Government proposes fees for non-European students

In an unexpected move Krista Kiuru, Finland’s minister of education, science and communications, has published a proposal for parliament to introduce tuition fees for students from outside Europe from 2016.

This has come only months after a report was published concluding that a pilot project in which non-European students were charged fees, had not been a great success.

University World News gave a student viewpoint on this issue in a commentary by Jarmo Kallunki, education policy officer at the National Union of University Students in Finland, or SYL, in August, entitled “Why tuition fees for international students won’t work”.

Steep increase in foreign student numbers

A preliminary report on the economic impact of foreign higher education students in Finland was recently published – in Finnish only – by the Centre for International Mobility, or CIMO, an independent agency under the Ministry of Education and Culture, together with the Government Institute for Economic Research, or VATT. The final study report is due in March 2015.

The preliminary report states: “The reported Statistics Finland figures show that, during the last 10 plus years, the number of foreign students in Finland’s higher education institutions has tripled, being almost 20,000 in 2013. In particular, the numbers of students originating from Asian and African countries have increased substantially in recent years.

“Of the foreigners [who] graduated in 2011, more than two thirds were still in Finland a year after graduation, while two thirds of the ‘stayers’ were in employment.”

The literature review in the report examines studies concerning the underlying mechanisms of student mobility, and then goes on to investigate studies on the impacts of foreign students, for example, on the education system, production, labour markets and the public economy of a country.

Most studies supported the claim that the benefits to a country of educating foreigners exceeded the incurred costs – at least if a significant proportion of the foreigners stayed in the country and integrated well into its labour markets.

The government proposal for tuition fees from 2016 has stipulated that the fees be at least €4,000 (US$5,000) per year. However, there will still be no fees for education provided in Finnish or Swedish. Exchange students will not be affected.

The proposal stipulates that any foreign students who study in Finland under this new legal amendment shall not be eligible for tax reductions for the amount paid in tuition fees once they have graduated and are earning an income in Finland.

Member of Parliament Arto Satonen, who in 2012 collected a majority of signatories in the Finnish parliament for a motion on tuition fees, told the national broadcaster Yle that the proposed fee system had to be complemented with a grant scheme for students from low-income families.

The proposal will now go for comment to the higher education institutions, the political parties and the student organisations before it is presented to parliament.

Those for and against

The student organisations have repeatedly warned against the introduction of tuition fees for foreigners since the pilot project report was published in November 2013.

The Union of Students in Finnish Universities of Applied Sciences, or SAMOK, stated in November 2013, upon publication of the report of the working group assigned by the Ministry of Education to explore the potential of Finnish education exports: “The committee’s target to educate 60,000 international students is a fine goal worth supporting. Tuition fees, however, are just the worst way to fulfill that goal.”

“Just looking at the other Nordic countries and the Finnish tuition-free trial serves to show that tuition fees lead in quite the opposite direction,” the SYL students’ union chair Marina Lampinen stated.

Mikko Valtonen of SAMOK said: “The tuition costs will without doubt repel students from everywhere [except to] some of the bigger institutions in Southern Finland, thus polarising the internationalisation of Finnish education. The only students coming to Finland would be those who can afford it. Is that what we’re trying to achieve here?”

A common statement of nine Finnish student organisations in June said: “Getting hung up on tuition fees is the only obstacle for developing Finnish education export.”

Professor Jukka Kola, rector of Helsinki University told University World News that the University of Helsinki would give its official view on the proposed bill by 21 November.

The leadership of Helsinki University has, in several discussions with the Ministry of Education and Culture, been in favour of introducing tuition fees for non-EU students. “However, we have also stressed that it should be up to the university to decide on the fees. In addition, we feel that instead of scholarship programmes, tuition fee waivers are less bureaucratic,” said Kola.

Universities Finland, or UNIFI, and the Association of Finnish Independent Education Employers have also been in support of introducing tuition fees.

Erin Nordal, vice-chair of the European Students’ Union told University World News: “Not only is the proposal a product of pure discrimination, but through it, Finland will drastically reduce their chances of attracting students that substantially contribute to the quality and internationalisation of Finnish education, and especially considering how many students remain in Finland after graduation, [and] their contribution to the Finnish society.

"Based on the outcomes of the pilot project, this will most certainly be the result of the full implementation of tuition fees for these students.

“Introducing tuition fees for any specific group of students is clear evidence of substantial discrimination within a higher education system and unacceptable. It will effectively serve to the detriment of society by basing which students can come to Finland on the size of their wallets rather than on their merits, knowledge and competencies,” Nordal said.