The coronavirus pandemic has now carried on for a full year, with devastating effects on the well-being of students. In a survey conducted earlier this year by the Finnish National Youth Council Allianssi and the MTV Uutiset media company, 87% of the respondents said that the coronavirus situation had raised negative feelings, such as anxiety, worry and loneliness, among young people. As many as 75% of the respondents said that the coronavirus-related restrictions had made their mental well-being worse. All surveys and reports on the well-being of students and young people during the coronavirus pandemic have come to the same conclusion: the well-being of students is in serious decline, and in addition to the coronavirus situation, there is the battle against the students’ ever-growing mental health crisis.
Last week, on 2 March, the Finnish Government held a coronavirus-related briefing for students, but unfortunately, it did not introduce any concrete measures for relieving the students’ distress. After the briefing, Allianssi, the National Union of University Students in Finland (SYL) and the University of Applied Sciences Students in Finland (SAMOK) made the following demands: the Government should, as the first measures to improve the students’ situation, invest in mental health services and academic support services, increase the number of months of the students’ financial aid and relax the requirement to complete 20 study credits per academic year. We at the Student Union of Tampere University agree with these demands, because concrete political measures are the only way to improve the well-being of students.
Tampere University also has a central role in the well-being and academic performance of our students during the pandemic. The survey that we conducted in the autumn of 2020 revealed that as many as 62% of the students who took the survey had experienced loneliness due to the coronavirus-related restrictions in campus facilities. Study spaces and facilities have a huge impact on how well students can make progress in their studies: in total, 58% of the respondents felt that their studies had suffered due to remote learning. Being able to access the association facilities and use the sport facilities safely are important for the well-being of students and the prevention of loneliness.
We at the Student Union of Tampere University demand that the University’s facilities be reopened for students in a controlled manner once the coronavirus situation permits it. The limited campus opening hours make studying more difficult and have a negative impact on the well-being and study ability of students. We have been advocating for the reopening of the campus facilities in the University community’s pandemic working group. We are continuing our advocacy efforts.
According to our coronavirus-related survey, at least 61% of the respondents felt that studying at home had been challenging. The respondents felt that the biggest challenges were not only the distractions present at home but also the lack of appropriate tools and equipment. Two thirds of the Finnish-speaking respondents felt that the remote studying had had a negative effect on their study ability. For these reasons, we are asking the University to provide support for students during this prolonged period of remote learning. The course requirements should be adapted to the current situation, since classroom teaching and remote courses are not the same in terms of teaching and studying. However, without the University’s efforts to support the teaching staff, it will not be possible to help students with their remote studies. We hope that the University will continue its good efforts to develop digital pedagogy and remote teaching.
As the spring student admissions and entrance exams are drawing nearer, we at the Student Union of Tampere University demand that equality and fairness be ensured in the University’s student admissions and entrance examination arrangements. Having learnt a lesson from last spring, the University must ensure the legal protection of students in the admission process and not make any changes to the admission criteria in the middle of the application process. The communication concerning student admissions must be well-timed and consistent. The application process should not place too much strain and pressure on the applicants, regardless of the prevailing situation.
The effects of the pandemic will not disappear when the pandemic ends. We are asking decision-makers and the University to support students even after this situation is over. The universities’ permanent funding gap must be bridged, and the repercussions of the pandemic must be resolved by providing increased core funding for universities along with project-based support. The students will need assistance to deal with loneliness and mental health issues. Investing in mental health services and academic support service resources will bring positive results long into the future. The shift to remote learning has also introduced some good methods, and we hope that our university community will adopt these methods once we will finally be able to go back to our everyday lives.
The Student Union of Tampere University will actively continue its efforts to promote the well-being of students in this trying time. We have been asked to give suggestions on how individual students could have their say and influence decision-makers during this difficult period. We encourage students to make their voices heard by giving feedback on classes and teaching, participating in the advocacy work of subject associations, contacting the people who make the decisions and actively participating in social media discussions, as far as their health and abilities allow this. We also encourage students to offer peer support to each other, because only us students can genuinely understand how we feel. Studying together, staying in contact with other students and fostering a sense of community in discussion channels are important ways of making it through this difficult situation. The Student Union of Tampere University also offers students support and advice, so please do not hesitate to contact us!
The coronavirus pandemic has left its mark on students and removing this mark will require real efforts. What we demand is that the students’ mental health crisis should be taken seriously, and that concrete measures and solutions should be offered instead of words of concern, both in Tampere University and at national level.