The occupiers oppose the government's planned cuts to housing allowance and student financial aid as well as immigration policies weakening the position of international students.
The petition signed by over 1,000 staff members was accepted today by the Chair of the University Board Niklas Bruun and Vice-Rector for academic affairs Kai Nordlund. The petition expresses solidarity with students and supports the demands of the occupiers. The signatories believe that the University leadership must visibly and resolutely defend the livelihood, wellbeing and position of all students.
In his address, Niklas Bruun, Chair of the University Board, highlighted that early in the year in its published objectives for the next government programme, the University already demanded that students are provided with social benefits that make it possible to concentrate on studying, graduate without delays and transition to professional life.
“The leadership of the University of Helsinki has raised the issue when meeting politicians before the election and, in particular, during the negotiations on the government programme. Student wellbeing is also on the agenda of the strategic plan of our University,” he continued.
“We aim to ensure that the University of Helsinki remains an internationally renowned top university and a good place to study, teach and engage in research for all members of the community including international students. We wish to participate in rectifying Finland's educational deficit and raising the standard of education. This requires opportunities for full-time study and investments in student wellbeing.”
However, decisions affecting students’ livelihoods remain in the hands of the country’s government.
“We will further discuss this matter in the University Board along with how we could make a concrete impact. Ultimately though, the rector heads the University's advocacy work,” he concluded.
A joint front behind the objectives
Rector Sari Lindblom visited the occupiers on the first day of the sit-in, 19 September, to show her support (article in Finnish and Swedish only). She is currently abroad on a work-related trip so Kai Norlund, Vice-Rector for academic affairs, is functioning as her deputy.
Nordlund thanked the staff for showing their support for the students with their petition. He reiterated that the University leadership is concerned about the government's planned cuts to student financial aid. The planned cuts came as a surprise to everyone.
Indeed, it appears that everyone shares the same goal. Nordlund stressed that the University of Helsinki’s students, staff, leadership and the University Board all wish to promote the livelihood of students with their actions.
“However, University leadership has different ways of influencing decision-makers than the occupiers. University leadership advocates in meetings with decision-makers, which the rector and vice-rectors have almost weekly. We will continue to wield influence in this manner,” he promised.
Nordlund further added that it is important to relay the shared message outside the University.
The rector expressed her support on 19 September, he said, by visiting the occupied site as well as writing on the University website and messaging service X. The University’s budget statement published on 20 September also mentions the concern for student livelihood (in Finnish only).
All the rectors of the Finnish universities, i.e., Universities Finland UNIFI, published their statement supporting the demands of students on Tuesday.
“All the rectors of Finnish universities are behind it. It is a very strong show of support,” Nordlund stressed.
Vice-Rector Nordlund also addressed international students and researchers:
“We have moreover expressed our concern over the government policy according to which foreign nationals who have not found a new job during a three-month unemployment period will have to leave the country. This so-called three-month rule is very difficult. We have discussed this with government party representatives and have received conflicting messages about its implementation.”
Nordlund also said that the University of Helsinki has no plans to raise tuition fees.
Viena Pentikäinen, representative of the occupiers, thanked the University for respecting the students’ right to demonstrate in University premises and the staff for the support shown by the petition. She said that there are now sit-ins ongoing in 20 other educational institutions.
The Great Hall of the Main Building including the lobby have been rented for private use tomorrow and the occupiers have been asked to move elsewhere in the Main Building for the duration of the event, a request which the occupiers oppose. A large part of the one-hour session was used to discuss this arrangement. The University representatives wished that the focus of the discussion could be shifted to how we can jointly influence the country’s government.