Brief in English


Payback Time – With Interest

The Finnish government provides a monthly study grant to all permanent residents that are studying in the university system. The grant, 1 540 FIM approx. $310, is not enough to live on for most students and most chose to either take a loan to supplement the grant or work part-time. Kela, the body charged with distributing state monies in Finland, has strict ceilings on the amount of money students can earn in addition to their grant, making it difficult for many recipients to keep their earnings within regulations. In an effort to encourage working students, Kela adapted the so-called ‘Danish model’ in early 1998. The model measures the entire earnings of the year, using the taxable income recorded by the tax office.
Students themselves must monitor the situation and return the surplus study grant payments before the start of the new year. Previously the income was monitored on a monthly basis. “The former model was difficult to understand and it was a lot of work for us and the students,” says Ilpo Lahtinen of Kela. The problem with the new system, however, is that it requires students to plan their entire coming year already the preceding December. No chance of receiving a study grant for full-time workers returning to their studies in the fall, the same goes for those who begin work after the spring. If they don’t return the surplus grant money, they’ll have to pay it back – with seven percent interest.

University of Helsinki Faces – Rada Boric

Rada Boric teaches Croatian at the University of Helsinki, but in her îfree time’ she is one of the most influential women’s activists in her home country of Croatia. Speaking on behalf of women on a television broadcast there some time ago, she said that “violence has returned from our battlefields into our homes and threatens our women.” The response to such a comment in the fiercely nationalistic country brought on a heated response in the Croatian press. These kinds of statements against the country can be a death warrant in Croatia. She responded by filing a libel suit against the Croatian media and expects her subpoena to appear in court soon.
    But here in Helsinki, Rada is far from the danger. “When I am completely drained in Croatia, I come to Finland to teach in peace and quiet. Then I can continue,” explains Boric. She came to Finland the first time twenty years ago as the first visiting professor from Yugoslavia and has returned regularly. “I realized that I was coming back every four years or so and so I finally decided that this was my second home.”
    She was in Croatia during the seven years that Yugoslavia was breaking up and her country and Bosnia were at war. She created a center for women to support them in uncertain times. The center reached out to Bosnian Muslim women and gave instruction on legal rights, even preparing some to testify at the Hague war crimes courts. “There was so much hate in Croatia that it was important for me to find a separate community,” she says seriously. Here in Finland, Boric was working on a Finnish -SerboCroatian dictionary before the war broke out. Now that the countries are divided, she plans to continue with the Croatian language and finish the dictionary in the year 2001.

Student Accommodations Examined

Problem 1: Too few student apartments. The goal is to have one Helsinki Student Accommodation Foundation (Hoas) apartment for every other Helsinki student. For the 90 000 students in the Helsinki area, just over 20 000 apartments are available. One-third of students at the University of Helsinki live in a student apartment.
    Solution 1: Build more student housing. Hoas will build 150 new apartments this year. If they hope to meet the goal, however, they should build 700 new apartments each year! Hoas Managing Director Jorma Vanhanen explains that “you have to have time to plan” and “We only build in places that we feel will draw students well into the future.”
    Problem 2: There aren’t enough small apartments on the free market for rent in Helsinki and those that exist are far too expensive. There are plans in place to build 80,000 new apartments in Helsinki by the year 2020, but only a few thousand of these will be small.
    Solution 2: Change the law and build more state-sponsored apartment buildings. The law was changed in 1994 giving renters and their residents the right to decide on suitable prices without interference. What was meant to be a hands-off type of legislation has led renters to raise rents on a whim and prices have skyrocketed. Some kind of regulation must be re-established. The weather in Finland requires expensive building materials and methods and real estate must wait a long time before it becomes profitable. The State has to lend a helping hand in the faith that accommodation is a basic need for all of us.
    Problem 3: Finnish students can’t live in the suburbs. Most Hoas apartments are shared occupancy, e.g. three bedrooms and one kitchen and bath. Only 5-10 percent of Finnish students chose to live in shared housing. They want single occupancy apartments downtown and they’ll pay through the nose to get them, a major contributing factor to exorbitant rental prices.
    Solution 3: Students need to learn to live together and farther from the city. The excellent public transportation in Helsinki means that many suburbs are a short train or bus ride from downtown. In Germany and Great Britain, only 10-15 percent of apartments are one and two rooms, in Helsinki the percentage is a surprising 41. Perhaps the Hoas system could include a way to choose one’s roommates, to encourage more shared occupancies. The problem is that it is far more difficult to change the way people want to live than to change the choices they are offered. Unfortunately for all the cosmopolitans, Helsinki cannot expand into the sea. Perhaps the Western Harbor and the industrial area of Sörnäinen can be eventually developed into apartments. The old warehouses around Helsinki could be converted into student housing, like the cities of Oulu, Tampere, Vaasa and Savonlinna have done with their old hospitals, pulp factories and bakeries.

Power and Influence in 21st Century Finland: Part Three

Civil servants work for the Finnish state, i.e. for every Finnish citizen. From EU parliamentarians in Brussels to the person who figures salaries in the municipality of Parikkala, over one-half million Finns are civil servants. In terms of power and influence, the civil servants of Finland are major actors because of their role as ‘preparers’. Every decision made in Parikkala, Finland and the European Union is made based on information that has been prepared by civil servants.
“Civil servants narrow down the options which are eventually discussed by decision-makers. They significantly affect the final decision in this way,” says Ilkka Ruostetsaari, political science professor from the University of Tampere. Ruostetsaari feels that the power of civil servants has increased dramatically in the last ten years. Committees made up of representatives of political and interest groups were once planners and researchers, but results were slow and compromises were many. The public sector has taken these tasks over and continues to spread. “It could lead to a real drop in the choices that are made available to us,” he says.
    Architect and engineer Jarmo Suomisto hopes to increase the number of choices available to Helsinki residents. He is developing a visual simulation program as part of his work for the City Planning Office. His intention is to create a program whereby all plans made for the Kamppi-Töölö Bay area can be simulated and tested first for their long term effects. He is the first to admit that planners directly affect decisions.
    “Decision-makers look at the well-illustrated material and think ‘I can’t say anything about that because it looks so good’. Planners each have their own ideal for the city and work towards that ideal.” The fact that technological know-how begets power in Finland is nothing new , Suomisto reminds us, “Eliel Saarinen wouldn’t have made it if he couldn’t draw so well and Engel most certainly did his most beautiful work in order to get his plans through.”

by Pamela Kaskinen