Funding of student unions
Student unions have statutory duties, but despite this, the student unions of universities of applied sciences do not currently have any publicly secured source of income with which to acquire resources for carrying out their statutory duties.
The only sources of income for student unions are membership fees and possible other income. These other possible sources of income can include cooperation agreements with the university of applied sciences and various companies and various hosted events. However, such income is uncertain and raising it takes resources away from the management of statutory duties, such as organising lawful administration, acting as a link between members, preparing students for active citizenship and appointing student representatives to the administration of the respective university of applied sciences and the student healthcare service FSHS.
Student unions have also assumed other duties in the spirit of the Act on Universities of Applied Sciences, such as participation in various higher education development groups, providing student representation in working groups and bodies, communicating students’ views and experiences through other channels to the university and other stakeholders, such as municipal decision-makers and NGOs. Supporting individual students in different situations is also a key part of the activities of student unions.
The situation in which the resources of student union activities are not secured has been unsustainable from its outset, but became particularly bad when the Act on the National Registers of Education Records, Qualifications and Degrees was adopted in 2017. Since then, students have had the right to disclose information about their student status to various third parties through the Virta study information service. Information about who is enrolled in a higher education institution no longer passes exclusively between the institution and student union, as various companies have the right to request the information with the student’s consent.
Commercial operators receive students’ information from the Virta service and can issue the student an identifier, often a virtual card, which the student has use to receive various discounts. Before 2017, information on who is a student could only be obtained by asking the higher education institution, and student unions were practically the only operator that asked for this information for the purpose of issuing student cards.
Student membership fees have for long been the main source of income for student unions. Since the 2017 legislative change, this source of income has been threatened, as obtaining a student ID has no longer motivated students to join the union in the same way, as it has also been possible to obtain the ID and card from other actors free of charge.
Commercial operators derive their income from companies offering discounts, which pay for advertising space on the operator’s platform. This way, the student receives the student ID free of charge, unlike from the student union. The student union, on the other hand, needs income from memberships in order to carry out the tasks prescribed by law and other activities assigned to student unions by the higher education community. For students, however, the student ID has often been the only tangible benefit of student union membership, as the other benefits are more abstract in nature. The ability given by the legislative change for companies to offer free student IDs has significantly weakened the ability of student unions to recruit members, especially in cities and regions where the student ID market is more active. The increasing difficulty of recruiting members have been directly reflected in the financial situation of student unions and their ability to carry out their tasks.
SAMOK has proposed that the statutory activities of student unions be secured with core public funding, which could be used to carry out at least the most necessary functions in the higher education community. Core public funding has also been proposed by investigator Tapio Varmola in a report published in spring 2022.
SAMOK aims for a model where funding would improve the current financial situation of student unions and would be clear, long-term and based on the performance of statutory duties. SAMOK has drafted various calculation models on the basis of which core funding could be granted. The activities of student unions could be stabilised considerably even with small sums.
Especially after 2021, SAMOK has highlighted this problem and offered a number solutions in various meetings, statements and blog posts.