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State begins granting extra aid for secondary school supplies

Starting on 1 August, Kela will grant low-income families of qualifying teenage students an additional 46 euros monthly.

Kirjapino kassapöydällä.
High school textbooks in Finland tend to be very expensive. Image: Jussi Mansikka / Yle

In line with recent legislative changes, Finland's state benefits agency Kela will introduce a new form of financial aid that helps low-income families meet the cost of textbooks and other materials required for secondary studies.

Families of students that qualify will begin receiving a supplementary study aid allowance of 46.80 euros per month from 1 August 2019.

The criteria stipulate that the students be under 20 years of age (or under 18 for teens that no longer live with their parents) and unmarried without children.

Those students whose parents earn a combined income of more than 41,000 euros per year do not qualify for the supplementary aid.

Kela says that it will automatically grant the supplementary allowance to students who are already receiving financial aid for their studies. Qualifying students aged 15 or 16 are also eligible to receive the aid without prior study grants.

Kela estimates that about 33,000 students are eligible for the assistance. This is equivalent to every sixth secondary school student under the age of 20 in the country.

Students grateful, but see room for improvement

The Union of Upper Secondary School Students in Finland has calculated the total cost of materials necessary for attending lukio, or Finnish upper secondary school, at around 2,500 euros.

Union chair Roosa Pajunen says this sum covers the minimum amount of study credits required by the schools and no more.

Study aid is typically awarded for ten months out of the year, and the new supplementary material allowance will follow this same pattern. If the students complete their secondary studies within the three-year target, this would then grant them 1,400 euros in extra aid.

Elias Tenkanen, chair of the National Union of Vocational Students in Finland, says students of vocational schools often spend hundreds of euros on materials needed for their studies as well, as future chefs must buy their own sets of knives and future barbers have to purchase their own scissors and combs, for example. Many occupations also require an investment in protective clothing.

He is grateful for Kela's new form of assistance, but questions the decision to distribute the aid as monthly payments. He says a lump sum at the start of their studies each year would have been a better solution for vocational school students.

Completely cost-free after 2021

Finland's government programme has committed to moving one step further and making all vocational and upper secondary studies free of charge. The education ministry however advises that this won't happen until 2021 at the earliest.

In the meantime, the supplementary allowance for study materials is intended to ease the financial burden of secondary studies on low-income families.

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