High foreign demand for English-taught courses, visas and work

As Finland mulls a string of amendments that will make it easier for international graduates to stay on in the country to work, data from the national education agency highlights the popularity among students from outside Europe of higher education programmes conducted in English.

The Finnish parliament is currently mulling over significant legislative reforms that would make it considerably easier for international students and graduates to obtain visas, Finnish residency and citizenship, and would extend periods they may work while studying and after graduating.

A record 32,700 applications to study English-language programmes at universities and polytechnics have been received during the spring 2022 joint application process, with approximately 24,400 coming from non-Finnish applicants and a majority of these – 22,500 – coming from outside of Europe and the European Economic Area (EEA).

According to a press release from the Finnish National Agency for Education, the total number of applications marks an increase of about 10,000 compared with the previous year’s total of 22,000 applicants.

Applicants competed for approximately 6,000 available study places in roughly 320 study programmes across a range of fields – also higher compared to last year, when there were around 5,500 study places in about 270 programmes.

Two thirds of the study places available are offered by universities of applied sciences and the remaining third by other universities, the Agency said on 27 January 2022. Some 3,900 applications were received for the University of the Arts Helsinki.

Countries represented by more than 500 applicants include: Finland (8,037), Nigeria (4,695), Bangladesh (2,460), Nepal (2,079), Pakistan (1,578), Cameroon (990), Kenya (987), India (850), Sri Lanka (828), Ghana (813), Vietnam (678), Iran (669) and the Russian Federation (570).

Would-be students can submit joint applications, which comprise one application for a maximum of six study programmes across different institutions.

Stiff competition for places

The most popular among Finnish programmes that are conducted in English is the bachelor in health care (nursing) and the bachelor in business administration.

The largest number of nursing applications was received by JAMK University of Applied Sciences in Jyväskylä, with 2,285 applicants seeking admission. This means that there are 57 applicants for each study place on the course.

The odds of getting a place on a similar course at Novia University of Applied Sciences near the city of Vaasa are even longer, with 70 applicants for each available place after the institution received more than 2,000 applications.

Competition for places on arts courses is also tough, with 1,151 applicants choosing the University of the Arts Helsinki's acting course as their first option. The course offers just 12 starting places.

Planning Specialist at the Finnish National Agency for Education Riku Hanhinen told University World News that all programmes taught in English are subject to tuition fees for non-EU/EEA citizens.

Fees vary from €5,000 (US$5,700) to €20,000 (US$20,700) per academic year. Scholarships vary according to the institution, but mostly involve tuition fee waivers. However, from this year onwards, some institutions are also offering relocation grants on top of 100% fee waivers.

Changes to visas for graduates

Meanwhile, Finnish MPs are to vote on proposals to double the length of time foreign students are allowed to remain in the country to find a job after graduation, Yle News reported on 2 February 2022.

According to the report, the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment confirmed that it is proposing a string of amendments that would, most significantly, allow students from abroad to stay for two years rather than one after graduation. They would also get a single visa for the duration of their study period.

Currently, students are required to cut through red tape regularly at the Finnish Immigration Service in order to renew study-based visas every year or two.
The ministry noted that if the reforms are approved, students will still need to meet the same requirements for permanent residency as other immigrants.

“By granting a continuous residence permit to students in higher education degree programmes, it’s possible for them to receive a permanent residence permit and also, of course, citizenship sooner than presently,” Jarmo Tiukkanen, a senior officer at the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment, was quoted as saying in the Helsinki Times.

Parliament still needs to review and vote on the proposed reforms but, if approved, they would go into force on 1 April, he is reported to have said.

The proposed reforms also call for an extension to the number of hours foreign students are allowed to work, from 25 to 30 hours per week.

Hours spent on study-related work or training would not count against the working limit and would effectively be unrestricted, according to the proposal.

Flexibility for graduates seeking to return

Another change the reforms would bring is increased flexibility for foreign student graduates who leave the country after finishing their studies, and later decide they would like to return to Finland.

The changes would enable foreign graduates to apply for job search-based residence permits within five years of the expiry of their student visa.

The proposed rules stipulate that foreign students who graduated before 1 April 2022 and secured jobseeker residence permits are ineligible to take advantage of the reforms.

Sari Lindblom, rector of the University of Helsinki, told University World News that the changes in legislation would make Finland more attractive to international students both as a study destination and a country to launch one's professional career.

“These measures, together with the university's own efforts put forth in close collaboration with employers and cities, will make it easier for students to find their place in society and the labour market, which is in the interest of all parties – the international students, the country and the university.”