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New graduates may be eligible for a student loan compensation or tax deduction even if their graduation is delayed due to the coronavirus epidemic
The meal subsidy for higher education students will go up next year, and there will be changes in student health services. Also, some temporary changes due to the coronavirus epidemic will be made to student loan compensations and tax deductions as well as to the school transport subsidy scheme.
A number of changes to the school transport subsidy and meal subsidy programmes will go into effect next year. In addition, there will be some temporary changes due to the coronavirus epidemic in other student benefits.
The target time to qualify for a student loan compensation or tax deduction can be extended because of the coronavirus epidemic
A number of temporary changes have been made to the rules on student loan compensations and student loan tax deductions, which are aimed at preventing students in higher education from losing their eligibility for the compensation or deduction because they are taking longer to finish school on account of the coronavirus epidemic.
Students who completed a higher education degree in the autumn term of 2020 (1 August 2020 to 31 December 2020), and whose graduation was delayed because of the epidemic, can get an extension of 0.5 academic years to their target time to qualify for the compensation or deduction.
In March or April 2021, Kela will send a decision proposal to students who graduated in the autumn term of 2020 and exceeded the target time to qualify for the compensation or deduction. The decision will state that the student loan compensation or deduction has been denied. Students whose graduation was delayed because of the epidemic can ask Kela to review their case. In the review request, they should provide information about the studies required for the degree that they did not complete in the spring term of 2020 (1 January - 31 July 2020) and how the coronavirus epidemic affected these studies. The reasons for a delayed graduation may for example have to with the study arrangements or with the health or general life situation of the students or their family members.
Also students who have had to start their studies later because of the epidemic may qualify for an extension of the target time. This applies to students whose first admission to a degree programme is for a programme scheduled to begin in autumn term 2020 or in spring term 2021, but the coronavirus epidemic has caused them to postpone the start of their studies.
Kela defines the starting date of studies as follows:
- If a student attends a Finnish institution of higher education and has in preceding terms registered as non-attending due to the coronavirus epidemic, the period of study is for purposes of the student loan compensation considered to begin on the first day of the term in which they register as attending.
- If a student attends a foreign institution of higher education and has postponed the start of their studies due to the coronavirus epidemic, the period of study is for purposes of the student loan compensation considered to begin on the first day of the term in which they actually began their studies.
Number of trips required to qualify for school transport subsidy reduced temporarily
The qualifying requirements for the school transport subsidy will change temporarily because distance learning has become more common during the coronavirus epidemic. Students may qualify for a school transport subsidy if they make at least eight return trips that meet the requirements in one calendar month. It is possible to qualify under the changed rules if the number of trips to and from school has decreased because of special arrangements their school has made to provide instruction during the coronavirus epidemic.
The change will remain in effect for the spring term, i.e. 1 January 2021 to 31 July 2021.
Meal subsidy increased by EUR 0.36
The meal subsidy for higher education students will increase by EUR 0.36 on 1 January 2021, to EUR 2.30 per meal. In practice this means that Kela’s share of the cost of the meal will increase, while the student’s out-of-pocket share will decrease. Under the meal subsidy programme, normal-priced unsubsidised meals may cost up to EUR 5.00. After deduction of the meal subsidy, students pay up to EUR 2.70 for a normal-priced lunch.
Student healthcare in higher education
Starting in January 2021, the Finnish Student Health Service (FSHS) will expand to cover not only students of traditional universities but also students of universities of applied sciences. This will be accompanied by the introduction of a healthcare fee, which students must pay to Kela beginning with the spring term of 2021. The fee can be paid through Kela’s e-service.