In spring 2018, Kela tightened and standardised its policies concerning students when granting social assistance for the summer months. Students have previously already had to prove that they have not got a summer job despite having searched for one and that they cannot complete studies that advance their degree in the summer and thus cannot apply for student aid for the summer. Before applying for social assistance, any possible savings must also be used. Previously, many municipalities have granted social assistance to students with no other income for the summer without requiring them to have their student loan disbursed. Since then, basic social assistance has been moved under Kela, which now, after a new policy decision, requires students to have their student loan for the entire academic year disbursed before granting social assistance.

Kela’s decision is based on the view that student aid is a primary benefit for students. Government guarantee for the student loan is included in the student aid. However, the student loan is the only loan taken into account as income when applying for social assistance. Other bank loans and payday loans, on the other hand, are not taken into account. According to Kela, any income that must be paid back is not considered as ‘income to be taken into account’ as defined by the Act on Social Assistance. The only exception to this is the student loan.

The Student Union of the University of Helsinki considers this policy decision unjust, as no other group of people is expected to finance their basic subsistence – their food and rent – with borrowed money. The policy becomes especially unreasonable considering that the student loan is specifically meant for financing studies. Kela thus requires students to finance the period of unemployment in the summer that is not dependent on the students themselves with borrowed money that is meant to be used to further their studies.

Cuts to social security costs have lately been justified by stopping the public debt from growing and by not wanting to leave the debt for future generations. At the same time, young people who are only just starting their adult life are required to cover the costs of their food during a period of unemployment with borrowed money meant for studying. Students applying for basic assistance are already on thin ice: they have no work, income or savings. On top of this, they must get into debt.

Student loans, just like any other loans, should not be considered as income when applying for social assistance, especially outside study periods. HYY demands Kela to use more reasonable methods and to treat students equally to other groups of people.

Titta Hiltunen
HYY board member

Hannele Kirveskoski
Specialist

 

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.

If you will be studying during the summer, the time to apply for student aid for the summer months is right now. Student aid includes the study grant and student loan in the summer, too. Summer studies do not affect the paying of general housing allowance. Please note, however, that if you have income from your summer job or your housing situation changes, we recommend applying for a review of the housing allowance. All of the above can easily be done through Kela’s eServices (only in Finnish or Swedish).

If you are still without a summer job despite trying to get one and have not found sensible summer studies either, you can apply for basic social assistance from Kela during the summer. Please note that Kela currently requires students to have their student loan disbursed for the entire academic year before applying for basic social assistance if their studies continue in the autumn. The practice regarding this may have varied before, but Kela has now specified it, which means that student loans that have not been but can be disbursed are now considered as income.

Justify the lack of sensible studies carefully so that the person processing your application can understand your situation even if they are unfamiliar with the issue. Your application should also state which jobs you have applied for.

Further information on basic social assistance for students can be found here.

Even after that you can resort to the social services of your municipality to help you out. 

If you live in Helsinki:
https://www.hel.fi/helsinki/en/socia-health/income/income-support/

In Espoo:
http://www.espoo.fi/en-US/Social_and_health_services/Social_Welfare_and_...

In Vantaa:
http://www.vantaa.fi/health_care_and_social_services/social_support_and_...

Also Ohjaamo Helsinki in Kamppi (Fredrikinkatu 48) helps 15–29-year-olds to find solutions in tricky circumstances: http://ohjaamo.hel.fi/

More information:
Hannele Kirveskoski, specialist
050 543 9608
hannele.kirveskoski@hyy.fi

Various parties have presented their policies on the comprehensive reform of social security, but students have been left outside in almost all cases. Students must be included in the comprehensive reform, and students’ benefits must be clearly a part of social security. Will the next Government offer students sticks, carrots or something completely different? Make sure your voice is heard! HYY is now asking you to tell us what social security means to you and how you would reform it. You can answer the survey by clicking here .

There has been a lot of public discussion on the so-called comprehensive reform of social security or basic social security this spring. Sipilä’s Government launched the reform last autumn by setting up the TOIMI project to plan a comprehensive reform of basic social security and activity. It is likely that the reform will be realised during the next Government term.

There is a large consensus on the need for the reform: the current social security system is considered complex and bureaucratic. The reform of social security aims at simplicity, incentivisation and a situation in which as few as possible are left to rely on last-resort social assistance. 

Practical discussion on values over the reform of social security has not really taken place. Different ideologies are, however, somewhat visible in the various reform proposals: should the benefits be gratuitous or conditional, should they be personal or family-based, and do they act as a security net or require activity? Originally, social security in welfare states was developed from the perspective of risk management: citizens were insured for sickness, unemployment and other situations that lead to loss of income. From the 1990s onwards, the idea that social security should encourage people to work has gained strength in decision-making. In other words, if you do not activate yourself and fulfil the set requirements, you will be getting the stick.

Various kinds of proposals for the reform have been made, but leaving students outside the reform is a common feature in nearly all of them. Student aid has undergone many changes, and including students would be expensive, as the level of study grant has been allowed to remain very low – not to mention the cuts. However, students have been the biggest losers of the austerity policies of recent years as well as the only group expected to finance their basic needs with borrowed money, no matter how insecure the prospects. While there is no desire to leave public debt for future generations, this also means that students get into personal debt at record rate.

According to various reports, students’ subsistence is at a low level. Housing costs take up a significant portion of income, and according to a recent report, students remain under two different poverty lines. Despite the constant ‘reforms’, student aid still has problematic areas that can, in worst cases, deepen students’ financial difficulties and force them onto social assistance. A report on students with a family was also published this spring, and according to it, everyday life was a constant struggle for many students with a family.

Moving students under general housing allowance was a positive change, but for many, it also meant a decrease in the amount of benefit or losing it altogether. The historical relic of general housing allowance, its household-based nature, encourages people to live alone and more expensively. Kela’s mistaken interpretations on cohabitation and the difficulty to prove these interpretations wrong have needlessly complicated the financial status of many students.

Students should be able to study full-time. This would be made possible by a predictable, sufficient subsistence. Work experience during studies is also important, but what if it drains strength needed for studying? Not everyone has the opportunity to augment their subsistence with work due to an illness, disability or some other reason. Failures and challenges should not lead into dead ends or endanger people’s subsistence in any case. Students who feel well and have their study ability are an advantage to the entire society and clearly an investment in its future. Students must be included when social security is reformed, and it is time to offer some carrots instead of just sticks.

In the long term, Finland should adopt a general, equal and personal basic income system for the whole country. Removing the household-based aspect of general housing allowance, increasing the level of study grant and tying it to the index as well as decreasing the emphasis on student loans in student aid are examples of immediate improvements to students’ situation. The minimum requirement of 20 credits should be removed and the two-tiered nature of student aid made more sensible. These measures would take us closer to personal, sufficient basic subsistence.

Now tell us what you think of social security and what it means to you – let us remind the decision-makers that students must be included in the reform! https://www.lyyti.fi/reg/Opiskelijoille_keppia_vai_porkkanaa_0129/en 

Policies proposed on the reform of social security so far:

  • The working group on inequality led by Juho Saari submitted its report in March. Unfortunately, students were not really discussed in it.
  • Universal credit suggested for Finland by the OECD: the National Coalition and the Christian Democrats support this model – students are unlikely to be involved.
  • The Social Democrats’ proposal is general security, which would significantly improve students’ subsistence.
  • Blue Reform published their own social security programme this spring.
  • Several parties are coming up with their own reform proposals. Previously, at least the Greens and the Left Alliance have supported basic income. The Centre Party states that it has supported basic income for decades and hopes that the reform of social security could progress based on the information obtained through the basic income experiment.
  • EAPN-FIN, the Finnish anti-poverty and -alienation network, launched a citizens’ initiative on minimum income, which did not include students.

Hannele Kirveskoski
Specialist (subsistence, international affairs)

HYY’s 150th anniversary – the best thing ever!

Epic, surprising, touching, hilarious or dazzling? What kind of an anniversary do you think HYY should have? Should there be confetti, sparkles or perhaps some alpacas? Are you a party planning pro? If so, become our anniversary master!

HYY’s anniversary is held on Saturday 24 November, and it will be celebrated in the form of an academic dinner party with an open after-party. The anniversary master assembles an anniversary team, participates in planning both the anniversary and its after-party and is responsible for the practical arrangements of the anniversary. It is possible to apply as an anniversary master duo, too. The anniversary master or masters will be remunerated with a fee of 1,500 euros each and a 15% commission on all the sponsors they successfully negotiate for the event. This job requires fluent Finnish or English.

Please send your free-form application to hallinto@hyy.fi by Tuesday, 29 May 2018, at 10 am. The email should be titled “Anniversary master 2018”. Interviews for the position will be held on 31 May or 1st of June.

More information: Arttu Lehtinen, producer, 050 537 2831, arttu.lehtinen@hyy.fi

Student aid and income

Have you already checked your income for 2017? You should do so right now! If you have earned too much in relation to the number of months of aid you have received, you can still return months of student aid until the end of May with no added interest. If Kela has to collect months of student aid from you next year, interest will be added to the collected sum. In case you exceed your income limit and have to return months of student aid from 2017, we recommend returning aid received in autumn: this way, you will only have to return the study grant, not the housing supplement of the student aid.

You do not have to return general housing allowance, and the allowance is based on the average income you have reported. In other words, the same income limits that concern the study grant do not cover general housing allowance – the two benefits are not linked. However, we recommend checking your general housing allowance if your income changes. If you already know about your summer job, check out further information below!

Further information on returning student aid is available on Kela’s website.
You can check your income limits here.

General housing allowance and changes in income

Apply for a review of your housing allowance from Kela as soon as you know about your coming summer job and have signed a contract of employment.

You should apply for a review of the housing allowance especially if you have previously only received the study grant, and the grant is the only income taken into account in your housing allowance decision. If, however, you have already taken the income from your summer job into account in the average income you reported when applying for housing allowance, you do not necessarily have to apply for a review. You might want to check the matter with a calculator for housing allowance available on Kela’s website (note: only works in Finnish and Swedish).

If you have no housing costs during the summer, remember to cancel your housing allowance for the summer!

When should you apply for a review?

The principle in general housing allowance is that it is reviewed if the household’s income increases by at least 400 euros or decreases by at least 200 euros per month compared to the income in the previous housing allowance decision. The housing allowance may also be reviewed if you move into a new apartment or if your housing costs increase by at least 50 euros per month.

You must apply for a review of the housing allowance from Kela yourself, and it can easily be done through Kela’s eServices (note: only works in Finnish and Swedish), for instance. The same service also allows you to send in all the necessary attachments. 

The general housing allowance is reviewed with effect from the beginning of the month following the first full month of a change in income. In other words, like this:

If your summer job begins on…
…1 June, the allowance is reviewed with effect from 1 July.
…4 June, the allowance is reviewed with effect from 1 August.

Did you know that general housing allowance can be paid while you are temporarily away?

If, for instance, you work elsewhere in the summer and pay rent for your permanent apartment, you can receive housing allowance for it for 3 months. However, the allowance is only paid for one apartment at a time.

Housing allowance is household-based

General housing allowance is granted jointly to the entire household. One member of the household applies for the allowance on behalf of the entire household, and the same person must also apply for a review of the housing allowance if needed. The income and various benefits of each member of the household affect your eligibility for the allowance. The student loan does not count as income.

For further information on applying for a review of your housing allowance, see Kela’s website.

 

Hannele Kirveskoski
Specialist (subsistence, international affairs)
+358 50 543 9608
hannele.kirveskoski[at]hyy.fi

Are you interested in sports? Would you like to inspire new students into sporty life, too? Apply to become a sports tutor now! 

Liikuntatuutori
Are you interested in sports? Would you like to inspire new students into sporty life, too? Apply to become a sports tutor now!

The purpose of sports tutoring is to familiarize freshmen with student sports - both the diverse selection of UniSport and independent exercise opportunities - and inspire freshmen to maintain a sporty lifestyle in the middle of busy study schedules. Sports tutors are not required to be in top shape or to be trained coaches. You only need the willingness and enthusiasm to make the freshman autumn of new students even better and more fun!

The Student Union organizes an education evening for the selected sports tutors on 29th May. At the evening tutors will get information about how to plan and organize events and tutors have a change to get to know each other’s. In addition to other sports tutors, our partner in sport tutoring is UniSport, which provides tutors with free facilities and group training, as well as financial support for sports outside UniSport facilities. No matter whether you take the freshmen to play football, practice hot yoga or collect mushrooms, sports can be various sports.

Sports tutors will get 4 months training card to UniSport as reward. After organizing 5 events to freshmen and reporting your experiences, you will get other 4 months.

Sports tutoring requires:
• motivation to be a sports tutor.
• will to organize 5 sports events to freshmen in the autumn 2018.

It doesn’t stand in a way to become a sports tutor:
• if you are also regular tutor in the autumn 2018.
• if you already have a training card to UniSport. (The reward will be added after your card’s period of validity.)

Apply to become a sports tutor by 27nd of May with this form:

https://www.lyyti.in/Haku_liikuntatuutoriksi_5854/en.

Aleksanteri Gustafsson (aleksanteri.gustafsson@hyy.fi), the board member of the Student Union with responsibility of sports tutoring, will answer to all questions considering this subject. 

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