HYY Every university student in Finland is obliged to be a member of the student representative body of the school. Because membership is not optional, this has led some to believe that, were students to have a choice, many would choose not to join.
The Helsinki Student Union (HYY) decided to find out what students thought about it last spring with a member survey. 1 208 questionnaires were sent out to University of Helsinki students, 422 of which were returned. 80% of respondents said that would stay a member of HYY if splitting from the group meant giving up their membership benefits. Only two percent of respondents said that they would not join HYY and forego the benefits, and rest couldn’t decide. In fact, ninety per cent of the respondents were satisfied with HYY’s services all around.
While students seem to be happy with HYY, the questionnaire also brought some bad news: only three out of hundred members participate actively in HYY. The HYY membership fee required annually from university students is 348 FIM, or approximately 63 USD. 168 FIM goes to the university students’ health care foundation YTHS, and the rest, 180 marks, goes to HYY. Contrary to what several students believed, none of the 348 FIM goes to the University. Higher education in Finland is still free.
Moviegoer’s Mecca: Orion
The movie theatre Orion, located at Eerikinkatu 15, is home to the Finnish Film Archive. The main objective of the Archive is to show outstanding movie classics and the line-up for this fall is no exception. This season’s high points are movies by Louis Malle, Robert Altman, and André Téchiné. In addition to its traditional focus on directors each season, the program has in recent years included high quality alternative series or single movies. Kenneth Anger‘s underground movies Scorpio Rising and Invocation of My Demon Brother are featured this fall under this category, as well as the cyberpunk series with David Cronenberg‘s fierce Video-drome. Other key movies of the cyberpunk series are the Terminator movies, Robocop, and Kathryn Bigelow‘s wonderful Strange Days. A membership card to the Archive, valid for six months, costs 20 marks.
Separating Church and State
In the summer of 1998, Reader’s Digest did a survey of Finns asking them about their religious beliefs. 28% of the respondents believed in a God as envisioned by Christianity. At the same time, 66% of respondents reported belonging to the church in order to receive the services that the church provided, like weddings and funerals. Only 25% belonged to the church because of a strong religious faith. While Christian churches in Africa and in America continue to fill every Sunday, in Western Europe, churches sit empty as traditional Christianity loses ground to new age religions and fundamentalist movements, like the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Be this as it may, 85% of the Finnish population still belongs to either the Lutheran or the Eastern Orthodox Churches and no major exodus has been seen as of yet.
Before 1923, law required every Finn to be a member of the church and pay taxes. The church for its part oversaw the registration of new citizens as part of baptisms, and handled all funerals. As more and more of former church responsibilities moved to the state, the church relinquished its own independent tax collection in the 1950s. The result was a bond between the church and state, in which church tax began to be collected by the state as part of the standard income tax form.
Juha Kukkonen is Chief Secretary of the Finnish Freethinkers Association. “The concept of a state church means in practice that the state collects the fees for the church and the church administers the cemeteries.”
In Finland the church handles 99% of funeral arrangements and the church finances its operations through church tax and community taxes. Kukkonen is especially troubled by the fact that the church is entitled to its share of the community tax, which every community and corporation must pay. This includes communities which have no church members. People who do not belong to the church have to be buried to church cemeteries in Finland because there are no alternatives. They also must pay the full price of the funeral. The freethinkers want to establish communal, non-denominational cemeteries and revive the old system whereby the church collected its own taxes, to separate church and state for good in Finland.
The church in Finland has much less influence on political decision making than in countries like Ireland and the United States, where the churches are not formally a part of the state. Kukkonen does not accept justification of a state-church union only because it has little political authority. “I’ve hear this argument many times. But the point is that if church and the state were separated, religion would become more central in the church than the power structures.”
Accommodation Support Cut
Market rates for rental apartments in Helsinki have been skyrocketing over the past few years. 40% of students use over fifty percent of their income to pay rent. The state-granted study aid and housing allowance was lowered in 1995 while free market rental rates have risen beyond the students’ reach. In an effort to lighten the financial burden of students, the Finnish state currently pays 70% of the rent for students living on their own and 80% of the rent for couples.
A student housing allowance committee, Opas, was formed last year in an effort to better address the housing problem. Opas suggested that the government should pick up 80% of all students’ rental cost, with a ceiling of 1 275 marks a month. The Opas calculated that this should have no effect on the state budget. This would have been the first increase in the housing allowance in the 1990s.
The Ministry of Finance had its own plans. The ministry was alarmed when the overall student housing allowance expenses went up 160 million marks in 1998. When voting took place at Parliament, the compensation level was dropped from 80% to 70% for all students. Calculations showed that this would save the government 127 million marks. The Ministry of Finance moved quickly and reduced the amount that it gave to the Ministry of Education by 130 million marks. Critics are saying that one can’t take away a sum which is only a projected saving, based on false premises, such as stagnant circumstances. The truth is that next year there will be a greater number of students and the rent levels are likely to rise too. The political rumor is that the Ministry of Finance wanted to punish students that they had suspected of pairing up just to enjoy the 80% compensation level.
The final budget negotiations in the Parliament will be complicated. The government was said to have been unanimous in its budget proposal for housing, but since then several ministers have indicated that they object to the proposal. The parliament will send the proposal to the committees. The Environmental Committee will discuss general housing allowance changes, and the Committee for Education and Culture will discuss changes in the student housing allowance. However, the Standing Committee of Supply is the most crucial, since it makes the final budget proposal. The study aid offered without obligation to all Finnish university students was 1 570 FIM in 1990 and housing accommodation had a ceiling of 900 FIM. The corresponding numbers today are 1 540 FIM and 854 FIM.
by Pamela Kaskinen