Keeping Tabs On Their Prodigies
This fall KELA, the state organization assigned with distributing economic relief to Finnish residents, continued its relatively new practice of investigating the academic progress of students receiving financial aid. A system has been introduced whereby university computers automatically pair the number of credits with the number of months the student has received study aid. If the ratio is less than 2.5, a letter is sent out asking for an explanation. In late October of this year, 2 500 letters were sent to students at the University of Helsinki by the Helsinki Study Aid Committee, 770 of which went to the students of the humanities, 500 to the natural sciences and 300 to students of Finnish law. Only four students of medicine were targeted.
The Committee has prepared a list of non-acceptable excuses for lack of academic progress including work, interest group and other extracurricular obligations as well as having children and child care. All other explanations are handled on an individual basis in committee meetings. If the student’s defense is unsuccessful, aid is suspended as of January 2, 1999. Piia Sutinen, Secretary of the Committee, points out that just a few classes this fall can turn the situation around. The Committee sees ten new credits as a clear sign of academic progress. The study grant paid by the Finnish government to university students is 1 540 FIM, or approximately 300 USD a month. There is no obligation to pay the grant back. 75 000 Finnish students receive this study grant regularly. Many supplement this amount with a market-rate, state guaranteed student loan, while others work part-time to make ends meet.
Degree Requirements Differ Greatly
If your only goal as a university student is to graduate quickly, it is good to consider the subjects carefully first. For students of philosophy, a successful test on the book Taide ja filosofia (Art and Philosophy) is worth two study credits. For students of literature, a similar book Kirjallisuuden filosofia (The Philosophy of Literature) is worth 2.5 credits, but only after four other books on the subject are read and tested on as well. An anonymous lit student complains, “They have a great tactic in philosophy – keep degree requirements simple, produce young doctors and get money. Everybody’s happy.”
Pressure from the now omnipresent money distribution model of the university makes the issue important. Funding is currently determined by the number of graduates each department produces and in an effort to produce more degree holders, some departments have been forced to lighten their course loads. Kati Mustala works in the Philosophy department and admits that even the students themselves feel that it is too easy sometimes. “Most cases of retarded studies can be attributed to other reasons -not tough degree requirements,” she reminds us.
Anu Holvikivi is Study Secretary for the Faculty of Arts. “Things aren’t as simple as they appear. Different questions and assignments can be created from the same book.” She feels that comparing the degree requirements among the different university departments is futile, although she does see some room for standardization. “There are no general instructions about degree requirements in the faculties. Some kind of guidelines will have to be established sooner or later.”
The High School Elite in Helsinki
The high school students of Helsinki are divided into two groups: those that attend the elite high schools and the rest. First come the three traditional elite schools, each with decades of superior student performance: the Helsingin Normaalilyseo (commonly referred to as Norssi), the Helsingin Reaalilyseo (Ressu) and the Suomalainen yhteiskoulu (Syk). Add to this the three most popular specialized high schools: the Dramaturgy high school in Kallio, the Fine Arts high school in Torkkeli and the Athletics high school of Mäkelanrinne.
Most of the future movers and shakers in Finland are graduates of these six high schools. The relationships students found with their fellow classmates last their entire lifetimes. Knowing the right people is the key to success, especially in a country of Finland’s size, says Antero Penttilä, Rector of the Reaalilyseo, “Everyone who has attended Ressu automatically knows every other graduate. You can always find somebody to help you out. Kind of like a Finnish mafia.”
This year over a thousand students were turned away from Helsinki high schools for lack of space. At the elite schools, the requirements for entrance were staggering. Mäkelanrinne required a 9.73 comprehensive school grade average out of 10, Ressu 9.27 and Norssi 9.18. Syk requires significant language skills, while Kallio and Torkkeli both are interested in previous theatre, music or art work. This in addition to good grades, of course.
Finland’s Young Athletes in America
Each year tens of Finnish athletes study in a university located in the United States. The caliber of academic studies on an athletic scholarship in a US university has always been questionable and the experience of several Finns confirms the stereotypes. Athletes on a scholarship are required to complete a certain number of credits at the university and get a decent grade average. Universities respond to this need with classes that sometimes seem too easy to be true.
Jarkko Ruutu spent one year at the Michigan Technology University and played hockey for the university team. “Main stage building was a fun course. I got four credits for being a carpenter,” he recalls. Janne Holli played tennis and studied at the University of Southern Mississippi from 1992-96. “I never took any classes that were too weird, except for maybe sea diving. They had a rodeo course and their own rodeo ring, too.”
Comments of the athletes on their experience overall vary. Javelin thrower Esko Mikkola was happy with his year at the University of Arizona. “Many courses I was in required close to 65 hours work per credit.” Every week there was homework, four midterm tests and a final. Mikkola preferred the small group work to the lectures of Finland. Juha Luhtanen, on the other hand, was not pleased. His basketball coach at Mississippi made it clear to him from the start, that ‘you’ll have to train hard so take an easy course load.’ Says Luhtanen, “It is up to the players themselves how they do with their studies. You have to be pretty stupid not to graduate. Everybody knows that the university takes some players that don’t have a chance academically, who shouldn’t be there at all.”
Thirty Year Anniversary of the Vanha Siege
It was November 25, 1968 and close to one thousand university students waited in the freezing cold. They gathered in the square outside of the Old Student House at Mannerheimintie 3, known to Helsinki students simply as ‘Vanha.’ Vanha is an old majestic building that is owned by the student union. A ball was scheduled for the following week, something the radical students of the 60s despised because of the old-fashioned values it represented. The students wanted to take power into their own hands. For weeks prior, leftist student newspapers and flyers had announced a meeting at Vanha that would change things forever. At 5:13 p.m., the crowd moved in, glass shattered and the doors were pushed open. Private security guards awaited the students but they were outnumbered. Soon the students had taken the building and settled in for 24 hours of debate about university education, the state of society and, of course, revolution.
The student siege of Vanha was the peak of student radicalism in Finland and the non-violence of the movement is remarkable when compared to the bloody student protests of the time in France and Western Germany. The student activists weren’t interested in getting into trouble with the police, just like the police weren’t about to aggravate the students. Pekka Peltola was a central figure in the peace movement of the 60s. “The police were there to protect us instead of oppose us, just as they were at all of the demonstrations,” he says. Klaus Makelä feels that it was the older, louder students that kept the younger ones in line. The idealistic radicals did not want to endanger their cause. The siege of Vanha was initially a student effort that cut across political ideologies, but towards the end of the day the leftist element took over. After speeches about Marx and the proletariat, the final protestors left Vanha.
by Pamela Kaskinen