The transformation of work and society has been discussed for over a decade now, yet consensus on solutions to the issue have remained elusive. Digitalization, globalization, and climate change are bringing about a revolution that requires new and innovative solutions. Jobs are disappearing and being created at a unprecedented rate, and most new jobs require a degree. Universities have a major role in solving these problems, and because of this their responsibility to society is increasing, which will inevitably lead to increasing costs as well.
As of right now, universities are expected to create a framework for lifelong learning, facilitate a higher rate of young people in higher education, create a platform model for higher education, fix the applicant jam as well as improve accessibility. All of this requires a sizeable investment in higher education. University funding has been increased by 40 million euros in the government budget in addition to the 67 million euros that universities received when the university index has been unfreezed. These investments, however, really only ensure that universities can keep up with current costs after massive education cuts by the previous government. Increasing responsibility necessitates further investments.
The transformation of work is leading to the most comprehensive educational revolution in generations. We need to re-examine the content and structure of our education as part of the reform for lifelong learning. Funding is a central question in lifelong learning reform. Returning students seeking to update their knowledge or enter a new field entirely will lead to an increase in total university student numbers, which in turn will lead to increased costs. Although the university funding model 2021 takes lifelong learning into account, this does not in actuality improve universities’ funding as long as the amount of money in the government budget stays the same.
The Vision for Higher Education and Research in 2030 (link) outlines more future responsibilities for universities. The vision outlines the goal of 50% of young people attaining tertiary degrees in 2030. As of this moment, universities are suggesting increases of thousands of students in order to meet this goal. One again, no additional funding has been allocated despite the increase in student numbers.
An increase in student intake has also been discussed this past fall, and it has been presented as a essential tool for increasing the number of young people with tertiary degrees. It is however, not the only way to increase the number of graduates. By channeling additional funds into student guidance and well-being programs, graduation rates can be improved. This in turn will advance the goal of increasing the total number of young people with degrees. The increase of students admitted based on their matriculation exam diplomas as part of the student admission reform will also necessitate a reaction from universities. Seamless transfer between majors in university as well as consistent cooperation with secondary institutions will be needed in the future.
If universities are to solve tomorrow’s problems it cannot lead to a situation where undergraduate teaching is under resourced. Undergraduate education funding must be defended. At worst, a prolonged lack of resources may lead to pressure to institute tuition fees for Finnish students. This cannot be allowed to happen. The National Union of University Students must demand increased funding for universities. This will require close-knit cooperation with university staff, politicians, and other stakeholders.
Finland’s message to universities has been clear this past decade: make due with less. This must change if we are to solve the challenges of tomorrow. The challenges of climate change, globalization, digitalization, lifelong learning as well as societal inequality and ageing grow every day.
The rate of societal change will only increase over the next decade. Universities can produce solutions to problems brought about this change if we are prepared to invest in them.
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