Finland’s fee hike for non-European students ‘paradoxical’

Government proposes full-cost tuition plus application fees for non-EU applicants, while aiming for international recruitment increase

May 30, 2024
A group of Greenpeace activists climb a 100 meter high construction crane in Olkiluoto, Finland to illustrate Finland’s fee hike for non-European students ‘paradoxical’
Source: NICK COBBING/AFP / Getty Images

Sector leaders have described Finnish government plans to charge full-cost tuition fees to students from outside the European Union as “paradoxical”, as the country hopes to significantly increase its international student intake.

At present, Helsinki offers funding for students from outside the EU or the European Economic Area (EEA), although some universities already charge full-cost fees. Earlier this month, the Ministry of Education and Culture set out proposed amendments to Finland’s Universities Act and its Universities of Applied Science Act, which would see students from non-EU and non-EEA countries required to cover the full cost of their tuition if it is taught in a language other than Finnish or Swedish.

“Charging fees for tuition at full cost aims to improve the finances of higher education institutions and to encourage foreigners studying in Finland to stay in the country,” Sari Multala, the minister of science and culture, said in a statement.

Students from outside the EU or the EEA would also be required to pay application fees, a move the ministry said was aimed at reducing “injudicious and low-quality applications”.

When news of the government plans first circulated last year, a coalition of academic and professional unions called them “a disaster in terms of Finland’s long-term plans to make higher education in the country more international”. Previously, the Finnish government established a goal of attracting 15,000 international students by 2030, part of an effort to reduce workplace shortages and rebalance an ageing population.

“Because Finland needs foreigners, it’s a bit paradoxical to make it less attractive for them to come,” Kai Nordlund, vice-rector at the University of Helsinki, told Times Higher Education. “Many of those who came here with low tuition fees have stayed in the country and are contributing to national development.”

The impact of the amendments would likely differ among universities depending on their current practices, Professor Nordlund said. “Some universities have given a very high fraction of scholarships, which means that their income from tuition fees has been very low. Others, like our university, have collected fairly high tuition fees and given fewer scholarships,” he explained. “For these universities, the difference made by the new law would be fairly small, because they’ve more or less been at this level of recovering the cost of the education already.”

Harri Hälvä, senior marketing specialist for the Finnish National Agency for Education’s “Study in Finland” scheme, shared a similar perspective. “Moving to full tuition fees, we might experience a drop in certain areas. But overall we expect to continue on the steadily increasing trend line of international higher education students,” he said. “While tuition fees are likely to rise in some parts of the higher education sector, some universities are already charging full tuition fees, and the impact might not be as drastic as it may sound.

“Having said that, we have to put more effort into our value proposal and convince our target audience that Finland as a well-functioning Nordic society is worth the investment.”

Other government policies could also influence the success of overseas recruitment, said Professor Nordlund. Legislation passed in 2022 streamlined the application process for residence permits and enabled international students and researchers to stay in Finland for two years after graduation. However, the government has also announced plans to tighten the conditions for permanent residency, with applicants required to have lived in the country for six years rather than four. “We’re afraid that will somewhat reduce the attractiveness of Finland,” Professor Nordlund said.

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