2021 is already a historic year for the student movement, for better or worse. This year marks the 100th anniversary of SYL, and now is a good time to both stop to admire SYL’s past achievements and start looking for the future direction of the student movement.
Internationalization and mobility have always been close to our hearts. The start of the Erasmus program in the late 1980s revolutionized exchange studies, and some years later SYL was at the forefront of supporting accession to the European Union. The current year did, however, began grimly due to Brexit, as the favorite destinations of Finnish exchange students left Erasmus. All we can do now is wait in horror what kinds of effects this will have on the already declining popularity of exchange studies.
Since the beginning of this year, the services of the Finnish Student Health Service have finally been available to all higher education students. The lung examinations of students that began almost 90 years ago and the later establishment of SYL’s health care committee laid the foundation for an operator that is significant to public health and whose services can now finally be used by all higher education students. And hey, if you are a student, do not forget to pay the FSHS fee to Kela during January!
“SYL has – God forbid – opinions.”
This is what our alumnus Jorma Eloranta said in the SYL100 trailer when he described how SYL has, during its history, bothered many politicians with letters and discussions. This year, we celebrate the 100-year journey of the National Union of University Students in Finland, which has indeed included opinions and thousands and thousands of letters and discussions.
Those thousands of letters and discussions have created a society that would be very different without the student movement. This week, I went to enjoy an affordable, subsidized student meal, the price of which had almost returned to the normal level after a momentary rise in the fall. That meal subsidy is one of the results of student advocacy, and it has now been utilized for over forty years.
After returning to work this week, I have directly dived into the deep end in terms of my tasks as a member of the management staff by contributing to the recruitment of a development cooperation specialist. One of the interviewees asked an essential question: why is development cooperation important to SYL? I’m sure the matter was discussed thoroughly over 70 years ago, when development cooperation began at SYL. Over the past decades, we at SYL have worked hard to promote education, support students, and raise awareness of development cooperation. Today, most people are familiar with the term “global education”.
SYL has worked persistently and tirelessly for a more equal, educated society for almost as long as Finland has been independent. The student movement has made it possible for higher education to change from a prerogative of the few to an everyday matter that is considered a prerequisite for the majority of future jobs. There is still a lot of work to be done to make higher education even more accessible, but that is why SYL still exists.
Without the student movement, education would be far less accessible. There would be no student financial aid, and students might have to pay tuition fees. Koulutuslupaus-campaign concerning education-related promises was launched six years ago, and it is still being discussed, even though governments have changed in the meantime. We are the entity that snaps in the voice of students when we are called freeloaders.
Those who have been involved in lobbying know how ungrateful the work can be – the fruit of the labor is often picked years or decades later, and there are not many who know to thank you for putting out fires, as they are not often public information. I have also taken many things for granted, but this year they will be dug out for all to see.
Of course, advocacy is not done alone, nor are we celebrating the achievements of hard work alone. Although this year is the jubilee year of SYL, it is also the jubilee year of the entire student movement. Long live the student movement and congratulations to the hundred-year-old SYL!