Campuses have been taken over – Students rally against government budget cuts in Tampere universities

The occupation protests at the university campuses have started in Tampere on Monday morning. Protesters demand an end to the budget cuts the government is planning for education.

Original text: Maria Muilu

Pictures: Inka Auranen

Translation: Kiia Saarenpää

Artikkeli luettavissa suomeksi täällä.

The students at Tampere University and Tampere University of Applied Sciences (Tamk) have started a protest on Monday by occupying the university buildings in order to oppose the budget cuts that the government is planning to make.

Occupation protests have started at university city centre campus, Hervanta campus and Tamk’s main campus in Kauppi.

On Monday morning, the city centre campus’ main building is bustling with dozens of people. The Telegram communications channel made for the city centre campus protest has over 400 members.

”Everything is pointing us to the realisation that we students specifically have to act”, says philosophy student Rudi Valtonen.

Philosophy student Rudi Valtonen sums up aptly that the occupiers are resisting the government’s planned budget cuts, especially from the perspective of the students.

”There have been demonstrations against the right-wing extremism and the fact that we have racism in the government. This is, in a manner of speaking, the third protest that has to do with the planned budget cuts. In my opinion the protest is best demonstrated through the students since we belong to a marginal group in terms of income level.”

Valtonen thinks that the university students also have a responsibility to act.

”We have a responsibility to act because we are the ones studying these matters and our future jobs are most likely in the institutes that are important to society as well. We have the knowledge and interest in the matter, and after all, we are part of the group who usually suffers the most from budget cuts because of our level of income. Everything is pointing us to the realisation that we students specifically have to act.”

” Everything is pointing us to the realisation that we students specifically have to act”, says philosophy student Rudi Valtonen.

Refreshments and entertainment for the protesters

The occupation protest in its entirety is organised independently. The planning began in the middle of last week, and on Friday the organisers held a meeting where the protesters organised themselves into smaller groups according to responsibilities. The practical arrangements were planned during the weekend.

A social research student Usva Palola who takes care of the occupation’s supply team says that the goal is to provide people with coffee, tea, and snacks, as well as one warm meal per day. The event organisers have asked for food donations but for now all the food supplies have been paid from the organiser’s own pockets.

During the interview a fridge is being carried in through the main entrance of the Main building.

”We got the fridge from one of the break rooms” says Palola.

In Palola’s opinion the organisation of the occupation has been running smoothly.

”We have so many enthusiastic organizers here. People have done such a great job, and all of it as voluntary work.”

The duration of the protest is yet unknown. The lobby of the Main building is filled with tents and sleeping bags on Monday.

According to the organisers, the university’s policy regarding overnight stays has been that only student with a access pass to the buildings are allowed to stay at the university. Others are welcome to attend the protest during the day.

The university’s newsletter says that the university will not intervene in protests if they go smoothly without disruption.

The President of the Tampere University Keijo Hämäläinen says in the newsletter that income of students has a direct impact on the progress of studies and on whether students can graduate within the target time.

”It’s important that we have these discussions on a national level where we especially listen to the students”, Hämäläinen says in the newsletter.

A schedule full of culture and speeches

Social studies student Vilma Mehtonen is in the programme team of the protest. The programme team has contacted speakers and performers, as well as handled audio and other practical matters.

On Monday, the programme includes for example speeches, musical performances and spoken poetry. The organisers are also hosting a session dedicated to questions about the protest for new participants if people arrive later.

”On the first day the protest is still finding its shape. We’ll see what we come up with”, Mehtonen says.

On Monday, speeches will be given by members of Parliament Anna Kontula (vas.) and Oras Tynkkynen (vihr.).

Tynkkynen tells Visiiri that he is there to show support for students who oppose the budget cuts. Tynkkynen graduated with a master’s degree from Tampere University in 2009.

”In a way I was able to go to university at a time when studying was much easier in many respects than it is today. Although today the main focus is of course on student income cuts, it is important to remember that we have really vulnerable groups of people in Finland whose living conditions will deteriorate even further if the cuts go through.”

Tynkkynen is not planning on sleeping at the campus but wants to visit the campus during the evening after online meetings.

”It is important that the only people defending students’ rights are not the students themselves, but that the rest of us, who are not directly affected by the cuts, also show support.”

A member of Parliament and the Vice Chair of the Greens (vihreät) Oras Tynkkynen was showing his support for the students who are opposing the budget cuts.

A week full of protests

The university occupation protests began last week when students at the University of Helsinki took over the main building of their university on Tuesday 19th of September. After this, different educational institutions all over Finland have occupied their buildings in Turku and Lahti for example. On Monday 25th of September the protests started in Jyväskylä, Oulu and Lappeenranta in addition to Tampere.

The students are demanding that the housing allowance and the share of study grant in student financial aid will not be cut. In addition, they demand that students’ mental health services be secured and that tuition fees will not be introduced.

The government plans to freeze the index increases for the study grant and the housing allowance for the duration of the government term. The levels of the study grant and the housing allowance are set to be frozen at this year’s level for years 2024 to 2027.

In addition, the adult education allowance is going to be terminated entirely during autumn of 2024.

If the student does not have children, the maximum possible study grant is currently 279.38 euros per month.