The impact of Finnish universities on the Finnish economy has been assessed. SYL took part in a project co-ordinated by Universities Finland UNIFI in collaboration with Confederation of Finnish Industries (EK), Confederation of Unions for Professional and Managerial Staff in Finland (Akava) and The Association of Finnish Independent Education Employers (AFIEE). According to the Scottish BiGGAR Economics, Finnish universities produce 14.2 billion gross value added for the Finnish economy, and their activities support around 136,000 jobs. A euro invested in the Finnish universities produces, on average, 5.26 euros in value added for the Finnish economy. These figures include both the direct and the indirect effects. These are lower-bound estimates; thus, the real impact is likely larger.
The economic impact of Finnish universities consists of the core activities of the universities, the work done by students, voluntary work and consumption, the increased earnings of employees with an academic degree, the business and innovation support that the universities provide and the health benefits. The contribution created by students is approximately 2 billion euros, about 14% of the total contribution. The report recognises that students and universities also stimulate local businesses all over Finland.
Political decisions are always based on estimates of the effects of actions. Impact evaluations have become more important in the public debate. Economic discourse dominates current political debate, and every decision should be costed. A similar assessment of the economic contribution of the Finnish universities has not been conducted earlier, and now we have something tangible to support our arguments. It is probably the first time that the organisations involved work in such close co-operation.
Hopefully, the study will stimulate the public debate on education and research. Lately, certain economists have emphasised the benefits higher education creates for an individual and demanded that there should be tuition fees for students. This study shows that there are significant social benefits. Although it is true that higher education contributes to increased earnings, it also means more productive work and higher taxes.
Education, research and science also generate wider benefits for society which are not measurable in euros. The connection between human capital and mental welfare and happiness is apparent on a large scale. Societies which value education are more likely to be more open, tolerant and stable than countries where people have a low level of education. In Finland, education has traditionally been valued and its role in the history of the independent Finland is undeniable.
At the moment, the government negotiations are in progress in Finland, and cuts to education have been one of the most criticised decisions of the Sipilä government. Now, there is a chance to change the direction and to recognise the importance of education, science and knowledge for the Finnish economy. Universities are not only an item of expenditure but a profitable investment in society as a whole.