When someone wants to talk about Finland abroad I often end up discussing our educational system. When I did my exchange in Australia a couple of years ago my local friends were often interested in three topics: sauna, snowy winters and how is it to study in “the country of the best educational system in the world”. And being thousands of kilometers far from home I always felt happy to talk about our hyped educational system – without, honestly speaking, knowing too much more about it than going to school as all Finnish people are privileged to do.
I remember very clearly one dinner at our flat. As my Australian friend studied education she was curious about the Finnish system and her possibilities to make her Master’s in Finland. As many times before, I proudly expressed the story of the country where, in principle, every child has the right to free, high-quality primary and secondary education. And, as a cherry on top, I added that even students do not need to pay tuition fees when studying in the universities.
Tuition fees put the students in an unequal position
Unfortunately, if my Australian flat mate would ask me about her possibilities to study in Finland now, my story would have ended up differently. Since August 2017 Finnish universities and universities of applied sciences are obliged to impose tuition fees for the students coming outside of the European Union (EU) or the European Economic Area (EEA) admitted to a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree programs. The Section ten of the Universities Act (in Finnish yliopistolaki, 558/2009) requires universities to set the minimum of the tuition fee at 1 500 euros per academic year. In reality the fees are higher: for instance, at the University of Turku the tuition fees vary from 8 000 euros to 16 000 euros. Although around 30% of students receive some kind of scholarship to cover the fees it cannot be stated that the higher education is equally accessible to all on the basis of capacity.
Administrative work and different typs of struggle as the result
The implementation of the tuition fees was justified by the need for funding for higher education institutions and possibilities to start to export our so-called success story, education. However, although it’s widely understood that Finland needs more highly educated talents, the number of students from outside of the European Union and European Economic Area has dropped in 2017 and 2018. The administrative staff of the university complains about the huge workload resulted from the system. And, finally, there are stories of families that have spent their savings on enabling their child to study here. Some have even taken enormous loans – the reality that is hard to understand for a Finn studying at a Finnish university. These stories were told by students in the seminar organised by the Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture in mid-November. They did not come as a surprise for me: I have heard similar stories from students at the University of Turku.
The day for free education as a discussion point in Finland
It is clear that the tuition fees exposed for the certain group does not provide the same possibilities for all. The day for free education takes place in Finland on the 30th of November. Therefore we have collected different opinions of them from students and post them in the social media. I hope our success story will one day have the same, happy, ending for all university students in Finland.
A Member of the Executive Board 2018
The Student Union of the University of Turku