Finland: 40 years of subsidized meals for higher education students
Finland is proud to be one of the few countries in the world that offers a free hot meal every day to all school-age children. The country makes a tremendous effort, which aims to ensure that all children, regardless of the wealth or poverty that prevails in their homes, eat hot at least once a day.
However, primary school children are not the only ones who eat subsidized food. Tertiary education students also benefit in part from the care provided by public institutions, who spend around 32 million euros yearly in order to guarantee their access to good quality meals at affordable prices.
The meal subsidy programme for higher education students was introduced in the autumn of 1979. In 1996, the authorities decided to expand it to cover also students attending universities of applied sciences (polytechnics).
According to a statement released by the Finnish Social Security Authority (Kela), higher education students can get a subsidised lunch by presenting their student ID at around 320 Finnish restaurants.
The meal subsidy programme provides a 1.94 euro discount off the price of student meals. Students pay only up to 2.60 euros for the regular lunch option and 3.75-4.95 euros for the special option prepared from more expensive ingredients.
The meal subsidy programme has a total annual budget of about 32 million euros. Students eat around 14.6 million subsidised meals per year.
Meals that may help to improve wellbeing
According to the University Student Health Survey (KOTT 2016), students who eat their main meal of the day in a student restaurant are most likely to achieve a healthy diet.
Student restaurants are guided in their lunch offerings by a set of recommendations issued by Kela and the State Nutrition Advisory Board. Restaurants should offer daily a meal which is priced for student budgets, provides about a third of students’ daily energy requirements and, along with the main course, includes a salad, bread with spread and a drink. Meals that meet the recommendations are marked daily on the menu.
According to the University Student Health Survey, one fifth of higher education students have never used student restaurants. The actual reason is unknown, some of them could be online students or working alongside their studies, but detailed information is not available, explained Sari Miettunen from Kela.
Campaign to promote student restaurants
Kela and the Finnish Student Health Service are currently organizing a campaign in the autumn term of 2019 to remind students of the meal subsidy and the benefits of a healthy diet. It encourages students to use the meal subsidy to eat a healthy meal in a student restaurant every day.
During this campaign, various materials will be displayed in student restaurants to help students put together a balanced, right-sized meal.
The campaign also reminds students of the necessity to show their student cards or Kela meal subsidy card while ordering the food at the school or faculty restaurants in order to enjoy this benefit.