Today, 20th of March, thousands of students marched with signboards and shouts that told the Finnish government to “Get your hands off student financial aid!” BTSB encouraged SUB-members to join the event via Facebook and was present in person, but also livetweeted the event and other news concerning the happening. The vast band of students travelled from Senaatintori to the Parliament House to meet representatives from all the parties currently reigning at Arkadianmäki.
The event left me, and I would imagine many others, empowered by that feeling you get by roaring your lungs out, marching in the middle of Aleksanterinkatu, knowing afterwards that you were part of something bigger, something important. But there are other feelings present as well, such as confusion and frustration.
Why in the first place did we need the demonstration? I remember marching for our student allowance just two years ago, and the representatives promised to take care of it. Well, we got the promise to index student allowances (it’s supposed to happen in September 2014).
No wait, now I know! It’s about the ongoing discussion about making careers last longer in Finland (with the financial crisis and all). Students should graduate faster, so that they would start working earlier and thus their careers would lengthen. But wait, wasn’t there a proper expert from Statistics Finland in the news just claiming that this won’t work? Didn’t he clearly state that the only real way of adding working years was to activate unemployed Finnish people from ages 30 to 50? Why aren’t they so afraid of their everyday income that they’d be marching by the thousand in the middle of Helsinki?
Could it be because the representatives are afraid of losing their middle-aged voters that they won’t even talk about making changes in these people’s lives?
The answer that some parties have for making the students graduate faster is to make them finance their studies with loan money. This has been an ongoing discussion for a long time, for example, the National Coalition Party, reported in 2011 their willingness to make student allowance more loan-based. Other issues that have been on display are the financial punishments for students who earn too much money per month from jobs and different kinds of incentives to make students graduate faster. However, only the Green League and the Left Alliance have expressed their current takes on the discussion on how to develop student allowance. Other parties have given vague comments on the matter. The student organizations have already asked some clarity to the issue at hand.
But there has been some vagueness going on with SYL (National Union of University Students in Finland) as well. SYL (who represents university students in the allowance negotiations) was one of the main organizers of Wednesday’s demonstration, and depending on what you want to believe, they sure as hell had the responsibility to do so. According to delicate memos and e-mails that were leaked to Fifi, the webzine of Voima magazine, SYL unofficially blurted out their minimum demands to the Social Democratic Party. Thus they gave their unofficial blessing to even consider loan-based student allowance. SYL sent an email to student organizations the day before the demonstration with a PowerPoint presentation attached. There was no other comment about leaking the information, other than “Neuvotteluissa päätettyjä linjoja ei ole vuodettu julkisuuteen. Tällä hetkellä kaikki arvauket ovat parhaimmillaankin arvauksia” (free translation: “Negotiation stances have not been leaked to the public. Right now, all guesses are just that, guesses”). Hmm, thank you for clarifying that! But didn’t SYL’s chairman claim in Fifi’s interview that this was a backup plan? Fifi cannot give the name of the leaker, because of his/her anonymity, but I really don’t see any reasons why they would lie about this. So I imagine SYL’s meetings are going to have some interesting topics in the near future.
Back to the demonstration, what was achieved today? The members of parliament all gave their promises with big smiles that they are supporting the current student allowance in upcoming budget negotiations. Something was missing though and I have to point the finger at the people interviewing them in front of the Parliament (although otherwise they did a really good job). Yes, you support student grants, but for what period of time? Three years? Five? One? Do you think that financially blackmailing students to graduate faster is the way to produce new experts and new mature academics in Finland? Have you read the studies stating that this isn’t the way to increase working years? Are you bullying us since you cannot bully someone your own siz- age?
I guess only time will show. But remember to keep an eye on the politicians, your own and the parliamentary ones.
One of the yells we roared as a group today was “Promises are empty, we’re not stupid.”
EDIT 3/21/2013, 4.45pm: Today, the government announced that they would keep their hands off student allowances like we asked. We won this battle, but remember that this is not the end of the discussion and that we might meet at the barricades again (who knows, maybe in just two short years).
Anyhow, I hope you enjoy this month’s BTSB, we proudly present you some insights on sexism in roleplaying games and on political bullshitting from around the world. We’re also very happy to present to you more Dr. Who reviews and some wintery photos! And please, give us some comments! Let us know how we’re doing, what do you think about these issues and what kinds of articles would you like to see in the future!
Sources (terribly sorry, only in Finnish):