Students going to school at Itäkeskus Primary School in Helsinki. LEHTIKUVA

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Finland has witnessed a substantial increase in school transport expenses, soaring by €20 million annually, following the extension of compulsory education to 18 years in 2021. The move, which led to a nearly 50% surge in costs, saw the number of recipients of school transport allowances grow by approximately 21,000 students in the 2022/2023 academic year.

Before the extension of compulsory education, the 2018/2019 academic year witnessed just under 49,000 recipients.

In contrast, the 2022/2023 academic year saw over 70,000 students benefit from the school transport allowance, indicating a significant rise in demand.

The rise in expenses was most prominent in Kymenlaakso, where costs tripled due to a shift in students opting for the school transport allowance after Kouvola, a city in the region, ceased offering free public transport to students. Uusimaa, another region in Finland, also experienced a considerable increase in recipients, although costs doubled instead of tripling due to the integration of Helsinki Regional Transport (HSL) services into the school transport allowance system.

Shift in Transport Modes and Detailed Reporting Impact Costs

A majority of school transport allowance recipients utilize public transportation, with approximately €39 million allocated to cover trips made via various public transportation modes. Notably, in the HSL area, where public transportation is particularly affordable for students, the cost threshold under previous legislation was not surpassed, leading to a surge in students applying for and receiving reimbursements, even for relatively short journeys.

Students have also become more meticulous in reporting their travel segments, resulting in increased reimbursements for combinations of multiple modes of transportation. The number of students receiving reimbursements for using various modes has increased more than tenfold compared to the period before the extension of compulsory education.

Furthermore, there has been a shift in the mode of transport, with self-arranged transportation such as private cars or mopeds constituting a reduced portion of the total reimbursements. While nearly €18 million was allocated for self-arranged transportation, this amount accounted for only a little over a quarter of the total school transport allowance expenses in the 2022/2023 academic year.

The legislation specifies that reimbursements for self-arranged trips are 30% lower than those for public transportation, contributing to a moderation in overall costs.

Public Awareness and Policy Impacts

Piia Kuusisto, Head of Benefits at Kela, the Social Insurance Institution of Finland, highlighted that the rise in school transport costs was largely anticipated following the extension of compulsory education and the introduction of free secondary education. She emphasized the importance of public awareness in ensuring that students were informed about the availability of the school transport allowance for a broader range of journeys than before.

The data underscore the necessity for continuous monitoring and adjustment of policies to align with changing travel patterns and student needs. While the increase in costs indicates a growing uptake of the school transport allowance, policymakers will need to strategize effectively to manage the associated financial implications.

As Finland adapts to the evolving educational landscape, managing these costs effectively will be crucial to ensuring the sustainability of essential support systems for students and their families. The government's responsiveness to these changing dynamics will play a pivotal role in shaping the future of education and student welfare in the country.

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