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Skills before graduation times

19.11.2019

Skills before graduation times

STATEMENT

The new funding model for higher education institutions guides the institutions to focus on the wrong things. The new funding model awards funds for fast graduation times instead of skills development and the learning of new things, for instance. Higher education institutions receive the most money for students who graduate in target time (around 5 to 7 years, depending on the degree), the second most for those who graduate within two years of the target time and the least for those who graduate over two years after the target time.

The new model is problematic in several ways, as it puts way too much emphasis on graduating in target time.

While completing their degree, students are expected to become internationalised, go on exchange, acquire relevant work experience in their own field, and preferably also learn to code and study an exotic minor subject to create an individual skills profile. All of this accumulates skills for the students, which makes the activities valuable to the student, the University and the society. However, the expectation of fitting all of it into the target time is often unrealistic.

Interdisciplinarity is a widely recognised value at the University, but strict degree structures mean that it is only an ideal. At worst, stricter degree structures make it impossible to take challenging minor subjects or acquire other specialised skills. The popularity of going on exchange has also decreased. From the perspective of the ultimate goals of universities – increasing the level of education within society and educating future experts – the important thing is what students graduating from us can do, not whether they graduate in five or seven years.

Because of the poor level of subsistence among students at present, around 74% of degree students work alongside their studies [1]. This provides many with the opportunity of already working in their own field during their studies. Internships and work experience in one’s own field may slow down studies, but they also accumulate crucial practical understanding and perspectives that help with making theses, for instance, while they also make it easier to get employed after graduation. Cultivating experts for working life is also the stated goal of the Ministry of Education and Culture and higher education institutions.

For this reason, we are hoping that the University of Helsinki would not adopt the objective of tightening graduation times without assessing it critically. Graduating in target time is not the most important task of young people and students. It is short-sighted to assume that the level of education in Finland would start to increase simply by speeding up higher education studies.

 

How to act in the interests of students

 

Due to the new funding model, universities have a strong, albeit externally motivated incentive to speed up graduation. Our solutions to streamline studies are student counselling, more flexible studies and opportunities both for interdisciplinary studies and to change fields of study.

One third of higher education students suffer from mental health problems, which tends to slow down study progress [2]. We are glad that the University of Helsinki has recognised the importance of counselling for graduation. Study psychologists, functional student services, and student counselling provided by teachers are integral to this. Smooth study progress as well as students’ career skills can be strengthened by integrating learning objectives that promote wellbeing and studying skills into teaching.

Versatile study paths and flexible methods of completing courses make studying efficiently possible for an increasing share of students. Students are a heterogenous group, and the paths they take differ from one another – as they should. Due to the diversity in students, it is important to also take into account all the other factors that influence equality in teaching and on campuses.

Currently, there are also various bottlenecks slowing down studies, which could be fixed through curriculum work. When students are dropped from a specific course or when the turbulences of life prevent them from completing a course that is included in the requirements on prior knowledge on other courses, their study progress may be disrupted. If the course is not offered again soon, this can unnecessarily delay graduation.

Making it easier to change fields of study is a timely issue for universities because of the new funding model. When the government is making it more difficult to start a degree in a new field of study with both the first-timer quotas and the funding model for higher education institutions, it is important for students to be able to change their direction during studies. Few know what they want from the rest of their life at the time of applying for their first student place.

We at the Student Union thus wish that the completion of degrees would be advanced by investing in counselling, removing the bottlenecks from studies, building new kinds of subject combinations and making it easier to change fields of study. We do not need incentives to complete studies faster – instead, we need the University to provide us with opportunities to grow into experts who are able to cooperate across disciplinary boundaries and who are building a sustainable working life for the future as well as a better world.

More information:

Paula Karhunen
Board member (educational policy)
paula.karhunen@hyy.fi
050 472 7950

Aleksi Rytkönen
Board member (educational policy)
aleksi.rytkonen@hyy.fi
050 472 7478

[1] Survey on the subsistence of the Capital Region’s university students, 2019.
[2] FSHS. Finnish Student Health Survey, 2016.