In public debate, free education is often referred to as an absolute value. We are often reminded about how Finnish free education is the most accessible and equal way to organise education. On the Day for Free Education, it is essential to remember that there is no free higher education for everyone in Finland.
Currently, degree students from outside the EU/EEA have to pay tuition fees. These fees place international degree students in an unequal position. The pressure of studies not being free places a burden on the student to graduate as quickly as possible. In this case, for example, integration into the student community or learning the Finnish language are often secondary.
In the current model, scholarships are awarded to a large proportion of those who are liable for payment to cover part or all of the tuition fees. However, the terms of these scholarships are extremely strict, which tends to increase the pressure on international students. These scholarships often involve, for example, demands for the student to progress their studies exactly in the study schedule and with high academic success.
The Government Programme of Petteri Orpo has outlined an increase in fees towards full coverage, i.e., that the fees would better correspond to the real price tag of organising education. The plans are worrying from the students’ point of view: at the same time as the income from tuition fees would presumably increase, the central government funding of higher education institutions will be lowered. In other words, this action does not increase the funding of higher education institutions, but rather imposes a financial burden on the student who is liable for payment.
If the plans are implemented as intended, it is unclear what the future of the higher education scholarship scheme will be. Higher fees and lower government funding increase the pressure on higher education institutions to reduce the number of scholarships awarded in order to increase the revenue from fees. It is important to maintain the scholarship scheme as a clear, predictable, and transparent part of the Finnish model.
Scholarships enable more and more students from outside the EU/EEA countries to apply to a Finnish higher education institution, and they also act as a factor that attracts students to come study here. The working group preparing to increase tuition fees will proceed in its work next spring to consider the Finnish scholarship scheme. In this group, it is important to remember that the importance of scholarships becomes even greater for students when tuition fees are increased at the same time.
While the Finnish education system is spoken of as a model example of accessibility, equality, and gratuitousness, we should not forget about the burden of having to pay for your studies that the degree students from outside the EU/EEA area have. The aim must
continue to be that Finnish higher education should be free of charge and of high quality for everyone – regardless of nationality.
This blog post was written as part of the Day for Free Education which is celebrated on 19th of October 2023.
The Day for Free Education is the national day of National Union for University Students in Finland and Student Unions in Finland when the importance of free education is highlighted.