What would a day as a student feel like? The Student Union of the University of Helsinki (HYY) and the Aalto University Student Union (AYY) have codeveloped a game to illustrate actual problems with students’ subsistence and student aid. A lot is expected from students regarding subsistence during their studies: they should study full time, get work experience and supplement their income with earned income. This equation does not work.

The game illustrates how complex and inflexible students’ subsistence is: the current system is not able to take into account students’ different situations in life and diverse living arrangements. If Finland’s next government starts the comprehensive reform of social security, students must be included in the reform. AYY and HYY support a move to a gratuitous, personal basic income.

‘On basic income, students could focus on advancing their studies, and getting work experience during studies would not be a problem. Students could count on their subsistence in varying situations in life’, Chair of HYY’s Board Lauri Linna states.

Students’ subsistence consists of the study grant, student loan and general housing allowance. The level of the study grant is low, and the share of the student loan in student aid has been raised. As a result, students are getting into debt at record rate. The number of months of student aid has repeatedly been cut, study progress and students’ own income are monitored closely, and there is next to no flexibility. In worst cases, this causes the recovery of student aid with considerable interest, students falling onto social assistance and delays with studies.

As a whole, moving students to general housing allowance has been a good reform. However, general housing allowance is household-based, which means that the incomes of the people you live with affect the allowance. As a result, many students have lost their housing benefits or have had it decreased. The household-based nature of the allowance has also resulted in situations in which roommates are expected to provide for each other even though even cohabiting partners are not liable to provide maintenance for one another.

Working alongside studies is not easy, as students must be able to simultaneously study full time in order to retain their study grant, monitor the low income limits and graduate within the limited time allocated to completing their degrees.

It would be useful for students to work in their own field, establish start-up companies and acquire societal skills through volunteer work during their studies. The system makes this difficult.

‘The months of student aid may be enough for those who manage to stick to target time. Even one life change complicates things, however. This could mean getting sick, starting a family or a couple of failed courses. Students’ social security should not be modelled on those who fare the best’, Chair of AYY’s Board Noora Vänttinen states.

You can try out the student simulator here: http://opiskelijasimulaattori.fi/
You can also meet HYY’s and AYY’s representatives at SuomiAreena this week. Come and play a game and discuss students’ subsistence with us!

Lauri Linna
Chair of the board
Student Union of the University of Helsinki
lauri.linna@hyy.fi
050 543 9610

Noora Vänttinen
Chair of the board
Aalto University Student Union
noora.vanttinen@ayy.fi
040 731 6120