Comment 30 November 2017
One of the central underlying factors of hundred-year-old Finland’s success story is its high social mobility between different social classes. The high-quality education system associated with our country can be maintained with public funds. Free education on all levels of education from early childhood education to higher education provides support for talented young people to pursue their dreams regardless of their family background.
Finland’s historical success in the PISA tests that assess young people’s skills is common knowledge. In the latest comparison, the cooperation and problem-solving skills of Finnish youth were among the top five countries taking part. In Finland, children’s PISA results are less dependent on their parents’ socio-economic status than in most of the other comparable OECD countries. This in part is suggestive of equality in our society.
‘Supporters of tuition fees do not see the big picture of society. Emphasising the benefits of free education would be warranted particularly now, during Finland’s centenary celebration’, Chair of the Board Laura Luoto from the Student Union of the University of Helsinki states.
In countries with tuition fees in use in higher education institutions, it is typical that higher education graduates remain in debt up to retirement age due to their student loans. In Finland, people can get into higher education without fearing a burden of debt that would discourage children of low-income families in particular.
However, there are bottlenecks in the accessibility of Finnish education. For instance, in general upper secondary schools and vocational institutions, students must purchase the necessary textbooks and materials themselves as well as cover the qualification fees. Preparatory courses that precede applying to universities and are subject to a fee are also problematic.
‘Genuinely free secondary education, material-based university entrance exams that only require short preparation and higher education institutions’ MOOC online courses that are open to everyone could all improve the situation’, Luoto states. ‘However, cancelling the cuts to the study grant made during this Government term would be important. The current insufficient level of the study grant cuts the ground from under genuinely accessible higher education’, she points out.
Free education should not be examined only from the perspective of Finnish citizens. Tuition fees for students from outside the EU and the EEA that took effect this year drive away exactly the international experts who Finland needs in the future.
‘The University of Helsinki currently only has 19 students who pay tuition fees when grants and exemptions from fees are taken into account. It is ridiculous to think that the education cuts that have been made could be covered by the money they bring in’, Luoto emphasises.
The Day for Free Education is celebrated nationally on 30 November 2017. The National Union of University Students in Finland has compiled quotes from public figures who defend free education on their website: https://syl.fi/maksuton-koulutus/