Some 8,762 non-EU nationals submitted applications for residence with the intention to study by July – up from 5,911 at the same time last year.
Calling the increase “dramatic”, the Finnish Immigration Service said that interest in the country’s education system was “growing”.
“Finland is increasingly being picked up on the radars of students and recruitment agencies,” noted Harri Suominen, co-founder of Edunation and AsiaExchange, speaking with The PIE.
“While it would be great to think it is purely because of outstanding marketing efforts by institutions and Finland, a great deal of it can be put down to recent changes in our residence permit procedures – not having application fees, and minimising the red tape,” he continued.
That minimisation of red tape has resulted in soaring numbers at universities. Joanna Kumpula of Tampere University, told The PIE the institution is breaking records “left and right”.
“At this moment, it looks like our new international master’s student numbers are up about 42%.
“I say this approximately because we do expect some cancellations due to long waiting lists for residence permits. The big increases [in Tampere] have been among students from for example Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka [largely aligning with national increases].
“Many of those students have not been able to receive even their interview times with consulates before the semester starts,” she explained.
The backlog of applications, which has been a pressing issue in recent years for Finland as numbers recover after Covid, was addressed by the immigration service in its announcement – it insisted it had managed to “process more applications than ever during the same period”.
“We added resources to be prepared for the summer season, as every year. Due to the considerable increase in the number of applications, we have also added personnel in the processing of applications submitted by students for the rest of the year,” explained Anu Tarén, head of the section of permit and nationality unit at the immigration service.
The prediction made by the service was that the backlog would be cleared by “the end of the year”.
Also possibly affecting numbers is the precarious position of Finnish politics. Following an election in April, a right-wing coalition formed a government – and a hardline stance on immigration seems to be the general consensus going forward.
A proposal has already been put forward to raise tuition fees for non-EU students by the coalition.
The Finns – the far-right party involved in the coalition – have ambitions to “drastically” cut immigration, despite ideas from the previous government to attract skilled workers to the country in order to plug labour shortages, and current efforts by multiple universities to attract students to stay after graduation.
“Maybe in Finland, we do not yet quite realise how crucial it is to make people feel welcome”
“The future does seem quite challenging from the perspective of the new government’s program.
“On one hand they do recognise that we need more international talent, both employees and students, but at the same time the realities of the changes they want to push do not fully support international student recruitment for higher education,” Kumpula noted.
“Maybe in Finland, we do not yet quite realise how crucial it is to make people actually feel that they are welcome here,” she mused.
“Finland has already taken big leaps and we already are an international country – but the reality is we’re not international enough.
“We need to acknowledge the great country we are, tell it to the world, and warmly welcome people here,” Suominen added.