Solidarity with Danish Students

Dear Member of the National Parliament of Denmark,
the Union of Students in Switzerland VSS-UNES-USU hereby expresses its deepest concern with the proposal of reforming the grant system for Danish students, Statens Uddannelsesstøtte (SU).
SU was and should stay an important factor offering free and fair access to higher education for all current and future students regardless of their socio-economic background. We believe that SU is not only vastly important considering the accessibility of higher education, but also ensures the opportunity to complete it without financial barriers.
This reform of the SU-system proposes not only the cut of the 6th year of student support but also the obligation of sticking to a harsh schedule of the numbers of ECTS to be reached within a closely defined timeframe. It furthermore lowers the amount of minimal support granted in absolute numbers and fails to take inflation into considersation. The reforms will make it harder to apply for higher education and seriously endangeres the possibilities to finish it – especially for students with a lower socio-economic background. The shortsighted project is not considering the social dimension at all, and acts unjustly by harming especially students with limited financial possibilities.
VSS-UNES-USU is seriously worried by the plans of the Danish government, since the effects of a deficient grant system are abundantly clear in Switzerland. The low amount of state support granted leads to the situation that students in Switzerland are not only highly dependent of the support of their parents but also 75% of them are working1 to finance their studies. 47% of the students at universities2 have at least one parent, who has an academic degree him- or herself. Considering that the percentage of population, which finished university studies doesn’t even reach 25%3 this number may make the difficulties to enter higher education for students with a non-academic background more than visible.
Therefore VSS-UNES-USU is fighting for the improvement of the Swiss grant system with all our possibilities and resources. We are currently campaigning for our own popular initiative, which is aiming at a change of the Swiss constitution to increase the amount of support granted and the percentage of students receiving it. The equal access to higher education is our first priority.
Knowing the effects of insufficiant student support, we stand in solidarity with Danske Studerendes Fællesråd (DSF) and call on the Danish members of parliament and the spokespersons for education to take a stance against the reform proposal of Statens Uddannelsesstøtte. Short term measures of austerity are not worth endangering the equal access to higher education.

Not only in Switzerland, but also in Finland the situation of students is getting increasingly uncomfortable, especially if they are not citizens of Finland or another EU- or EFTA member state. In the future, non-EU-students will be obliged to pay tuiton fees if they are enrolled at a Finnish institution of higher education. This is the demand of an initiative which has been signed by 119 members of the parliament of Finland1. The signatories motivated their initiative with the growing number of foreign students, which is expanding the financial burden lying on Finnish tax payers. SYL and SAMOK – the organisations representing students in Finland on the National level – weren’t informed about any plan of handing in such an initiative. This clearly shows the missing concern for students interests. Up to now, there are no signs that the students’ voice in the discussion is taken serious. Without being consulted by the members of parliament, the Finnish student organisations issued a statement on January 7 2013, in which they take a clear stance against tuiton fees for foreingn students but give the advice of improving the possibilities for foreigners which are studying in Finland – for example providing them with more language courses2.

The introduction or increase of tuition fees is a worrying tendency, which is observable all over Europe in the past few years. Also in Switzerland, students have to face growing tuition fees. After the universities of Zurich an Bern, who rised their fees during 2012, at the end oft he year, the Board of the Federal Technical Institutes of Switzerland decided to double the tuition fees for students at both of the Institutes existing in the country. In both cases, the students were barely involved in the process of decision making. The increasing exclusion of students’ participation in such important processes – as seen in the newest example in Finland – unfortunately seems to be considered the normal way to proceed, even if the Ministers of Education of Europe stress the recognition of students as equal partners3.

Tuition fees are not the right means for financing higher education. Education is a public good, which should be founded publicly. This is the only way to assure the students’ possibility of access to higher education according to their needs and abilities. Tuition fees endanger the free access to the institutions of higher education – an additional barrier is introduced for persons with limited financial possibilities. The introduction or increase of tuition fees for a particular group, and especially for students of different nationality is not only socially unacceptable, but also a discrimination of foreign students and is hindering the desired international mobility. Calculations of SYL and SAMOK prove, that an amount of 25% of foreign students which will remain in the country after their studies is sufficient to cover the expenses made for all international students. Therefore, it is nor necessary, neither productive to intoduce tuition fees.

VSS-UNES-USU is supporting the Finnish student organisation in their struggle for a fair system of higher education, which is open for all students regardless of their national or financial background. VSS-UNES-USU calls the Finnish members of parlament to advocate the free access to higher education and hereby promote the international mobility of students.

Further information

Lea Meister (Co-president of the comission for international affairs and solidarity) +41 (0)78 720 65 78

Marius Wiher (Co-president of the comission for international affairs and solidarity) +41 (0)79 728 72 97

Manuela Hugentobler (Member of the executive committee) +41 (0)78 696 08 09