The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development has come out strongly in support of plans to allow Finland's polytechnics to offer postgraduate degrees.
The option is to be launched this autumn on an experimental basis.
The OECD was invited by the ministry of education to examine the country's polytechnic system. Its review team, led by John Pratt of the University of East London, has issued a number of recommendations, some of which have taken the Finnish authorities by surprise.
The review team argues that a polytechnic postgraduate programme would guarantee that teaching staff could gain their own formal qualifications at polytechnics rather than at universities, retaining the practical and professional focus of polytechnics.
The team suggests that the qualification following postgraduate studies at a polytechnic should be styled "professional masters" as opposed to the "masters" degrees obtained at universities.
The team criticises the lack of a coherent transfer credit system between the two sectors: the credit for transferring from a polytechnic to a university can be anything between 30 and 100 study weeks.
The OECD team also raises a number of topics that until now have been taboo in Finnish higher education, such as tuition fees.
The funding structure in Finland is based on the number of students in each subject, rather than on the overall number of students.
The team points out that in the long run it would make sense to consider funding on the basis of outputs (such as graduates) rather than inputs (student numbers). But because of the acute difficulties associated with the present financing arrangements, the review team suggests some form of private contribution, such as tuition fees on foreign students or perhaps a graduate tax for Finnish nationals.
An overhaul of how polytechnics are funded is already under way. A 13-member working group representing the ministry, the polytechnics and the Association of Finnish Municipalities presented their proposals earlier this spring.
While these do not include the introduction of tuition fees, the working group proposes that student numbers would in future account for only 61 per cent of the funding, while the number of completed degrees and the level of research and development would account for 36 per cent. The remaining 4 per cent would be a lump sum, given to all polytechnics.
The proposals are being evaluated. If they are deemed workable, a bill will be presented to parliament in autumn, with the new funding coming into force in January 2004.