The coalition confirmed it will move towards full coverage of tuition fees for non-EU students, meaning that universities will no longer receive government funding towards the cost of teaching international students.
Currently international fees start from €4,000 but non-EU students may soon have to pay more to cover the full costs of tuition under the new measures .
The policy was outlined in a document published by Finland’s new government after a month of negotiations between four parties, including the far-right Finns Party. There is no specified date for the changes to come into effect.
The education ministry, which initially proposed the policy earlier this year, predicted that the move could result in a 43% drop in the number of students coming from outside the EU.
The decision has been contested by student groups and some universities. SYL, one of the country’s student unions, described the initial proposals as a “disaster” for Finland’s plans, set out by the previous government, to triple the number of international students by 2030.
“Our main core value is free education for all,” said Yuri Birjulin, international affairs and EU advocacy advisor at SYL. “The students will integrate also better in the society if they… don’t have a very separate financial situation from the domestic students.”
“Our main core value is free education for all”
Higher education will remain free for Finnish and EU students but Roosa Veijola, european policy advisor at SAMOK, the country’s other student union, said she was afraid this policy could create a pathway to the introduction of domestic tuition fees.
Universities Finland warned that the decision will have a “negative impact” on opportunities to attract and teach international students, while Helsinki-based universities told The PIE News the rise will have limited impact on their student recruitment, but the changes are expected to make it harder for the country’s rural universities to recruit international students.
Hanna Isoranta, chief specialist at Study in Finland, speaking to the PIE before the change was announced, said the organisation would have to “work even harder” to attract international students if fees are increased.
Finland first introduced tuition fees for international students in 2017. Despite this, the number of foreign students in the country has continued to increase over the past few years, with 53,000 international students applying to the country’s universities in January 2023.
Students have in part been driven to the country by the introduction of a two-year post study work visa in 2022 as well as the former government’s Talent Boost program, launched in 2017, which aims to promote Finland as an internationally attractive place to work and study.
But the new government, elected earlier this year, has promised a “controlled” approach to education-based immigration in a raft of new proposals that include clamping down on students and international graduates claiming state benefits.
Residence permits will be revoked if students claim social assistance, while those applying for permanent residency will be subject to a language test and will have to prove they have not claimed unemployment benefits while in Finland, other than for a very short period of time.
On the other hand, the government is planning to introduce more incentives to stay and work in the country after studying. It suggested permanent residence permits will be granted to those who have completed a master’s degree in Finland and who have sufficient knowledge of Finnish or Swedish.
Universities Finland also celebrated the government’s commitment to spending 4% of the country’s GDP on research and development, a goal agreed by political parties in 2022, and to increase the proportion of the population with a university degree.
Meanwhile student groups criticised cuts in housing support and to adult education funding.
“A sustainable future cannot be built on student debt,” Joonas Soukkio, president of SAMOK, said in a statement.
Norway has recently announced it will introduce fees for non-EU students.