keskiviikko 13. kesäkuuta 2018

Finland -The happiest country

The idea for this blog text came from the first summer school lecture “Finland as a Welfare State”. A lot of people have asked us why Finland is the happiest country in the world. We wanted to write this text from the student’s point of view and focusing on combining studying and family life.
Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture has published results of the Eurostudent VI- survey. Results are to be used more efficiently at the national level as part of the key project of Prime Minister Sipilä’s Government on developing higher education. The EUROSTUDENT VI survey was conducted in Finland in spring 2016 using an online questionnaire sent to a sample of 24,000 higher education students. (Potila, Moisio, Ahti-Miettinen, Pyy-Martikainen, Virtanen, 2017, 7.) It says on the survey that the average age of Finnish university student is 26 -years old. (Potila ym. 2017, 24).
University studies in Finland last about five years, so basically it means that average Finnish student will be 31 years old when they graduate. If they work besides studies the time can be even longer than five years. Out of all the higher education students, including University of Applied Students every sixth person has one or more children. (Potila ym. 2017, 28). It means that it is really important that Finnish welfare system supports students with little children or studying while on parental leave.
In Finland when you get pregnant you are legitimate to have maternity leave and parental leave. Maternity leave starts about 5-8 weeks before the expected due date and lasts about four months. When your maternity leave starts you will begin to get maternity allowance from Kela which is a Finnish institution that literally means "People's Pension Institute. The parental leave starts right after maternity leave and lasts about six months. Parental leave can be shared between mother and father. During the parental leave, Kela pays parental allowance. (Kela, Our Services, Families, Parental allowances, 30.5.2018). Basically, it means that you child will be about 9-months old when your entitlement to the parental allowance ends. The amount of parental allowance is combined to earned incomes before maternity leave.

Does this mean you have to suspend your studies for 9 -months? Of course not! If the mother or father is a full-time student and receives financial aid for students, the parental allowance is paid on top financial aid for students. So, do you have to go to work or back to studies after nine months. No. The Finnish welfare system will provide you with child home care allowance, which basically means that KELA is paying you money to take care your child at home and you can get student allowance at the same time if you want to study. After maternity leave you have a choice to stay at home with child home care allowance until the child is 3 years old. Home care allowance ends when a child enters to municipality funded day care. The government also pays a child support monthly per child, from every child until they turn 17.
When parents of little, under school-aged children decides to go back to school or to work, municipalities have the obligation to provide a daycare place for children. We have a subjective right for children to have an early childhood education. Fees for day care are rated by household’s income. If family’s monthly incomes are less than 2000€, day care is for free. So basically, student’s children get day care for free if their mainly incomes are social benefits (and part-time jobs). Finnish day cares provide high educated staff and organized facilities to take care of children, 3 free and healthy meals per day for children and great support for studying parents if parents informal networks (the grandparents) lives far away, which is quite common in Finland, because students move to other places to study.
Government supports also students and families at housing costs. Housing allowance is for supporting the rental cost for low income households. Housing allowance is calculated based on incomes and how many people lives under a same roof. Students usually gets housing allowance and when they have children the allowance increases. Kela pays up to 80% of the rent when family’s income is low, such as in student-parents families.

And of course, we have the baby box that the Finnish student panel group mentioned. Baby box is a box that all the new mothers receive, containing all the necessary items that you might need with a new baby. At the end of this text we have couple of pictures about the baby box 2018, because one of us is having a baby this summer. And of course, you can choose if you want the box or would you rather take money instead.

By supporting family life, government is supporting especially women to achieve high education and combine children and student/ work life. Nevertheless, Poverty among families with children have increased especially in student-parent families. Student-, housing-, and child care allowances haven’t developed at the same pace that living costs in Finland. That creates pressure to go to work along studying and parenting, which can truly be described as traffic years. When you are given a choice to choose whatever you want to do in life, you end up doing it all, at the same time 😉 Mindfulness skills are truly required when you live your life at the fullest. Although, we want to emphasize that Finland is a good country from the university student’s point of view because we have good opportunities to combining family life and studies. And for us, that is one of the reasons why Finland is the happiest country in the world.
Suvi Lehojärvi & Tiia Vaarala, social work students/ International Summer School 2018

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