Thousands of higher education students marched through central Helsinki on Wednesday afternoon to protest against planned cuts in study grants. Heikki Koponen, president of the National Union of University Students in Finland (SYL) estimated that some 10,000 people would take part.
Students are angry about the extent of the proposed reductions – roughly one quarter – as well as about the way in which decisions have been made.
Student groups say the 150-million-euro cuts have been planned hastily and carelessly, and will boost inequality among students. Meanwhile in Parliament, four opposition parties are challenging the government with an interpellation over the cuts.
Student organisations bussed participants in from many cities including Oulu, Vaasa, Jyväskylä, Tampere, Turku, Forssa and Hämeenlinna.
The march began at 1 pm at Senate Square, moving around 1:30 along Aleksanterinkatu and Mannerheimintie to Kansalaistori (Citizens' Square) behind the Kiasma Art Museum. Helsinki police say they did not expect the demonstration to require any major special arrangements. Yle is streaming the protest live on Areena.
"Misleading ministry estimates"
Koponen accuses the Finance Ministry of providing the government with misleading statistics, which he says formed the basis for the decision. He says the ministry figures suggest that savings would take effect much more quickly than would in reality be possible.
According to Koponen, the reforms will force students to work more during their studies, which will extend the amount of time spent in higher education – the opposite of the government 's aim of shortening study time.
"Another result will be that students may well graduate with loan burdens of 20,000-30,000 euros, which is terribly difficult to handle in many sectors," he tells Yle.