Finnish ministers are about to call time on students who take too long to complete their degrees.
A working group said that faster graduation was essential because in the next ten years more people would leave the labour market than enter it.
The group recommended that from August 2005, studentsshould have a maximum of two years beyond the official course length to conclude their studies.
For example, an MA course of five years would have to be completed within seven years.
Exceptions would be made for ill health and, in some cases, students could take up to two years off without losing their place, bringing the total length of study allowed to nine years.
At present, the average age of Finnish masters-level graduates is , high by international standards. The reason the students take so long to complete courses is usually absenteeism, due to part-time or even full-time employment obligations.
Last year, as many as 22 per cent of students did not attend any lectures although they remained registered as active students. Only 30 per cent of students graduate within five years. The median duration of a second degree varies from four years in health science to ten years in architecture.