International students have become a permanent part of the Finnish university community and student culture. According to current understanding, research and the quality of higher education benefit directly from diversity in universities. A sense of belonging and acceptance is particularly important for international students, and it increases their chances of employment in Finland after graduation. The student movement needs to be a trailblazer in student inclusion and work for the rights of international students in Finland.
As of right now, international students are under-represented in the governing bodies of universities as well as in the student movement in general. The choice of administrative language is a key issue affecting the inclusion of international students. Most university governing bodies do not operate in English, and this is a major barrier for international students and staff. The student movement has made strides in linguistic accessibility, but there is still a long way to go.
The National Union of University Students in Finland’s (SYL) official communication is generally written in three languages, which is commendable. However, a mere word-for-word English translation may not lend itself equally to students from differing backgrounds. It does not guarantee that they receive the information needed to participate. The organizational culture of Finland is familiar to those who have grown up here, and information is easy to find. International students need relevant and targeted content in order to facilitate participation. Information relevant to Finnish students may not be relevant to international students and vice versa.
Linguistic accessibility is fundamental to facilitating the participation of international students, but alone, it is not enough. The factors affecting the participation of international students are not all self-evident or easy to pinpoint. We need to identify these obstacles and work to overcome them.
The National Union’s board’s proposal for the 2019 plan of work outlines the establishment of an international committee next year. It will mainly be targeted toward international students, but Finnish students will also be welcome to participate. A well executed international committee could be a valuable route for the inclusion of international students. It is exceedingly important to motivate and engage international students, and this requires comprehensive English-language communication.
The student movement belongs to all of its members – international students as well. Next year, SYL has the opportunity to take substantial steps forward in the inclusion of international students in its organization. With sufficient effort, we can make the student movement a truly international community, where all members are heard, regardless of their Finnish language skills.