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Student Financial Aid in Danger - Again!

17.02.2016

Student financial aid offered to students by the Finnish has been revised over and over again over the past couple of years. The number of months one can receive aid on has been limited, requirements on how many credits must be gained has been increased, and the general terms and conditions have been made worse and worse from the point of view of students. The only improvement, from the point of view of students, the binding of the aid to the cost-of-living index, has been cancelled by the current Finnish government, who has also introduced both tuition fees for non-EU/EEA students, and massive cuts to the education budget, leading to redundancy for 980 University of Helsinki employees.

The government has decided the student financial aid will be revised again in 2016. Revision as the preferred term, however, is misleading - the word is only used to avoid mentioning budget cuts. In its government programme the government decided to cut costs for financial aid for students by 70 million euros within 2019. In the long term the proposed budget cuts will amount to 150 million euros.

The proposed cuts are massive. Students in higher education received approximately 350 million euros in study grants in 2014. An additional 250 million euros was spent on housing supplements. With the proposed budget cuts, 70 and 150 million euros, student financial aid is under threat. While Finnish students, unlike future non-EU/EEA students, do not, for the time being have to pay tuition fees, the current government is certainly making sure that all students, whether domestic or international, are feeling pressured under the yoke of the budget cuts hostile to both students and education.

The government invited Professor Roope Uusitalo, a professor of economics at the University of Jyväskylä, to undertake the task of finding ways to revise student financial aid taking into account the budget cuts the government has set as the framework of the new system for student financial aid. Professor Uusitalo has lately, lastly in January, been actively involved with proposing tuition fees for all students in Finnish higher education institutions, voicing a strong belief in a student bearing the risks and costs of his or her own higher education as he or she will also receive the benefits thereof. This point of view, however, ignores the benefits of a highly educated workforce for the state in terms of both higher tax revenues and growing consumption, as well as the importance of a highly educated population in fostering innovation and economic growth. Saddling the individual with both the costs and the risks of his or her own education will also create a further obstacle for students with low socio-economic background entering higher education, as we will see with fee-paying non-EU/EEA students.

The government has imposed on the revision of student financial aid a clear framework, by which the revised system must ensure that the cuts will not affect the XXXX, and that the new system will not decline the entering in higher education of students with low socio-economic background. It is hard to imagine how a revision, which very clearly is done with euros first and foremost in mind, can fullfil the afore-mentioned criteria. The cuts will most likely mean a either a direct cut to the monthly student grant - which at present is hardly sufficient for living in the capital region - or a significant increase in the number of months a student is eligible for financial aid from the state.

Professor Uusitalo will leave his report on the 'revision' of student financial aid to the Minister for Culture and Education Sanni Grahn-Laasonen in February.

The current student financial system, while not perfect, does exactly as it says, financially aids and supports students. After February, this statement might not seem to ring true anymore, and it could instead fall upon students to show their support to the current system.

Information on the proposed budget cuts clarified on 18.2.