Blog: Time to fight for our rights - a glimpse into advocacy work

The relationship between a student and the University is a relationship between an individual and an authority. The relation is strictly formed by our laws and that means that every action taken must have a basis on these laws. On more detailed matters there are also rules and alignments to further support the laws. An example of this are the regulations of the University which are looked at similar to the legislation. The Student Union and student associations and guilds follow that these local papers are written with students’ interests in mind.

To protect students’ interests there are prior and posterior legal protection measures. Posterior measures are formed around the tools that a student has after something has not gone their way (appeals and complaints for example). An appeal can be made for a decision regarding study rights, grades, tuition fees or recognition of learning. A complaint can be made regarding other activities – for example a case where there is not a direct decision made towards the student, but there is a feeling that the actions taken have not been lawful or along the principles of good administration. Prior measures aim to force good procedures and avoid mistakes leading to the usage of posterior measures. Administrative law and its principles of good administration offer prior measures and protect the students interests and rightful and consistent proceedings when cooperating with the University administration. The most common decision made towards a student is grading of a course. One big theme in advocacy work is also the following of the mythology written in the curriculum. It is to be noted that the curriculum itself is a decision made by the University.

From my experience the biggest thing to look after is the principle of legitimate expectations. In short it means that a student has the right to believe that decisions made will not change drastically and retroactively and affect students and their interests negatively. It is based on laws that a person must be able to trust the rightfulness and stability of actions and decisions made by authorities. The University takes care of these principles in many ways and transition periods are the most notable. Their aim is to avoid unexpected changes. As an advocate you can guard the principles by notifying students of their rights and holding faculties accountable when the expectations are not met. That can happen when the curriculum is not followed or a decision regarding students has been cancelled without any notification.

It is important to know that these principles will not hold in unlawful or deceitful actions and in these cases the decisions can be turned retroactively. Another exception is the pursuit of a pressing public interest (like the changes in student acceptance criteria in Covid-period), a faulty personal study plan that has mistakenly been accepted or recording mistakes and typos. Lastly mentioned commonly occur when calculating grades or saving them to Peppi. It’s also to be noted that the principles won’t stand in a situation where a formal decision is not made.

All of these details are important when working with students rights because knowledge of laws gives you all the tools needed in order to criticise actions, demand change and follow the interests of students accordingly. All of this can feel a little overwhelming at start but this is why you have us at OYY helping you in your daily work! One big piece for you is the work with the curriculums since the details in them literally guide the incoming procedures in courses and manage the expected results from students. The members of the working groups of curriculums are nominated via guilds and student associations and by the faculty. Is your representation in these tables secured?

The last few years have been unexpected to say the least. And it’s to be expected that at the moment we are all figuring out what were the normal proceedings inside the University. This is why we strongly need you guys looking out for each other in the classrooms and discussing with fellow students. A good environment for students is made together and in that work knowledge brings power!

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