We oppose raising tuition fees


The Student Union of the University of Helsinki (HYY) thanks the Ministry of Education and Culture for the opportunity to submit a comment on the government’s draft proposal to the Finnish Parliament on acts to amend the Universities Act and the Universities of Applied Sciences Act.

The Student Union of the University of Helsinki is extremely worried about the effects the measures proposed in the draft would have on Finland’s future.

The main economic policy goal of Orpo’s government programme is to achieve sustainable growth. At present, Finland suffers from stagnation in the level of competence among its population, a shortage of skilled workers and the deterioration of the dependency ratio. We need both an increase in the level of competence within Finland and the immigration of international experts to Finland to take place on a large scale. Without this, reaching the goal of sustainable growth is not possible. Finland’s goal has been to triple the number of international students by 2030.

We believe that the measures included in the government proposal are inconsistent with the government’s goals. The measures listed in the proposal do not support the goals of internationalisation or attract future international students to apply to Finnish higher education institutions. Even as worries are raised over attracting international experts to Finland, the measures in the proposal would weaken the incentives for work and integration for international students who are already here. The proposal justifies retaining the obligation to pay tuition fees after the basis for an individual’s residence permit has changed by the resultant unpredictability of the total income collected through tuition fees making it difficult for higher education institutions to plan their operations. In our view, the main challenge higher education institutions face when planning their finances and the courses they offer is the insufficient funding for higher education institutions, not the unpredictability of the income collected through tuition fees.

The proposal neither increases nor strengthens factors that help Finland retain people, it only creates more push factors. The numbers of applicants for the international degree programmes in higher education institutions will decrease, and raising them back to the previous levels will take time. Finland cannot afford to slow down the growth of the number of international students and thus decrease its attractiveness in the eyes of international students.

The draft also includes some positives. The plan on developing a national scholarship system and other measures aimed at increasing Finland’s attractiveness as a country of study as well as on supporting integration are all commendable. When developing the national scholarship system, we hope that the international students’ financial position would be taken into account as a criterion for granting the scholarships.


Reinstating the processing fee for applications

HYY does not support the proposal to reinstate the processing fee. Instead, we consider it important to keep both the education itself and the process of applying to education free for everyone. A processing fee was already tried out before. It was removed to simplify the application process and to reduce the workload of the Finnish National Agency for Education. Together with the other changes included in this proposal, the processing fee will only serve as a new barrier for seeking education in Finland and may decrease interest in applying to Finnish higher education institutions. Finnish higher education institutions already have trouble making applicants commit to turning up even when they have been granted a scholarship for their tuition fees.

The processing fee is also strikingly high and increases the financial burden of students who pay tuition fees. Many international students come from countries where 100 euros is a substantial sum of money in the country’s own currency. Such a high processing fee would significantly limit the number of applicants from different backgrounds. If the processing fee is reinstated anyway, it should at least be more reasonable.

The reasoning for reinstating the processing fee includes the goal of decreasing administrative work. However, implementing the processing fee will also increase administrative work even if its implementation were to succeed in reducing the number of applications in the application process. Reinstating the processing fee in itself does not guarantee high-quality applications or make it easier to process complex attachments. HYY considers it important that higher education institutions are guaranteed sufficient resources for processing the applications. The proposal does not mention who would receive the collected funds and what purpose they would be use for. If the processing fees are reinstated, the funds should go to higher education institutions to subsidise the work that processing the applications will cause.


Changes to commissioned education

The Student Union of the University of Helsinki supports the proposed changes to the extent that they strengthen students’ legal protection when they participate in commissioned education. It is important to us that students’ legal protection is taken into account better than at present when organising commissioned education.

However, we consider it important for universities to continue to have the option of organising commissioned education with foreign cooperation universities in the case of education leading to a double degree. This kind of education is realised as commissioned education for flexibility reasons and to enable pricing solutions not tied to tuition fees.


Raising the tuition fees

Education leading to a degree should be free in Finland regardless of citizenship. However, with tuition fees already in use for students from outside EU and EEA countries, HYY cannot support the raising of tuition fees.

Raising the tuition fees would have many negtive effects on the internationalisation of higher education. The fees will not ensure that the most competent and talented international students would seek education in Finland; they would only attract well-to-do students. We will lose many motivated applicants who will not be able to accept their student place due to their financial situation. An increase in the tuition fees may also lead to students having to drop out of their studies due to financial obstacles.

Tuition fees put a strain on the students obligated to pay them as financial pressures mount. Raising the tuition fees would also increase the strain on students from outside EU and EEA countries at a time when Finland should be attracting and retaining international experts.

Raising the tuition fees will also make it more difficult for international students to get settled and stay in Finland. They will not have time for meeting Finns and learning about Finnish culture and language, which are all important factors for staying in the country. When international students have the opportunity to get attached to Finland during their studies, they are likelier to become integrated into Finnish society.

International students do not have any time for getting acquainted with Finnish working life either due to tuition fees. It is difficult for international experts to get employed in Finland without the required language skills or work experience. When they have no time to accumulate these skills during their studies, they end up with less chances of finding a job and staying in Finland permanently after graduation. If we want to avoid brain drain – the emigration of higher education graduates – we will not do it by raising tuition fees and reducing opportunities to study and work.

HYY supports the measures mentioned in the government programme to strengthen Finland’s ability to retain people, such as a compensation resembling the student loan compensation for international students who have paid tuition fees and found employment in Finland. We encourage the ministry to start investigating the matter as soon as possible and to allocate sufficient resources for implementing the compensation.

Another positive factor in the proposal is that higher education institutions may no longer need to collect a fee from each year if they estimate that the costs of education have already been covered. This will help students who have already completed their studies but whose official graduation has been postponed until the next academic term.


Change concerning the prevention of the circumvention of tuition fees

HYY does not recognise the ‘circumvention’ of tuition fees as a problem in higher education institutions, and we do not support the proposal. Only a small percentage of higher education students change the basis for their residence permit during their studies, and this is usually due to them working or getting married. These students are not ‘circumventing’ the tuition fees – they are simply acting according to their altered situation in life. The students in question are very committed to staying in Finland due to their job or family relations. In any case, residence permits are not granted lightly even in these situations.

The government’s draft proposal states that further developments are still needed to help foreign students, especially those from outside EU and EEA countries, find employment. Only slightly over 50% of graduates from universities and universities of applied sciences find employment in Finland. Working during studies, especially in the student’s own field, also supports their attachment to Finland and helps them find employment after graduation.

The government proposal does not support incentives for work for international students. If a student gets a full-time job, combining work and studying with tuition fees becomes extremely difficult, if not impossible. This means that the two viable options for students in this situation are to either decline the job, thus losing the opportunity to gain work experience and become better integrated into Finland, or suspend their studies, which makes higher education institutions lose their students unnecessarily. Finding employment in the Finnish labour market should be encouraged and rewarded, not punished.

At the same time, we should remember that students not being allowed to finance the studies for which they pay tuition fees by working significantly narrows down the group of students for whom seeking education in Finland is financially possible to begin with.


Extending the right to receive information

The Student Union of the University of Helsinki has reservations about the proposed changes. On the one hand, the goal of speeding up the residence permit process is admirable, and we recognise the need for higher education institutions to receive information. On the other hand, however, we are worried about how the proposal accounts for students’ privacy protection. We also hope that the administrative responsibilities of universities will not become unreasonable.


More information

Mathilda Timmer

Higher education specialist


050 477 4543