Defence of free education at the heart of the student movement – also in the case of the open university route to university

The issue of open universities is the subject of lively debate. And this is no wonder, as the Ministry of Education and Culture and universities have shown a willingness to expand the role of the open university in continuous learning and student admissions. The range of courses on offer in the open universities has been extended, and open university studies have also become increasingly popular. There has been marked growth in student numbers since 2019 in particular, although it has been moderate so far. Open universities, and in particular the choice of paths to university, were developed significantly through the Alternative path to university project, which was funded by the Ministry of Education and Culture and in which SYL was also involved.

As the open university system is being given more weight in student admissions, so has the need to clarify its role and create a long-term vision for its development. For this reason, SYL set out to consider the role and development of the open university system as part of the education system as a whole. The outcome of this was a vision by students themselves of the future of the open universities. Be sure to check it out!

Whatever the future holds, one thing is certain: the defence of free education is at the heart of the student movement. This is also the case for the open university route to student admissions. The growing role of the open university route to study that is subject to a charge is one of the main trends threatening the free education, along with tuition fees for students from outside the European Union and European Economic Area countries.

On the other hand, the use of the open university system as a means of student admissions is by no means a black and white matter. Competition for higher education places in Finland is fierce, and children of highly educated urban residents from better-off socioeconomic backgrounds are more likely to be selected. To make education more broadly accessible, there must be a variety of student admissions routes, so that people from different backgrounds and life situations are accommodated. An open university path to university that involves a moderate study workload over a reasonable length of time, and is free of charge, would diversify the range of opportunities for access to university education. This stands in stark contrast to a lengthy open university path that involves a large workload, which puts applicants in an unequal position and limits the accessibility of higher education. It is therefore important that the open university path is transformed from a long path model towards a course-based model with a workload corresponding to the entrance exam.

The Open University has a lot of good things going for it. It excels at what it was originally set up to do: to provide education for all and provide selective higher education. The Open University promotes continuous learning in particular, and it is essential to expand the range of courses to meet growing needs. The Bank of Finland forecasts that if current trends in population growth and education continue, the combined human capital in Finland will start to decline in the 2040s. The direction can still be reversed through an intensified focus on education, and it is important that the courses offered by the open universities be structured in a coherent way to serve continuous learning. It must be kept in mind that the continuous learning provided by the open universities is not only for working life, but also has a wider cultural significance. Not only do education and continuous learning benefit the individual, but they transform society as a whole.

Tuomas Karvonen
Board Member, education policy and ESU

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