SYL General Assembly 2023 – language equality

On 17-18 November 2023, the SHS delegation participated in the SYL General Assembly in Tampere. 

The National Union of University Students in Finland (SYL) is an umbrella organisation for all student unions in Finland. SHS is a student union and thus one of the members of SYL.  This means that in practice, SYL brings together about 140,000 students from all over Finland. SYL’s main task is to represent students in national contexts. Everything related to students’ health, well-being, housing, financial situation and education is included in the advocacy work of SYL and thus its members (SHS too!). Every year, student unions have the opportunity to influence SYL’s policies and activities at the General Assembly. This is where changes are made to the organisation’s governing documents and where the SYL Board for the coming year is elected. This year at the General Assembly, there were a total of 145 votes in the main hall. The votes are counted based on the number of students in each student union. SHS therefore had three (3) of the votes.

Last year it was decided that SYL would launch language principles with the aim of ensuring equal opportunities for all participants. This means interpreters, translation and internal processes in three languages. During the year, the SHS Board has experienced practical language arrangements during SYL meetings that did not work properly. This limits participation and equal treatment. Everyone must be able to have their voice heard and make themselves understood without major problems. SYL’s statutes state that the official languages of the organisation are Swedish and Finnish, but a large part of SYL’s activities are only in Finnish. With the goal of tripling the number of international students by 2030, student life in Finland will become even more international. International students must feel that they can participate in the study community and feel welcome in Finland and the student movement. These goals cannot be achieved in practice if communication and language equality are not highly prioritised.

At the General Assembly, SHS’s main agenda was to highlight the unfair conditions for people who do not speak Finnish. We have had a great co-operation with several of our friend student unions and associations to ensure that this issue is raised in several contexts. Both in the working groups and in the main auditorium, many student unions brought up language equality in their speeches, which ultimately contributed to a successful result. SHS would like to thank the unions for the good co-operation and also hopes that it will continue in the future.

Several elements have been added to the Action Plan and budget that strengthen language equality and create real opportunities for a more equal SYL. The most prominent of the proposals advocated by the SHS delegation in the plenary on Saturday was for SYL to carry out a cost assessment to recruit a Finnish to Swedish and English translator for the SYL office. This translator would both translate materials and act as a trilingual contact person. 

This proposal was added to the operational plan for 2024, which now also includes the long-term goal of having an employee in the SYL office who is fluent in both Swedish and English. The 2024 budget now states that permanent translators who translate from Finnish to Swedish and English will be recruited to meet permanent translation needs and improve the predictability of translation costs.

All the proposals raised by SHS in the main hall were passed and approved in the SYL steering document. This shows that even though we are a small student union in terms of number of students, we can still influence in large contexts.

Questions about the proposals, changes in SYL’s documents and other things about the General Assembly 2023 can be directed to 

The 2023 delegation consisted of 

Emilia Öfverström (leader of the delegation, regular 1 vote)

Axel Anderson (regular 1 vote)

Frida Winberg (regular 1 vote)

Pauliina Haarala (first deputy)

Matilda Eriksson (second deputy)

Ville Ruokonen (third deputy)