Prank of the decade: Welcome to Finland, international talent!


Imagine you are an international student. As you are choosing a place to study, you come across information about Finland – a country with equality, happiness and the best education in the world. It seemed like fate to find this place and even more so when you got in. But once you arrive in the early autumn excited for the new chapter in your journey, you are greeted with large antiracism protests at the heart of the capital city. What is going on?

According to a recent study, Finland is one of the most racist countries in Europe. In addition, Petteri Orpo’s government has proposed that foreign employees have a period of three months to get re-employed after the end of their previous employment and that the required residence period for acquiring Finnish citizenship is extended – examples of a broader anti-immigration culture festering in Finland. This is quite the opposite from the picture painted by Finnish country brand marketing materials. Images of happy people, working together with smiles on their faces, are in stark contrast to the lived experiences of so many international students moving here.

The one who came up with the brand for Finland must be excellently talented in their job, because there is a stark contrast between the image promoted and the everyday life experienced.

Is it still fate or have you made a mistake coming here? You try to shake off this uncomfortable feeling and shift your focus to your upcoming studies.

Currently, the government is proposing to increase the tuition fees for international students. Students at the University of Helsinki are the ‘canaries in the coal mine’ when it comes to high tuition fees.

We have seen the stress high tuition fees place on international students and their families. They force international students to work far more during their studies to cover the costs of tuition. And you can only work some odd jobs, since getting employment in Finland without almost native-level skills in the Finnish language seems sometimes impossible. This, combined with the two-year deadline to finish your master’s degree, makes it easy to kiss goodbye to integration and the hopes of learning the language and culture. Staying in Finland becomes a dream of the past for many. We hear increasingly more of ‘perhaps I should move somewhere else’.

Scholarships have been the means to bring diversity to the international student body. Many international students are able to study in Finland thanks to scholarships, but this new proposal would mean that the University of Helsinki will have to reduce the number of scholarships it gives out. Decreasing available grants and putting obstacles for prospective students do not solve budget problems. Some students already feel that they do not get an equitable value returned for the investment they have made thus far.

We are evidence that Finland’s experiment with the marketisation of higher education off the backs of international students is failing and should be reversed, not expanded. This impacts the diversity of the University and Finland and leaves our community poorer and less innovative. It is also creating an ever-growing gap between EU and non-EU students, resulting in two tiers of international students.

In addition to increasing the tuition fees, current plans include implementing an application fee for non-EU/EEA students and limiting the possibility for changing the basis of one’s residence permit whilst studying in Finland to stop the so-called evasion of tuition fees. These are solutions to problems that do not really exist. These changes are proposed at a time when Finland is simultaneously grappling with major skill shortage.

We should put these proposals in a wider context. These are not stand-alone policies that seek to be economically credible. They are rather a part of a broader, ideologically driven attack and hostile environment towards international people and migrants in Finland. International students make up just a small part of the wider group of international people feeling under threat here in Finland, but we are determined to stand in solidarity with all international people and internationally minded Finns.


Henna Heino

Member of the Board in charge of international affairs

Michael Pugh

Chair of HYY’s International Committee