February 9, 2018
Have you spotted any strange ads on your lunch breaks or dinner meetings? Did these restaurants advertise something called študentski boni and have special študentski meni stuck to the wall for everyone to see?
Entrance to Namaste Indian restaurant on Trubarjeva street, Ljubljana
Študentski boni are coupons which allow everyone enrolled in regular university programmes 20-21 free meals every month to the amount of 2.63 EUR per meal in all restaurants with government contracts. As there aren't many places, if any at all, that offer food at such low prices, these coupons provide a discount for eating out, with the student making up the difference in price. The law (there is a special law that regulates this field) requires a student meal to consist of three courses. Also, by law, all meals that qualify to be purchased using student coupons have to be clearly displayed on a student menu (študentski meni), hence these being seen on the walls.
It is believed that these student meal subsidies positively influence the restaurant scenes of major university cities, such as Ljubljana, Maribor, and Koper, as young tastes, always willing to explore, not only support expansion of the market but also stimulate its development in terms of diversity.
There are, however, also those who see in student coupons a waste of public funds, as the system helps those who apparently need less help: since there appears to be a clear negative correlation between poverty and the level of education one achieves, we can conclude that students that reach university level are not those from the poorest backgrounds. However, the selection of those entitled to free meals (of a much lower value) at elementary and high school level is strictly limited to the poorest students in class, and even this is a subject of constant debate as to how poor a child’s family must be to deserve a free 2 EUR lunch. In this context it is a bit strange that the government does not seem to find any problem in subsidising university students as they eat truffles or sushi.
The poorest students, of course, will never see neither government subsidized sushi nor truffles, because they will either never get to that level of study, or, if they do, they still won't be able to afford to pay for it: such a meal still amounts to almost 4.5 EUR after the subsidy is deducted from the original 7 EUR price, which seems to be the ceiling. If you are poor, you will probably be cooking a 1.5 EUR pasta dish in your dorm instead.
Luckily, for these students (and the rest of them), Slovenian society came up with something else. There is an even bigger wonder than študentski boni, and that is študentska napotnica. Basically, študentska napotnica is a free pass for students to engage in tax-free work with minimal labour protection, which, as you can imagine, causes great disruption to the labour market (and students’ academic performance), and contributes to the expansion of its black corners and grey markets, with new possibilities for cheating, too. But this is already another story, although one I might tell another day.