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Student aid cuts hold, PM responds to opposition "forced loan" comments

The sweeping cuts to student financial aid are still on the government's agenda, though buffer measures are being considered. During Parliament's question time several politicians took a stand on student welfare.

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"Hands off student aid!" the banner proclaims. Image: Jaani Lampinen / Yle

The government is cutting 70 million euros from student aid over the next three years as part of a public finance savings drive.

"The government is forcing students to take on debt," Greens MP Ozan Yanar said and began a discussion on the proposed cuts during Parliament's question time.

Yanar says that students who want to study without working at the same time and also want to graduate within the university time frame have to go some 20,000 euros into debt to make that happen. According to Yanar the government measures could drive the children of poor families as well as gifted new students outside of the sphere of further education, and that euro bills are what will define a person's academic career.

"I don't like it that younger generations are being frightened with their futures," Education Minister Sanni Grahn-Laasonen said for her part. "We know that there are constantly more opportunities for our youth in the world."

Grahn-Laasonen says that the government programme aims towards supporting the trust that young people have in Finland's future by improving the country's public finances.

Arhinmäki: Sipilä changed

The previous Minister of Education, Left Alliance chair Paavo Arhinmäki defended the previous government's decision not to make cuts to education aid.

"This isn't opposition fear-mongering, we're laying down facts. Student financial aid will be cut by 25 percent," Arhinmäki said.

He said he felt amazed at reading an article from one year ago, where Prime Minister Juha Sipilä was interviewed about not touching student welfare.

"Before the elections we figured that by cutting indexes we could make it through and that that way we wouldn't have to subtract the size of the aid per se. The situation is far worse now and we're looking at some very difficult cuts," PM Sipilä says.

Sipilä says that the government will do its best to ensure that students can subsist in a situation where the proportion of student loans as part of their financial aid will increase.

Grahn-Laasonen says her position is a thankless one, but that she will not retreat. Some of the cuts will be carried out as early as next year. The Minister of Education has suggested bringing students into the sphere of the basic income proposal so that more experiences on developing the student aid system can be garnered.

PM: "Not making excuses"

Chair of the Greens Party Ville Niinistö says he is surprised at the Prime Minister's readiness to make cuts to the very core of a welfare state, that is equality. Niinistö says that the National Coalition Party has long stood for increasing the proportion of loans when it comes to student aid.

"The government continues to stand by the idea that Finland will retain equal opportunities for those with the motivation and brains for further education," Prime Minister Sipilä said. "I'm not making excuses for or supporting taking loans. We will hold on to every penny of student aid that we can in these circumstances."

Capital Region rents, for instance, have driven students between a rock and a hard place for years as living costs are very often higher than the maximum student aid and housing aid sums combined. Grahn-Laasonen says that students should perhaps also be paid a general housing allowance, which would raise the full aid sum for those studying in the Capital Region.

The Ministry of Education will finalise a proposition for reforming student financial aid next week.

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