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Finland: support grows for non-EU tuition fees

Finland could become the latest European country to introduce tuition fees for non-EU/EEA students, after a parliamentary majority informally backed the idea before Christmas. But student groups have attacked the proposal, saying it will cause an exodus of interest – as Denmark and Sweden experienced when they brought in fees.

It could follow Sweden and Denmark, where interest fell by 75-80%

Currently overseas students in Finland pay nothing for bachelor’s and doctoral programmes, but have done for some master’s programmes since 2010 under a pilot project (paying on average €8,000 per year).

Under the new proposal – which 119 of Finland’s 200 members of parliament supported – the pilot would be extended to all levels of education, offering some relief for the national finances. MP Arto Satonen, a former lecturer who put forward the motion, argues most overseas students study for free in Finland but do not stay and work after graduation, leaving the taxpayer out of pocket.

“Getting all these international students is such an asset for Finland because we are such a small country”

“People come from Asia or Russia or Ukraine, and when they get their degree they are going to work in the UK, USA, Australia and so on,” he said. “So with Finnish taxpayers’ money we are actually educating workers for the Anglo Saxon countries’ economies.”

His supporters say that fees would also take the international education sector in a more business-like direction, allowing it to grow, as it has done in the UK or Australia. But the country’s largest student unions, SYL and SAMOK, believe the opposite is true: that fees will deter students and harm the economy which faces a shortage of skilled workers.

“There has been a push towards fees but we really can’t agree with the reasoning there,” said Jukka Koivisto, vice president of SYL, which is lobbying parliament“Getting all these international students is such an asset for Finland because we are such a small country and we want the top people from all countries around the world if they are interested.”

Finland only welcomed 10,000 non-EU/EEA students in 2010 but Koivisto warns it could go the way of Sweden and Denmark, which saw interest fall by 75-80% when fees were introduced in 2010 and 2006 respectively. Both are yet to fully recover.

Experts who talked to The PIE were divided on the issue, however. Edwin Van Rest, CEO of Study Portals, Europe’s largest degree course directory, said: “All in all it’s a difficult topic. It will definitely cost students and cut some people off from education opportunity in Finland unless there will be a very good social loan scheme, but that’s unlikely to work for non-EU students.”

“With Finnish taxpayers’ money we are actually educating workers for the Anglo-Saxon countries’ economies”

But he said “putting a price” on degrees could ultimately enhance the profile of Finnish higher education. “Scholarships might provide a good solution – the world thinks the education is of high quality as it will be costly, meanwhile you attract the most talented students in with scholarships.”

Others see the introduction of fees as an inevitability across Europe, as countries struggle to pay for their education systems. Norway, Holland, Germany and France have all tried or mooted fee models in recent years.

“The main point is that the number of individuals that can travel abroad to study increases constantly,” said Gudrun Paulsdottir, outgoing president of the European Association of International Education. “The very few countries that do not yet have fees for international students are getting more and more students their way, and in the end their national economy cannot afford to give education to all these individuals.”

The measure is still some way off becoming legislation and must first go to Finland’s Education and Culture Committee – an independent group of MPs that will shape the motion before it is voted on. The chair is already said to be nonplussed by the idea which leaves Koivisto cautiously optimistic. “There’s a lot of mobility in the process, it’s nowhere near decided,” he said.

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