Education is a theme that comes up constantly when discussing the successes of Finland. Free education improves equal opportunity to advance in life, and it deserves the recognition of being one of the greatest accomplishments of Finnish society. It speaks to the success of the Finnish education system that quality education is an intrinsic part of Finland’s international brand.
Free education is considered an unalienable right by many Finns. Still, this right has been diluted in recent years, and several steps have been taken to diminish the equality of the Finnish education system. The institution of tuition fees for students from non-EU/EEA countries is one reason that the Finnish education system cannot actually be considered completely free.
Tuition fees for international students have failed in many ways. Tuition fees have not been able to generate any significant revenue for universities, and although adjustments are being made to fix this, they are still far from profitable. As of right now they are turning away students who may otherwise be a badly needed addition to the workforce one day. The fact that different schools have radically different in financial aid systems does not help the situation either.
Ultimately, debates over the merits of the current system are secondary because tuition fees are simply not consistent with the principles of free education. Because of them, the situation of students from non-EU/EEA countries is an awkward asterisk next to the phrase: “we have free education in Finland”.
Another development that is adding fees to the Finnish education system is the expansion of admission through open university. Admission through open university means that applicants can pay 10 to 15 euros per credit to study in open university and gain admission to a school by completing approximately a year’s worth of studies with a sufficient grade. This essentially constitutes a tuition fee for the first year of studies.
In the coming year, open university admissions will be expanded significantly in several universities. In addition, universities have started offering degrees that can be completed in open university. In these programs, students study in open university until they have the credits needed to graduate. Then they apply to the university to become degree students, are accepted, and receive their degree in the span of weeks. This is an administrative trick that is essentially a loophole in the law.
Moderate admissions through open university is not a bad thing per se. They can make university studies more accessible to certain groups, such as those who would not otherwise qualify for university admissions. On a larger scale, however, they are a danger to free education and the equal opportunity of applicants. Large-scale paid admission paths increase inequality by advantaging applicants who can afford to pay for open university studies. Because of this, open university admissions must be kept to a moderate level. Open university cannot be allowed to become a shortcut to degree programs.
Education is inherited in Finland as it is in many countries, and this must be addressed in education policy. The government is exploring ways improving university access for groups that are underrepresented in higher education in its National Access Plan, which is a step in the right direction. When discussing access to higher education, it is important to remember that free education is the foundation on which access to the whole Finnish education system is built.
The opportunity to access quality education regardless of one’s own wealth or geographical location advances equality in society. It is a fundamental right that society should strive for. It counteracts societal inequality and serves as an investment in future generations.
Free education is one of the student movement’s most important principles, and we need to continue to fight against fees. The monetization process of Finnish education cannot continue.
The author is a member of the Student Union’s board and a candidate for the 2020 board of the National Union of University Students