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Increased tuition fees attract more international students?

Blog — 30.1.2024

The Orpo government is proposing increased tuition fees for students coming from countries outside of the EU and EEA, reintroduce an application fee, and that students who are working alongside their studies no longer be eligable to obtain a residence permit for work, but must be registered as students. All to attract more international students.

For a long time, education in Finland has been considered to be of high quality, and Finland has been praised by the rest of the world for investing in education. What is the reason for this or what is Finland doing right? Admittedly, there are many reasons, but one of the main ones is that we have invested in making education accessible and, above all, free of charge. Everyone should have access to education, it is a right not a privilege. However, this is not the reality for everyone.

The Orpo government has recently presented a proposal proposing amendments to the Universities Act and the Universities of Applied Sciences Act. The essence of the proposal is that it intends to increase tuition fees for students coming from outside the EU and EEA countries, to reintroduce an application fee, and to “prevent evasion of tuition fees” by ensuring that students who work alongside their studies cannot obtain a residence permit for work but must be registered as students.

The reasoning behind this is that the key economic policy objective of the Government Programme is to achieve sustainable growth. The purpose of the increase in tuition fees is to secure the finances of universities and to secure the financing of studies of Finnish students in higher education institutions. Tuition fees will be increased to cover all costs arising from students from outside the EU and EEA. The Government Programme also aims to increase the number of international students in Finnish higher education institutions, and to increase the number of international students in higher education institutions further, the incentives to stay in Finland after graduation will be increased.

This raises a lot of questions; How will these changes achieve the objectives of the Government Programme? How can higher tuition fees lead to more international students? How will the change in residence permits make working in Finland after graduation attractive? What does “tuition fees covering all costs of students from outside EU and EEA countries” mean? Above all, it raises the question: Which of these changes will increase the incentive to come to Finland to study and then want to stay and work after graduation?

Finland’s main way of attracting international students has been its reputation as a country with high-quality education. This is still an important attraction factor, but how long can we live on a reputation alone? Reality quickly sets in, and reputation is no longer enough. We know that living in Finland is becoming more and more expensive, while at the same time benefits are being cut. We also know that not everyone feels welcome or safe in Finland, something the government could perhaps consider in its proposal. Given how phrases such as “prevent evasion of tuition fees” do not give the most welcoming impression, for example. When considering the discussions that took place in the summer of 2023, it does not get a better tone either. If we neither can afford nor want to take on international students, why do we?

Higher education in Finland must be genuinely free of charge, financially accessible to all, and opportunities for education must not depend on a person’s socio-economic background. Tuition fees that contribute to inequality in education must not occur and, if tuition fees exist, they should be kept to a minimum. Admissions should be fair, not differentiate between different groups, and all parts of the admissions process should be free of charge. Higher education must be possible at all stages of life, even if you are working at the same time. We should encourage contact with working life and work experience already during studies.

Funding for universities must be predictable and adequate. Central government funding to higher education institutions should not be dependent on income from tuition fees, open university course fees or contract education fees. National special tasks must also be considered in the funding of universities, and funding systems must support university autonomy and the long-term development of education and research. Adequate funding for universities is important to ensure sufficient resources for teaching and research.

If the Orpo Government really wants to implement the objectives of the Government Programme, it should rethink and realise that there are more effective ways. If we want educated people with high levels of skills, increase the number of international university students, attract labour to Finland and balance the state budget, what is proposed is downright counterproductive.

Amanda Byskata

The Student Union of Åbo Akademi University