Since the autumn of 2013, students in Estonia have had the chance to apply for the needs-based student allowance, but many students who meet the requirements have not yet applied. According to the Ministry of Education and Research, in the 2013/2014 academic year over 30% of all first-year students should have received the allowance. The actual number of those who received the allowance was significantly lower than planned – only about 15% of the students received the allowance, 27% applied. The aim of this analysis is to find out the possible reasons for this situation.
It appears that students’ attitudes and prejudices play a big part when it comes to applying for the allowance – many students who consider themselves financially less well-off have not applied for the allowance, because they think they would not get it, nor are they entitled to. Opinions like that are mainly caused by the three following reasons:
- Students are not well aware of the conditions of application and receiving the allowance. Although the majority of those who participated in the survey considered themselves well-informed, there are still many misconceptions. Since the conditions of applying for the allowance have changed a lot in a short period of time, it is understandable that students are not fully aware of them. But remarkably a quarter of those who consider their economic situation bad said that the lack of information is one of the main reasons why they have not applied for the allowance.
- Students’ own subjective assessments about their own financial situation and that of their fellow students. There are more students who think that many in their school need the financial support than those who think themselves more entitled to the allowance than others. The survey also showed that among students who get paid equally (e.g. up to 300€ per month) some consider their economic situations bad and some good. If a student feels that they are not as financially less well-off as some others, they might not apply, even though they could.
- The conditions of application – many consider them to be unfair. They think the allowance will not reach those who really need it. Many students know someone who got the allowance, even though their income was not as low as it officially appeared (e.g. parents have hidden revenues from working abroad). They also knew of cases when the applicant’s actual income was lower than officially shown (e.g. parents do not support them financially, cases where the applicant has not even seen one of their parents, but their income is still taken into account).
To ensure that the needs-based student allowance reaches those who meet the requirements, the focus should be on changing the attitudes and prejudices of the students. It means that information should be directed towards students through close, reliable sources – university employees, tutors, mentors, student representatives. And it is also important that all students reach the website eesti.ee and click on a few things to find out whether or not they qualify for the allowance, instead of just assuming they will not.
The second important step is to find out how big are the differences between the official income of a student’s family (the allowances are calculated based on that) and the actual economic situation of the student (does the family have hidden revenues or means that do not reach the student). If it is needed, the following question should be assessed – whether and how to better include the actual needs of the student when it comes to granting the allowance.