Student’s welfare and high stress levels were among the most talked about issues in Finnish newspapers and social media during July. The commotion was first stirred up by a statement published by the National Union of University Students in Finland (SYL), asking why students have no right to breaks or holidays. The statement criticized the fact that students are not entitled to the same kind of social security as other residents of Finland, nor allowed holidays like the majority of the workforce. In fact, some students must use their study debt to cover for the costs of unemployment during the summer.
While the union’s concerns were criticized or misunderstood by several journalists and people in the social media, many students and former students also stepped up, recounting their own difficulties with stress and income during their studies. A third of all university students in Finland suffer from mental health issues, and the number has been on the rise for two decades. It is clear that something must be done to reduce the impact these issues have on people’s well-being, economy and society at large. The problem is not exclusive to Finland; rising levels of stress, anxiety and mental health issues are being reported among students around the world.
The newspaper Helsingin Sanomat published a detailed account of how student life in Finland has changed during the last few decades, outlining reasons why studying today can not be compared to studying in the 70s, 80s or 90s: rent levels, job markets and the value of education in employment have all changed while curricula have become stricter and study times have been restricted. Unfortunately the article is only in Finnish.
In the wake of the commotion, TREY, along with a number of other student unions, published a statement demanding a raise to the study grant, which currently stands at 250,28€ per month. Most students are unable to live with grants alone, and must work or become indebted during their studies. This creates additional stress and delays graduation. A study grant high enough to allow students to focus on their studies would boost Finland’s declining levels of higher education and relieve some of the stress and anxiety in our generation.
While the current government has no plans to give students a raise, they are investing in the services provided by schools and universities to struggling students. Hopefully we will see the results in Tampere soon.