Lembe Kullamaa: I really had to hold back so as not to start screaming and dancing

The university has a number of different legal acts and good practices for the well-being of the entire academic family. But as the world around us evolves and changes constantly, these acts and practices need to be reviewed from time to time. Who would have thought that different interpretations of the same problem by one or the other institution could have such a butterfly effect…

This here is Lembe,
a sutdent of
public health 

But this is Lembe Kullamaa, the chairperson of the Student Council of the Institute of Family Medicine and Public Health

Lembe Kullamaa is in her second year of getting a master’s degree in public health. But she is also a student representative in the Council of the Institute of Family Medicine and Public Health, who’s got a soft spot for something that may seem like “just a paper” to others. It is a clearly defined disability.

Until now, it has been possible for students with health problems and special needs at the University of Tartu to apply for an exemption from tuition fees only if they have been granted a moderate, severe or profound disability by the Social Insurance Board (SIB). However, according to Lembe, in the last three years, the media has reported an increasing number of cases where SIB has no longer determined a person’s disability despite the existence of a special need. “Among my own acquaintances, there are also those whose disability has not been determined, but Töötukassa has determined partial or no ability to work,” she explained.

What does it mean? In the case of partial or absent capacity for work, the maximum income is clearly limited. And although the acquisition of higher education in Estonia is largely free of charge, completely different factors may come into play for a student with special needs, which is affected by his or her ability to work.

The learning outcomes of the average student depend largely on their own motivation and effort. However, a person with a health problem can never predict whether he or she will miss a subject and lose credits because of health issues or even because it was necessary to be in the hospital. And what happens if we don’t get the minimum amount of credits? We pay for them. “Tuition exemption is an important safety net,” Lembe describes how “just a paper” can ensure a sense of social security for a student with special needs.

As a student representative, at the beginning of the academic year, Lembe presented the idea of ​​exempting students with partial or total incapacity for work from tuition fees to the UTSU Board, who immediately took on the idea and brought it to the Senate table. The amendment was adopted in the second attempt after additional analyzes, and as of 31 August 2021, students with partial or full incapacity for work who have started studying in a full-time Estonian-language curriculum are exempt from paying tuition fees. “When I read about it, I was in Tasku and I really had to hold back so as not to start screaming and dancing,” Lembe recalls the overflowing joy.

She admits that the whole process was accompanied by a little fear. “Because I have a lot of friends with special needs or major health problems, it was a fear for myself and for them,” she said, pointing to her own special needs and the fact that one’s own concerns can be powerful levers for making a big difference.

Lembe is a student representative for the second year in a row and thinks that it requires no special skills and knowledge, but rather an open mind, desire to learn and willingness to compromise. “Next to your morning coffee, you’ll see if anyone has sent you an interesting email or written anything in Teams,” she describes the usual day of a student representative. “Sometimes it is necessary to attend meetings and, if necessary, pass information to the students of the institute.” Although Lembe is also the chairperson of her student council, she does not consider this role to be special. “There are two very good people (Otto Palu ja Taivi Mutso) in the FMPH Student Council with me and the title of chairperson is just formal. We do a lot of things together and decide them together. As chairperson, I have just had to pass on information to others or send emails to the student body,” she explains.

Cooperation and harmony are important in the functioning of the student council, she finds. “The members of the student council should be ready to cooperate a lot with other members of the Student Council, the Institute Council as well as with members of UTSU, etc.”

“I’d say to the candidates that it all sounds a lot scarier than it really is. TÜÜE does not bite! During the process of application and representing students, you will learn a lot and gain new experiences, and that is the main thing. In addition, there are many opportunities to make the world (or the university) better, which is certainly important for those suffering from the same syndrome as I – healer of the world.”

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