Improving higher education requires full financing of student starting places

The Education at a Glance 2022 report on the state of education around the world by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) does not reflect well on Finland. In terms of the working-age population, we are at the average level of education in the OECD countries. The share of young people with a tertiary degree, however, has dropped below the OECD average.

Fortunately, the situation has already been addressed by the Ministry of Education and Culture in its vision for higher education and research in 2030, which was published in 2017. The national goal of 50 per cent of the young generation having completed a tertiary degree is a good start, but achieving it requires genuine action. At the moment, there is a danger of missing the target.

To remedy this, all the added starting places in higher education should be fully funded to maintain the required standard – something which the current government has failed to do, despite their promises.

During the 2019 parliamentary elections, all the parties in the outgoing government highlighted the importance of adequate funding for higher education. In their campaign speeches, there was much talk of ‘restoring the honour of education’ and ‘a billion euros for education’. In line with this, the government programme of the incoming government included a pledge that the role of predictable and long-term basic funding in the financing of higher education would be strengthened.

The total number of starting places in higher education has been increased by more than 12,000 starting places during this government period, which is a step in the right direction. However, the funding comes from the supplementary budget allocation, the EU’s Recovery and Resilience Facility and the strategy-based and discretionary funding included in the state funding of higher education institutions in Finland. Without a long-term policy and stable funding, the overall level of education in Finland will not improve.

With the next parliamentary elections taking place in spring 2023, we must closely scrutinise the election programmes of the various parties as part of the electoral debate leading up to the elections. Promising the moon is always tempting at election time, but what are the parties’ actual priorities when tough choices have to be made? Is it investing in the future, or is it something else? For example, every euro invested in a research university yields approximately five euros.

In addition to the parties that are currently in government, we also need to take a sceptical approach to those that are currently in the opposition. Regardless of which parties are in government, education is a vital investment.

Konstantin Kouzmitchev

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