November 30 is the Day for Free Education. Free education with high quality by international standards was long one of the cornerstones of Finnish society. Free education in higher education institutions came to an end last year when tuition fees were set for students from outside the EU and EEA countries.*
The tuition fees predictably decreased the number of new students. The number of international students in Finland had increased for the entire 2000s, but the trend was reversed after the implementation of tuition fees. This is not a desirable development, as Finland should be an attractive option for international experts for the sake of our entire society.
Throughout the history of higher education, internationality has been its lifeblood – and this applies to Finland, too. International students give Finnish students opportunities for internationalisation at home as well as diversify the student community in Finland. International students also bring along valuable networks and skills. For the internationalisation of companies, students’ language skills, networks to other countries and understanding of different cultures may be significant advantages.
Expanding the financing base of higher education institutions was used as a justification for the tuition fees. However, there were only 277 students who paid the full tuition fee in Finnish higher education institutions last academic year, as the majority of those liable to pay the fee received a grant from the institutions. Some higher education institutions have reported a profit from the fees, but their implementation has also caused costs for the institutions. The grants, administration and development related to the tuition fees all demand resources. Many higher education institutions are making significant investments in international marketing and student recruitment using various means that are definitely not free.
The advantage that Finland has had in the eyes of international students has long been free high-quality education. Our current international students have told us that in addition to the reputation and quality of the education, their choice to study in Finland was influenced by free education. We should keep hold of both of these trump cards. The challenges often faced by students who have chosen Finland concern a lack of language skills, finding friends and getting employed.
We asked international students to tell us about their thoughts on tuition fees and studying in Finland. You can read about the students’ experiences below. The comments come from different kinds of students: those who pay the entire tuition fee, those who have received a grant and those who are citizens of EU and EEA countries. We have also included a comment HYY received in spring 2018 from a person who had been admitted to study and was now asking for advice after not receiving a grant. In the autumn, they told us that they had not found a way to pay the tuition fee but got accepted to study in Germany where there are no tuition fees.
“I've been accepted to Master's Programme in Neuroscience in University of Helsinki, which I'm really happy for. But unfortunately, I wasn't awarded a scholarship. Considering the amount of tuition fee and very low currency of Turkish lira, neither me nor my family don't have the possibility to pay that big amount of money. I've been searching for other scholarships for a long time both in Turkey and abroad and on internet portals like scholarshipportal, but I can't find any to cover this amount.
I will cover all my living and other expenses by myself. But unless I find a funding for covering my tuition fees, I won't be able to come to University of Helsinki sadly. It's been my dream for many years and I worked very hard for this, and now when I'm chosen with a good ranking (6th out of 20th), I really want so much to be a part of this programme and your university and the student union.”
“I think the tuition fee is a huge burden for me as well as my family. Actually, I think it's a huge burden for each student from non-EU countries. And due to this reason, I believe some excellent students give up or lose their opportunities to study here. I am trying my best to study now and hope that I can get the second year scholarship. I have to find a part-time job which may take up a lot of time and also make me feel so tired every week. Anyway, it's my own choice and I will get over it. But I think it would be better to cancel the tuition fee for us.”
“I could not have come to study as a master's degree student if I needed to pay tuition fees for two years. I feel like it limits the people from outside EU to come to study in Finland, where it used to be an option without tuition fees.”
“The tuition seems to be quite high for international students. While no tuition fee was implemented until two years back, and I did not expect UH to fix such a high fees just for international students.”
“As an EU citizen, couldn’t be happier. I thank the people of Finland this opportunity, which I’ve tried to repay many times.”
“I do not pay tuition fees but 15,000 euros a year is extremely expensive and without a scholarship I would probably not attend this university, unless we had more funding/work opportunities.”
“I’m a master student from Japan in European and Nordic Programme under Faculty of Social Science. I am interested in Finnish history, specifically the period between 1939-1945, and topics revolve around the remembrance of the war, and how current time is affecting its interpretation. I was one of the first batch of students after the introduction of tuition fee at this university. I came to Helsinki because of my interest in it, and Helsinki offered English master’s programme in Nordic Studies.
Student life is so much better than it was in a small private university in Japan. Despite some issues with studies and bureaucracies, mostly because my programme is a new one, as well as general system change in all parts of the university, I feel that education offered here is great. Outside studies, students are treated in a way that promotes independence, while having channels to seek support when necessary. I quite like it.
Coming from Japan, tuition fee itself is not new. But personally, I did not like the bureaucracy with scholarship, which was meant to help mitigate the negative effect. The whole process for awarding the scholarship seemed to have been done in a way that weakened the desired effect. Most of the recipient did not show up in 2017 without redirecting it to other candidates, and second-year grant was selected based on earned units and grade only, giving some significant disadvantage due to the selection timing and individual curriculum structure. Considering these issues, I have to say scholarship system has a lot to improve if university wants to have the effect they initially desired.”
"I think tuition fees put Finland at odds with its value in equality. Although it can be argued that money cannot buy the experience, the reality is I can get an educational experience at any place not just Finland. I wouldn't say I regret my decision but, overall, I feel that if I had been given a second chance, I will choose to come only with a scholarship."
“After having done my bachelor degree in physics at the University of Amsterdam I realized that I am interested in pursuing research in Mathematical Physics. Thus, the University of Helsinki was a natural choice since the Mathematical Physics group at the Faculty of Mathematics is one of the best in the world.
I am currently a recipient of the “be one of the best scholarship’ program. Given that the scholarship program was introduced at the same time as the tuition fees for non-EU master students, I as a scholarship recipient am largely unaffected by the introduction of tuition fees.
In the long run the introduction of tuition fees for non-EU international students will likely decrease the number of non-EU students at the University of Helsinki; however the introduction of the scholarship program would plausibly increase the amount of high quality non-EU students hence the net policy effect is yet to be determined.
Having been in Finland and at the University of Helsinki for slightly more than a year I must say that I have enjoyed my stay to the fullest extent. The interaction between faculty members and students is quite informal thus giving the students an excellent opportunity to get involved in research early on in their careers as well as be a part of the decision making process at the university. Furthermore, the presence of many student organizations allows one to experience the unique student culture in Finland.”
“I was doing my exchange studies for two semesters in 2017 and working for a company since April, 2017 and did some research work during the summer of 2017. I had an indefinite work contract for 2018 and I applied for my residence permit renewal as work permit for which I was supposed to get permit type A. As mentioned permit A sets you free from those fees. However, the company went bankrupt and I only knew in December, 2017 almost when I was about to get the permit which was awaiting decision then. So I started working full time at the university starting January 2018 until the present time and did some independent studies while waiting the decision and the master's acceptance.
The permit took 9 months to process. I got a B permit and they asked me to pay the fees for which I had to manage to provide the money before august 31st and I was working so hard to save money. I was enrolled with all my studies for the program completed beforehand and for what I had to pay I only have the master thesis to be done in a very short time so I can graduate by the end of 2018 and get a refund for the spring term. This is not how I wanted my thesis to go and any delay will cost too much.
Being a student at the university of helsinki is a good experience. The flexibility of studies and being able to learn what you are interested in and having variation in teaching methods proves to be successful. Also as a staff member pursuing my interest in research it is an encouraging environment for research.I had been working in the private sector as a web developer for 6 years before coming to Finland and I found my skills appreciated here.
My thoughts about the tuition fees is that they are not fair. It would be more fair to pay for courses you are taking and some fees for the study place and other fees for courses and other services than having them in a chunk of 15 000. In my case 15 000 just to do my thesis which I am doing as part of my job.
I like being in Finland and I had to start over in terms of career and life and I plan to continue living here and continue my PhD studies. The delays with migri and the fear of being kicked out are a constant stress that all other people from outside EU are suffering from even though they are students and researchers. The constant struggle and the fear of not being able to extend your stay cuts the focus on the goal for being here. Life would be much easier if we had equal chances to be able to focus like everyone else who don't have to worry about these things and that will make a big difference."
Specialist (subsistence, international affairs)
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Specialist (higher education policy)
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