are not at a sufficient starting level.

Fortunately, the problem has been noticed. This year, the University of Helsinki launched the digital leap project. Degree programmes taking part in the project have promising plans for using new digital teaching aids. These include the utilisation of mixed reality technologies, practising corporate software engineering and algorithms that automatically revise coursework.

Paradoxically, there is a simultaneous excess and lack of digital platforms. Chair of HYY’s Board Laura Luoto raised the issue in her keynote speech in the Learning Adventure event: Students might have to search for information related to a course from WebOodi, Moodle, the websites of the faculty and the degree programme, email, a separate course website, the University’s wiki platform, Opinder and Flamma. Additionally, students use unofficial platforms such as Facebook and WhatsApp groups formed by the students themselves. As data related to students is opening, commercial actors are entering the markets.

Director Jaakko Kurhila from the Open University has called digitalisation a smoke screen that can be used to develop teaching as a whole. Electronic platforms promote problem-based learning, peer learning and the flipped classroom approach in which the central tasks and materials are available to students before face-to-face teaching occurs. In an ideal situation, students do not use mobile phones to snapping pics during lectures – instead, they use mobile applications related to the lecture.

At the same time, existing electronic basic services must be developed and new ones sought by testing new innovations and more functional electronic teaching methods. Projects and monetary funding might advance the cutting edge, but changing the entire culture requires work and enthusiasm on the grassroots level.

It is the students’ task to convince the teaching staff that electronic platforms ease their workload and improve learning results even if their initial implementation might require teachers to step out of their comfort zone momentarily. For instance, the electronic exam room and its flexible times for taking exams make it easier for students with a family to complete courses. At the same time, the electronic exam room lessens the workload of the unit as the need for traditional paper exams decreases and improves the availability of course books as everyone completing the course is not hoarding the same book at the same time just before the faculty exam.

The University of Helsinki was once again ranked among the top one hundred universities in the world in the QS World University Rankings. The University must aim to become a top university in terms of teaching too. A successful digital leap might make this a reality.

Heikki Isotalo
Specialist in educational policy

My friend is a candidate in the municipal elections. She recently had a talk with a passer-by who had never voted in municipal elections – but still voted in what she considered important elections, such as presidential elections.

This phenomenon can be generalised. Voter turnout in the previous municipal elections was 57.4% in Helsinki, whereas in the presidential elections, a significantly larger proportion of the population, 72.8%, voted.

Despite this, the decisions made locally are the ones that really matter in everyday life. As long as my president is not an orange, bullshitting reality TV character, it does not really matter who sits on the presidential throne. By contrast, decisions made on the municipal level directly influence my everyday life: how much money I have left after housing costs and how many minutes out of my day I need to use for moving from point A to point B.

The youth are lost

Who are the people who do not vote? According to a report by the Finnish Youth Research Society (2011), young people in particular have suffered from a decrease in their motivation to vote. The younger generation in the 1980s were substantially more active voters than young people now. If you do not vote when you are young, you rarely vote when you are older either.

Generally, people tend to vote for candidates who are similar to themselves. People with a family and service sector workers both vote for people like themselves, as do motorists and culture enthusiasts. This does not, however, hold true for young voters. The report found that young people vote for familiar names and experienced politicians. In other words, students do not necessarily vote for students. In the previous municipal elections, I have voted for a person with a doctorate who has been in the parliament for several terms. Despite this person’s ability, their initiatives have not been particularly significant for my own life.

Now I am faced with the following question: who would vote for students if not students themselves?

Middle-aged politics

I do not mean to say that decision-makers of different age and different situations in life would not consider factors that influence students’ lives too. However, issues such as the construction of more student housing might not be high up on the list of priorities for a politician whose average group of voters consists of well-off middle-aged people.

The following sarcasm-dripping verses were sang by Varaque as early as 2003, translated here from the Finnish original: ‘Middle-aged people take care of your affairs/Surely they know how to do their job/All these wretched things are just real politics, you know’. Do not wait for middle-aged people* to take care of your affairs. Vote for a student with your best interests at heart. Vote for a friend as so does everyone else!

You can learn about candidates running in the municipal elections who are also HYY’s members here.

*With ‘middle-aged’ I am here referring to the mental aspects of some decision-makers, not to their chronological age.

The writer is a member of HYY’s Board, a staunch urbanist and a farmer’s daughter.

Elli Saari

Elli Saari
Member of Board

The Academic Affairs Council is the highest expert body processing academic affairs, as stipulated by the University Statutes. Specialist Aaro Häkkinen (Educational Policy) took part in the council’s meeting. The agenda of the meeting included Bachelors’ feedback, the timing of pedagogical studies, the grant system for tuition fees, the standardisation of administrative practices for internships and the situation of foreign-language and multilingual Master’s programmes.

Bachelors’ feedback

In the future, only one survey will exist. This means that Bachelors’ feedback will be merged into the HowULearn feedback survey and the system supplier will be changed to CSC, owned by the universities. Giving feedback on the feedback given by the student will be possible in the new system too. Anonymity will be removed from Bachelors’ feedback, which means that the answers can be connected with study progress and other relevant information for research purposes. In general, the University is now compiling a Big Data databank of all internal statistics collected by the University in order to better know what happens in our University.

Administrative practices for internships at the University of Helsinki

As a result of the centralisation of administration and the staff lay-offs, internship practices must be standardised so that resources will continue to cover the costs of calls for internship applications. In the future, internship administration will be centralised into Career Services with the exceptions of the so called clinical practices and teacher trainings, which will remain separate in the faculties. The new system will already be taken into use in the next calls for applications and it will largely follow the model of the Faculty of Social Sciences. However, the aim is to renew and develop the model further in the spring.

Grant system for tuition fees

The University will have common criteria for awarding grants. The process must be both fast and efficient as it is possible that people will not accept their study place in case they do not receive a grant. The grants will have three categories: 100% of the tuition fee, 50% of the tuition fee and 100% of the tuition fee plus 10,000 euros per year as support for living costs.

HYY was interested in hearing why a grant awarded on social grounds is not planned. However, implementing such a grant could be possible in the future, after seeing the countries and social conditions from which applicants arrive. We know that foreign students have difficulties in opening a bank account in Finland, which could still affect the plans for the grant system.

Timing of pedagogical studies

The timing remains the same, that is, studies begin in the autumn and end in the spring. It will still be possible to do the autumn and spring separately by having a year’s break from your pedagogical studies in between, for instance.

Situation of foreign-language and multilingual Master’s programmes

The Master’s Programme in Philosophy launches with domestic languages as it cannot organise enough English-language teaching. The Big Wheel group will also consult two problematic Master’s programmes separately. Otherwise, the majority of planned programmes will launch according to schedule in 2017, but some only in 2018.

Selection policies for doctoral education

All programmes will have common application periods four times per year at the University, but the dates have not yet been decided. In the future, it will be possible to accept only one study place for doctoral education too. For this reason, students must have the possibility to decline the study place. The study right for postgraduate studies and hiring someone as a doctoral student are separate processes. This means that, in the future, students can be hired as doctoral students for a trial period before the recruited person has been granted a study right for postgraduate studies.

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