We will include students in the promotion of exercise
The problems of students are hidden beneath the coping narrative, and the cause is their youth, writes Niko Peltokangas, Secretary General of OLL. During the parliamentary election, the Federation is campaigning to see students identified as a separate group in the legislation for exercise promotion.
Early this year, physical activity and the lack of it became a hot topic in news stories and discussions. The main Finnish media outlets organised a party leaders’ debate focused on exercise and sports, as well as publishing articles and broadcasting talk shows about the lack of exercise and its costs. The interest in this topic was most likely fuelled by the upcoming parliamentary election in the spring, and by the fact that the removal of the Veikkaus connection means that the sports sector will have to compete with other sectors for budget funds going forward.
Concern is usually expressed for the children, the young people and the elderly, but the talk of physical exercise rarely touches on university students, who are in an equally vulnerable position.
One group that was nearly completely absent from these discussions was students. Concern is usually expressed for the children, the young people and the elderly, but the talk of physical exercise rarely touches on university students, who are in an equally vulnerable position. Emilia Junnila, President of OLL, highlighted this in an opinion piece in January.
The public debate also reflects other structures in society. That is why one of our chosen parliamentary election goals is getting students and university sports recognised in legislation. We are working to include an entry in the next government programme about students being seen as their own group in the legislation for exercise promotion, and university sports being given equal status with other sports service providers.
Students are prisoners of their youth
The Act on the Promotion of Sports and Physical Activity lists nine objects that the state wants to promote. Number one on this list is the opportunities of various demographic groups to engage in physical activity, and number four specifically mentions the promotion of growth and development of children and young people. When this list was updated last year, OLL’s expert opinion suggested making students a separate group.
Students are prisoners of their youth, because many enviable traits are associated with youth.
Does young people not include university students, then? A typical university student is a young person as defined by the Youth Act, i.e. no older than 29 years of age, but a third of us is older than that (Education Statistics Finland). Despite the age range, students are still a group with a large variety of shared services. University sports offer them sports services and guidance, and also works to improve the opportunities for physical activity in the entire university environment and throughout the day. Likewise the Finnish Student Health Service (FSHS) specialises in looking after the health of university students.
Students are prisoners of their youth, because many enviable traits are associated with youth. Youth is a carefree time. Young people are better at coping with things. Youth is the time for fun, friendship and new experiences. A young person is strong, healthy and optimistic. These impressions are also associated with students. Students will be fine – they’ve made it all the way to university, after all!
The belief in the university students’ ability to cope was highlighted during the Covid-19 pandemic. The public debate primarily expressed worry about children and young people up to secondary level. In the early days of remote studies, the frustration of students was met with mockery of how students could no longer party and drink. The main thing students remember of the Covid information they got later was “just try to manage”.
Here at OLL, it is our job to bring students into the physical activity debate and related decision-making as their own, separate group.
The students themselves have to highlight their issues with managing, small incomes and other structural issues that are hidden behind the coping narrative. Here at OLL, it is our job to bring students into the physical activity debate and related decision-making as their own, separate group.
Align university sports with other services
The experiences from the pandemic also highlight the importance of strengthening the position of university sports. When sports services were hit by Covid restrictions, businesses in the sector and sports clubs were offered support to keep their activities going. University sports services were not, however, able to apply for Covid grants, and they were not included in the assessments of the impact of the pandemic on the sports sector. This was probably caused by the fact that universities receive public funding, and that their sports services do not have a particularly strong position even in university legislation.
The most sustainable solution would be to include sports in the university funding so that the funding model rewards universities for well-managed sports services.
In any case, the pandemic showed how precarious the situation of university sports is. The most sustainable solution would be to include sports in the university funding so that the funding model rewards universities for well-managed sports services. It is also worth looking into other methods of aligning university sports services with other service providers in terms of developing their activities. After all, university sports services are increasing the activity levels of hundreds of thousands of students.
In fact all of OLL’s election themes are tied into this same goal of strengthening the position of students and university sports. The other goals aim to give the sports services a stronger financial role, and we are hoping that the development of the exercise conditions at universities continues within the On the Move programmes. We also want students to be included in the further development of the Finnish model.
The article is part of the blog series Worth moving for, where we explain the background to the Finnish Student Sports Federation’s goals for the parliamentary election.
Part 3: We will include students in the promotion of exercise
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Page last updated 3.4.2023