Anni Petäjäniemi, University of Lapland
According to the law about student’s financial aid, in Finland every student can get financial aid from the government. The goal of this aid is to help students have their main focus on their studies. Students get certain amount of months when they can withdraw the benefit, depending on their degree. The amount of the aid is 250€ per month.
There are two reasons why a student must pay back their financial aid. First reason for paying back is not making sufficient progress with studies. The government checks the progress by credits (ETC).
The second reason for having to pay back the financial aid is earning too much salary while withdrawing the financial aid. The government allows a student to earn 660€ per month when they get financial aid, and 1900€ aid-free month. The amount of allowed salary depends on how many months per year a student withdraws aid: for example withdrawing 9 months of aid means that you can earn less than 12 000€ of salary that year.
The point of this is to make sure that students graduate on time and that students who earn a lot of money don’t get to benefit from financial aid. The assumption is that working while studying is making the studying period longer.
While it’s true in some cases that working slows down studying, on the other hand the cost of living in Finland is high and rising all the time. If a person has less than 1200€ after taxes to use for a month, they are considered to be living under the poverty line. The allowed salary (660€) and the financial aid (250€) combined together is very much below the poverty line. This makes students the only group of people, who are somewhat forced to live under the poverty line to get financial aid. In some fields it is very hard, if not impossible to find a job that pays less than 660€ per month.
In 2019 more than 40 000 students had to pay back some portion of their financial aid. That means that 1 in 4 students have to deal with this problem every year. The amount of aid students have to pay back depends on how much salary they got. Usually students have to pay back more than 1000€. In addition to paying back the financial aid, the government adds a 7,5% intrest; so actually students pay back more than they got in the first place. This could be seen as discrimination against students, because it is the only social benefit that has intrest when paying back.
The solution for this could be removing all salary limits for students or at least rising the amount of salary that they can make. This would be beneficial for both the students and the government. This way students could do more work, which could help them getting a job after graduating. Removing salary limits would also reduce stress over having to pay aid back and make students consume more goods.
By allowing students to work as much they want the government could collect more taxes from them. Government would still, like they do now, check how they are progressing with their studies, and make them pay financial aid back if there is no progress.
It is hard to understand why the government punishes those who want to study and work at the same time. In my opinion, every student should get financial aid if they make sufficient progress with their studies, with no limit on how much salary they get. Hard work should be rewarded, not punished.