If Sweden jumps off the cliff with its education policy, does Finland really have to do the same?

The Ministry of Education and Culture has just completed a consultation on the proposed amendments to the Universities Act and the Universities of Applied Sciences Act. The amendments are based on the government programme of the current government led by PM Petteri Orpo, and if implemented, higher education institutions would have to start charging students from outside the EU and EEA a fee “covering the cost of education”. What is more, the application processing fee will make a comeback. In other words, in the future, international students wanting to study in Finland will have to pay through the nose.

The proposal is justified by, e.g. the fact that the other Nordic countries are doing the same and that it would make publicly funded education more available to Finns if international students are paying more for their education. Both of these amendments may sound reasonable at first, but when you dig a little deeper, problems start to surface.

In other countries faced with a similar situation, such as the UK, an increase in fees has usually also led to a decrease in state funding for higher education institutions. This is also the plan of the Orpo government, as it is stated in the government programme that state funding will be reduced in proportion to the increase in fees. This contradicts the argument that the aim is to make more money available for higher education institutions.

Thus, this reform is not likely to increase funding available to higher education institutions. Instead, it will only shift the burden of payment from society to individuals. As a result, higher education institutions will only become increasingly dependent on the success of their student marketing and more prone to challenges caused by exceptional circumstances. We only have to look back to the coronavirus pandemic for an example on how significantly international mobility can become restricted.

University World News has published a review of scientific articles analysing the impact of introducing tuition fees in Sweden. It shows that the implementation of changes similar to those planned in Finland did not produce the desired result in Sweden. Tuition fees have become an export product whose price is determined by the international market and whose sale gradually reduces the amount of public funding allocated to education.

According to the review, it seems clear that the reform has also had numerous undesirable consequences in Sweden and that the model in which tuition fees are supposed to be just high enough to cover the cost of education is not, in fact, working as intended. This is why a close eye must be kept on the consequences of the amendments and their impact must be assessed. Decision-makers must also have the courage to re-amend the acts if undesirable effects arise.

In his study, researcher André Bryntesson from Uppsala University states that the bills would probably not have even been passed in Sweden if their real consequences had been clear at the time. Whenever tuition fees are about to be increased or other educational policy decisions are about to be made in Finland, the proposed changes are – time and again – justified by similar developments in peer countries such as Sweden. However, in Sweden, the result of increasing tuition fees has not, or at least not in all respects, been desirable. It would do us Finns good to remember that it is not smart to copy everything that our neighbour does.

The National Union of University Students in Finland (SYL) and the National Union of Students in Finnish Universities of Applied Sciences (SAMOK) have issued statements on the government proposal. The statements are available in the Lausuntopalvelu online service and the websites of the organisations.


Heidi Rättyä
Education Policy Adviser

Aleksi Niemi
Education Policy Adviser

Heidi Rättyä
Education Policy Adviser (university funding and structural development of universities)

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