Free education is a question of accessibility and equality

Last week, the Education and Culture Committee rejected a popular citizens’ initiative for free upper secondary education. This is very unfortunate, as approving the initiative, which was developed and promoted together by several organisations, would be a step towards more accessible and equal education for everyone. It would also help us achieve the Ministry of Education and Culture’s vision  of increasing the share of higher education graduates to 50%, which is included in the Vision for higher education and research.

According to a report by Save the Children, the total costs for upper secondary education can amount to as much as several thousands of euros. In addition, the actual costs often become apparent only after the start of one’s studies, and surprising, sudden expenses in particular may lead to financial difficulties in low-income families. Expensive educational materials and other study-related expenses may lead to young people being excluded from upper secondary education or abandoning their studies. The effects are not restricted to just upper secondary education, but to higher education as well: the exclusion of the lowest-income students from upper secondary education leads to increased inequality also in higher education.

The costs related to upper secondary education have increased, while education has become increasingly important. The unemployment rate of people who have no education beyond comprehensive school is much higher than that of others. Education is also known to reduce the risk of marginalisation during adolescence and early adulthood. Genuinely free upper secondary education would make post-comprehensive school education possible for more and more young people and make it easier for young people from different backgrounds to access upper secondary and higher education.

At a time when the voter turnout of young people in political elections is low, society should actively encourage young people to participate in decision-making. The initiative for free upper secondary education is the result of hard work done particularly by youth and student organisations. Because of this, rejecting the initiative because of a formality is especially unfortunate and may weaken the young people’s faith in politics and society.

The Finnish Parliament’s Education and Culture Committee rejected the initiative on Tuesday because of a legal technicality. The Committee also issued two statements, which are more moderate than the original initiative, as they do not call for direct measures to be taken to implement the initiative. The opposition parties did object to the Committee’s decision, however, and stated that the initiative should be submitted to the Government for necessary measures. This means that the Parliament will still vote on the initiative this week. To put it simply, the vote pits the original, binding initiative against the more moderate statements issued by the Education and Culture Committee, which focus on investigating educational material expenses and on related communications, as well as on following the development of study costs. Further measures would be taken if necessary.

Genuinely free upper secondary education would be a step towards more accessible and equal education. Excellent know-how is the foundation that Finland is built on, and achieving this level of know-how requires an unbroken and consistent study path all the way from early childhood education to higher education and lifelong learning. The welfare society must be able to provide the preconditions for this, with free education playing a key role.

 

Helmi Andersson,
SYL Board Member

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