It is the Student Movement’s Responsibility to Defend Free Education

Heidi Rättyä. Photo: Kati Kärkkäinen

University tuition fees is a subject that comes up now and again in the public discourse concerning the funding of education. Free education is also one of the most important issues for students in next year’s parliamentary elections.

Unfortunately, tuition fees for students from outside the EU and EEA are already here, and this has been a huge blow to Finland’s universities’ ability to attract international talent. Not only do international students provide much needed relief to the Finnish workforce, but having members from different backgrounds enriches the scientific community.

Free education is the cornerstone of Finnish society. Accessibility to quality education from preschool to university is a fundamental right, regardless of one’s wealth. This means that education should not be funded by charging students tuition fees. Instead, we need to ensure sufficient public funding.

The model for public funding must be transparent, and  it should reward universities on the basis of the quality and the internationality of their education, for the number of credits awarded, and for employment opportunities afforded. Student feedback is already a factor in determining funding for universities: each bachelor’s degree feedback turned in earns that university money. In the future, the student feedback must be given more weight in deciding funding, and other qualitative indicators should be used as well.

Cost is directly related to the accessibility of education. Although undergraduate and postgraduate studies are free for most students in Finland, an individual’s level of education is still often inherited. A person’s socioeconomic background is one of the most important factors in predicting whether they will go on to tertiary education. In other words, the children of highly educated parents are more likely to go to university than their peers from working class backgrounds.

This means Finland has to invest in the equality of education by offering everyone quality early childhood education, improving cooperation between secondary and tertiary education institutions, and by offering a sufficient basic income. This way we can really make Finnish higher education equal and accessible for all. The preservation of universities outside our largest cities is important also in itself, because local accessibility also factors into the equality of education. We need to make sure that people do not have to travel unreasonable distances to continue their education.

It is imperative for students to hold on to these issues during next year’s elections. Together, we need to make sure that investments are made in the future. If more and more people are to earn degrees, and if innovation alongside lifelong learning is to flourish, we need to step up public funding for education. By investing in education and in students, the Finnish government is investing in a new generation and in sustainable politics.

If the student movement does not fight to defend accessible and free education, no one will.

– Heidi Rättyä

Member of the Board of Executives of JYY and candidate for the board of the National Union of University Students in Finland for 2019