HELSINKI – The Parliament of Finland received a clear message on Wednesday 20 March when thousands of students stormed to it holding banners and shouting slogans telling law makers to defend the country’s student support system for higher education.
The students stressed that they wanted to retain the current structure for financial aid which is favouring grants over the loans. They also wanted to remind the government of the promises it made to students back in 2011, including modifications to the study aid given to upper secondary school students that is limited on their parents’ income. This study grant should also be linked to the living costs index for students in higher education.
Worrying changes to financial aid
Several changes have been made to the students’ financing aid system in the past years and students have found the most recent political discussions about making adjustment to the financial aid system to be worrying. They believe a loan based financial aid system, which was discussed by policy-makers, would restrict access to higher education according to students’ socio-economic background and that it would harm equal access to education like the values that the Finnish society has been built upon. The students have reminded Finnish politicians that everyone should have the possibility to gain a higher education degree, regardless of their financial capabilities or family background.
The demonstration was organised one day prior to crucial budget framework discussions in the Parliament of Finland where it aimed at setting the general guidelines for expenditures in 2013 to 2016. The national unions of students in Finland (SAMOK and SYL) organised the event together with students in both general and vocational upper secondary education (SLL, SAKKI and OSKU). It is estimated that between five to seven thousand students participated in the demonstration taking place in the country’s capital Helsinki. The Parliament of Finland has now agreed to protect the basis of the grant system and keep the loan system as an addition to students’ financial aid. Finnish students’ organisations will follow the future development closely and the goals set in the budget frame negotiations.
Full solidarity with Finnish students
The European Students’ Union shows full solidarity with Finnish students and thinks that the political discussion surrounding Finland’s higher education system signals a worrying trend in Europe to shift the cost burden of education onto students. Any cuts to the grant system will only have negative effects on people’s working careers, as people would have to retire later to pay off their debt.
“Finland is currently one of Europe’s strongholds in financing higher education. We have already seen that student loans can be very damaging to the financial prospects of people’s future and discourage them from completing higher education. Finland needs to protect the social value of education. If politicians cannot understand its importance, then students have to on guard and alert to make decision makers aware of that,” Karina Ufert, ESU’s Chairperson says.
In December, Finnish law makers put forward a motion calling for changes in the country’s tuition system so that non EU/EEA students would be charged especially for their education. ESU and national unions of students have protested that move strongly, as it would discriminate students based on their nationality and damage student mobility in Europe.
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The European Students’ Union, headquartered in Brussels, is the umbrella organisation of 47 national unions of students from 39 European countries. ESU represents and promotes the educational, social, economical and cultural interests of students at the European level. Through its member unions, ESU represents over 11 million students in Europe. To find out more about ESU, follow us on Twitter @ESUtwt, check out or Facebook page or visit www.esu-online.org. ESU celebrates its 30th anniversary in 2012.