Finns push fees for foreigners

September 27, 2002

The number of foreign students applying to study for degrees at Finnish universities this year has risen by nearly 10 per cent compared with 2001, raising once more the spectre of tuition fees.

Some vice-chancellors have questioned why taxpayers should finance the study of students from countries such as China, where most non-European students come from.

Paavo Uronen, vice-chancellor of the Helsinki University of Technology and one of the leading advocates of tuition fees, proposed the introduction of fees for all students. He suggested that while foreign students would pay for tuition from the outset, Finnish students would be required to do so only if they failed to complete their basic degree within six years.

Mr Uronen is keen to launch a full-scale discussion on the subject once a new government is in place after next spring's general election.

"Obviously, this is a delicate subject but at least we should be able to discuss it," he said.

Maija Rask, the minister for education, is vehemently opposed to tuition fees, arguing that they infringe the principle of equality. She said that as Finland welcomed foreign students, often in the hope of using their skills after graduation, it would be wrong to charge them for the privilege.

"They bring a much-needed international element to the academic world and may even help introduce new ideas and strategies into higher education," Ms Rask said.

Helsinki University of Technology's students' union agreed. it called for higher education establishments to focus on ways to keep foreign students in Finland after graduation. Union leader Aki Silvennoinen argued that free high-quality tuition should be a seen as a selling point and that universities should capitalise on this.

Many foreign students are already living and working in Finland after being recruited by Finnish companies. Nearly 100 foreign students starting at the Helsinki University of Technology this autumn are employed by telecommunications companies such as Nokia.

* The European Investment Bank has announced a loan of €300 million (£185 million) for the construction or improvement of more than 100 higher education and research facilities throughout Finland. The projects serve the EIB's policy of supporting initiatives in biotechnology, microelectronics and information technology

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