My name is Teemu Vasama and I have been active in the Union of Alvar since its founding in 2015. I spent the last two years on the board of the Student Union of the University of Jyväskylä (JYY), and this year I am serving on the board of the National Union of University Students (SYL). My main areas of responsibility include education policy and international affairs, but I also coordinate our (student) organization and culture sector and I am involved in our working life programs.
What is SYL you ask? Student Unions, like JYY, do important and valuable work on a local level, within their respective universities and hometowns. However, few student unions are able to engage in student advocacy on a national level. This is where SYL steps in. All the student unions in the country are members of SYL, which is dedicated almost entirely to advocacy and lobbying on a national level. SYL is an active political group that guards students’ rights from a central position. An example of recent success in advocacy is the defeat of the government’s plan to cut students’ living benefits last year. SYL fought hard to defeat the proposal, which would have cut many students’ benefits even further and, hard work paid off when the proposal was dropped.
Appart from advocacy and lobbying, SYL is also a uniting force for student unions. SYL hosts annual seminars in the spring and fall, which all student unions attend. All sectors work in cooperation with each other and are in regular contact. SYL supports learning and information sharing between student unions. We can accomplish more as a united movement than we can divided.
Among everything else, there are two themes that will come to define 2018: the vision for higher education and preparation for the approaching parliamentary elections. Last fall, the Ministry of Education and Culture drafted what was to be a vision for the future of higher education. Despite the ministry’s ambitions, the white paper turned out to be rather vague. This year, the ministry’s objective is to set concrete goals for the development of higher education. Work on the proposal has been rather rushed because it has to be finished this spring in order for parliament to have time to debate it in the fall. This brings us to our second theme, the parliamentary elections of spring 2019 and the formation of the government. The current government has made many decisions that have been unfortunate for students, such as cutting funding for education and student benefits. We hope that a change in government will bring about new policies toward students.
In the end, this is what SYL is for: work is done every day at the Lapinrinne offices to benefit the lives of Finnish university students.